Chetek May Be State's Best Panfish Water

By Ted Peck - July 1, 2011
Dick Urbonya works harder at not putting effort into catching fish than anybody I have ever known. The retired Beloit firefighter has always had a knack for finding subtle nuances which make his minnow, waxworm, redworm or cricket just a little bit more provocative than a similar bait swimming 10 feet away.

"If you let the bait do the work its easier to focus on doing the catching," he winks while hoisting two crappies over the gunnel of his pontoon boat at the same time. Catching a pair of fish simultaneously on two poles would take too much effort. Urbonya finds it easier to rig two hooks on a single main line.

"In the summertime crappies tend to school horizontally," the 67 year old outdoorsman notes. "They may be in a band that's only a couple feet thick. Two baits set about a foot apart with slightly different presentations is the quickest way to find how deep they are holding and what they want to eat."

"Crappies almost always feed from below," he continues "you can fish too deep for them but setting your baits too shallow is seldom an issue."

Upon retirement Urbonya moved to Chetek where he and wife Karen own a beautiful home on the peninsula which provides quick access to both arms of this popular 3,800 acre lake known for outstanding panfish action.

Chetek 's half-century reputation as one of Wisconsin's premier panfish waters endures because of hard work by the Chetek Lakes Protection Assn. and Chetek Resort Owners Assn which invest considerable time and treasure in this resource every year.
Dozens of fish attracting cribs are scattered around the lake, which locals regard as six lakes delineated by various narrows and points. The lake associations publish maps with GPS coordinates of many of these cribs every year

Urbonya has an entire sheaf of lake maps, with notations of many other spots most other anglers don't even know about.

"During the summer 'Waubesa tactics' work better here than targeting the cribs, Urbonya says. "Drifting the main lake basin is almost always productive. Wind direction and intensity helps determine which of our lakes will probably be most productive."

Urbonya does most of his summer fishing from a well appointed pontoon boat. Chetek may also be the pontoon boat capital of the state.

During winter months he targets several cribs less than a stone's throw away from his dock. Several years ago Urbonya's son Kevin caught a 32 ½ inch walleye using a tip-up here. A walleye of these dimensions would weigh over 14 pounds.

The Chetek chain also contains good numbers of northern pike and bass. But panfish will always be the main draw. This is a place to go catching as opposed to going "fishing".

Every year the lake associations stock a number of tagged fish into these waters. Catch a tagged fish and you're eligible for cash prizes ranging from $25-$500-provided you have purchased a Fish-O-Rama button prior to landing a lottery ticket with scales.

Urbonya is on a perpetual mission to catch these tagged fish, joking "I'm on a fixed income and minnows aren't cheap."

We didn't achieve this objective on an outing there earlier this week, releasing a couple dozen crappies and bluegills back into the Ten Mile Lake arm of Chetek which weren't lucky winners.

"This is a lot more fun than going through a pile of scratch off tickets," Urbonya laughs while hoisting another pair of slabs over the gunnel of his pontoon. "Looks like these two aren't winners. Guess I'll have to bait up and try again."

Author Ted Peck
Ted Peck
Cap'n Ted Peck has over 30 yrs. guiding experience, specializing in multi-species fishing on Pool 9-10 of the Mississippi from Genoa, Wi. to Prairie du Chien. Cap'n Ted is a pro staffer for Lund, Northland Tackle, MinnKota, Bill Lewis Lures, Evinrude, Uncle Josh, HT Enterprises and Custom Jigs & Spins. When not guiding Cap'n Ted communicates the outdoors experience via newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and through seminars. This work has taken him all over the midwest, Canada and beyond... but he always returns to the upper Mississippi which he considers the most diverse fishery in North America. Click here for more info on Ted's guide service. Cap'n Ted's new book Mississippi Musings with the Old Guide is a personal account of his long career as a professional fishing guide on Old Man River.