Jan 10, 2019

Trout Through the Ice

Milwaukee is a hidden gem for winter adventure on the harbor of Lake Michigan

By Jason Houser 

When you think of ice fishing for big trout, the last place you probably expect to head is Milwaukee. But if you haven’t experienced ice fishing with the Milwaukee skyline as a backdrop, you are missing out.

Getting the call from Wolf Pack Adventures owner Pat Kalmerton stating he had a cancellation for a couple days was all I needed to hear to drop what I was doing and point the truck north from my home in southern Illinois. My wife, Lotte, was quick to start packing, and my nephew Jordan quickly jumped on board, too.

Arriving in Wisconsin, the cold temperatures and snow on the ground screamed ice fishing. It was a restless night as we anticipated what the following day would bring.

Winding our way through the streets of Milwaukee, we could only hope our GPS was taking us where we were supposed to be. After a few stoplights, we spotted waves bashing against a rock wall near the shore of Lake Michigan. Then we saw the frozen water of the marina, and ice shanties were visible in the distance. 

Venturing out on the ‘Big Lake’

We parked the truck and made the short walk to the Wolf Pack crew that already had its shacks in place. The heaters put out enough heat to stay comfortable from the brutal elements outside. Tip-ups belonging to numerous anglers dotted the ice, all with the hopes of a flag waving in the near future.

With an explanation from the Wolf Pack group about what to expect throughout the morning, we went to face Mother Nature to bait our rigs. Our bait was going to be one of two things – shrimp, or eggs milked from previously caught and released trout. It was an educational experience watching our guides “milk” the eggs from the big females before releasing them back to the water. The fish were handled with the upmost respect to ensure they were not harmed.

Lowering our bait to the proper depth, it was just a matter of waiting. If you like to toss a football, there is no better time to do it than when waiting for a tip-up to spring. Or maybe grilling a burger on a portable grill better suits your taste. Within 30 minutes, shouts of “fish on” came from our guides.

As they ran to the flag, us southerners gingerly made our way to the hole. Not wanting to lose the fish, they set the hook on a big trout as they patiently waited for our arrival. I’m sure a few jokes were made on our behalf, but at least we didn’t fall while running on the ice.

My nephew Jordan was first up to bat. He’d never ice fished before, and was anxious to pull a fish through the ice. Our guides from Wolf Pack did a great job coaching him as he worked the fish to the surface. When they realized Jordan was being a little too forceful with the fish, they calmed him down. After a few minutes of reeling and lifting, a glimmer of silver appeared below the ice.

Within seconds, a nice brown trout emerged through the hole. The fish was quickly taken to a live well that had been chiseled into the ice inside the warm heating shack. This would allow us to get the fish in the water and prevent the fins from freezing. Then it was a simple task to get some quick photos of the fish before releasing it back into the cold depths of the big lake.

The action continued for the next couple hours as we caught both brown and steelhead trout. By noon, we were ready to pull our lines and get someplace a little warmer. The shack was heated, but with all the action we were having throughout the morning, a seemingly permanent chill invaded our bodies. Our hands received the brute of the cold punishment from holding fish and wanting to get first-hand instruction on baiting the hooks.

It was an experience none of us will soon forget. Unfortunately, not enough people take advantage of this great fishing opportunity with the downtown Milwaukee skyline as the backdrop. We even had locals pull up to us as we were packing our trucks and asked what we were doing out there on the ice with our tents.

I suppose it’s a good thing I live a few hours south of Milwaukee, because I wouldn’t get much done if I had exceptional trout fishing throughout the winter just beyond my back door. Then again, I don’t know how well I would be able to live in a big city. I will just keep making the drive north t Wisconsin as time allows and enjoy it when I can. 

Jason Houser bio here … 


  • - Enjoying exceptional fishing with the downtown Milwaukee skyline in the background.
  • – The author’s nephew, Jordan Blair, holds a nice trout before releasing it.
  • - A makeshift live well was chiseled into the ice.
  • - It wasn’t a long wait for a flag to rise indicating we had a fish on.

5 - Roe from previously caught and released fish tied in colored mesh cloth was the bait of choice.