Shore Fishing In The La Crosse Region

Explore La Crosse hosted Ambassador, Matthew Crawford, in to the La Crosse Region during late June. He had his chance to catch Bass, Panfish, Walleye, Catfish, and Freshwater Drum.

Written By: Matthew Crawford

My experience fishing in La Crosse has proven to me time and time again, you simply don’t need access to a boat to catch fish. I can’t name a better area in Wisconsin for fishing from shore, as public water access can be found just about anywhere along the Mississippi River. A few key spots come to mind though, such as Pettibone Park and the Lake Onalaska Dam. These spots aren’t just for the angling-obsessed fisherman like myself, they offer easy access to plentiful fish populations, making for a fun time outdoors for the whole family. More information about how I catch fish at these locations can be found below.

Pettibone Park

Located directly across from Riverside Park, Pettibone Park offers opportunities to fish not only on the shoreline of the Mississippi River but in Pettibone Lagoon, a family-friendly feature of the park. Panfish and Bass are the most common fish found in Pettibone Lagoon, with multiple fishing piers available for easy access. If the piers are occupied, the lagoon has long stretches of open shoreline to cast a line in. When fishing in the weedy shallows of Pettibone Lagoon, single-hooked presentations like a soft plastic worm or weedless topwater lures are the way to go. However, make a short walk over to the main river channel of the mighty Mississippi, and you’d be better off using deeper diving crankbaits and jerkbaits, or even lipless crankbaits that can be vertically jigged along the river bottom. This is where you’ll have your best shot at fish that prefer deeper water, such as Walleye, Freshwater Drum, Catfish, and even Northern Pike.

Onalaska Dam:

Further north, the Mississippi River widens into Lake Onalaska, a hotspot for fishing in the La Crosse region. This is your best bet for some multi-species fun, as the dam acts as a gathering space for large predatory fish chasing their next meal. This is a spot for more adventurous anglers, as the water access is limited to rocky shorelines. You might even find it possible to fish on top of the dam itself if the water level is low enough. This is a great location to target panfish in the calm water along the rocky shorelines, and large predatory fish such as Northern Pike are usually close by. Baits that imitate minnows such as small jerkbaits and crankbaits are among my favorites to use at the Onalaska Dam, as minnows are the primary food source for the bigger fish at this location. 

Final Thoughts:

La Crosse is not only a great area to fish for a wide variety of fish species, but it also allows anglers the chance to use many different fishing techniques. To stock up on the best bait and tackle for fishing in the La Crosse region, check out Island Outdoors on French Island. The staff there are more than willing to offer advice on fish location and behavior during your visit. With plenty of public fishing access along the river, even those without a boat have a great chance to catch fish in La Crosse and the surrounding area. When you need to refuel after a good day of fishing, I’d recommend stopping at Moxie’s, an excellent American-style restaurant and bar along the riverbank in La Crosse. On your way out of town, make sure to snap a pic with Sunny The Sunfish in Onalaska, a notable landmark that’s well worth visiting before you depart.

La Crosse Lunker League

Fishing is an excellent choice of outdoor activity to partake in if you happen to have some time to spend in the great outdoors in La Crosse. If you want to add an extra element of excitement to your fishing, you can join the La Crosse Lunker League

It’s simple. Catch a qualifying species in the La Crosse area, take some pictures for size and memories, release your fish, and submit your catch! You’ll be notified when your catch has been approved and you can see the awards you’ve gained. There are goals, milestones, and various awards to be won. 

Lunker League is open to both residents and visitors. It’s a fun way to challenge yourself and possibly win some cool awards! 

Fishing 101 for First Timer Anglers
Fishing 101 for First Timer Anglers

La Crosse is home to excellent fishing opportunities, from tiny backwaters to lakes that stretch into the thousands of acres. There’s also a variety of boat launches, beaches for surf fishing and marinas.

The Inside Scoop On Fishing
The Inside Scoop On Fishing

Explore La Crosse had the pleasure of sitting down with experienced angler and host Jim Crowley Outdoors. Crowley has fished the Mississippi River from its most northern point and to Louisiana.