Pike & Muskie Fishing photo

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Illustration by Chris Dent

In late fall, giant muskies go on the feed, gorging on ciscoes and whitefish ahead of the long winter. Anglers soon follow, converging on happy little Hayward to target the area’s legendary lake monsters. Now is the best time of year to catch a 40-plus-pound muskie somewhere short of your 10,000th cast. Here’s a guide with tips on where to eat, drink, sleep, and—most importantly—fish.

1. The “Big Chip”
At more than 15,000 acres, the Chippewa Flowage is Wisconsin’s third largest lake. That’s a lot of water to cover and hundreds of islands and bays to explore. If it’s your first trip here, hire a guide such as Ty Sennett (ty​sennett.com), who’s been fishing these waters for nearly 30 years and can reliably put you on feeding fish.

2. Double Up
To up your odds of boating a giant, plan on fishing two rods—a quick-strike rig floating a live sucker and a casting outfit tied with a Suick Thriller, Bull Dawg, or the local favorite: Shumway’s Funky Chicken. You can pick up everything, plus some local intel, at Jenk’s Bait & Tackle (715-462-3055) on the way to the lake.

3. Rest Stops
When the bite is on, it can be tough to tear yourself away. Stay close to the action with a weeklong vacation at Deer Run Resort (deerrunresort-hayward.com), which has a private boat ramp and five cabins right on the Chippewa Flowage. For shorter stays, the Flat Creek Inn (flatcreekhotel.com) offers nice rooms in town.

4. Belly of the Beast
Inside the giant muskie monument at the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame ­(freshwater-​­fishing.org) is a museum highlighting the history of angling, including a full listing of record-book fish. Climb the steps to the muskie’s mouth for a can’t-​go-​back-​home-​without-​one photo.

5. Dive In
Tell your fish tales at the Moccasin Bar (715-634‑4211), where the jarred eggs next to the beer tap aren’t the only things that are pickled. The Moc has colorful locals, a mounted fish (which just happens to be the world-record muskie), and novelty taxidermy—including rodents boxing, banjoing, and bootlegging.

6. Say Cheese(head)
Cheese curds are a staple in northern Wisconsin cuisine. Order a basket, along with some house-made pretzels, at the Angry Minnow Brewing Co. (angryminnow.com). Wash it down with a pint of River Pig American Pale Ale, brewed on-site, for Wisconsin’s take on a well-balanced meal.