May 10, 2014
River Fishing Opportunities
By: Dave Duwe
When I was a young boy, I lived 2 blocks away from the Milwaukee River. Later in life, I went to UW Stevens Point, where I was able to fish the Wisconsin River on a daily basis (this may have had something to do with my unremarkable GPA). I have always loved river fishing; it allows an angler the opportunity to catch a wide variety of fish species. Wisconsin has some great river fishing opportunities. Some of the favorite fishing locations are on the Wisconsin River, by the Wisconsin Dells, near Prairie du Sac and by the Du Bay dam. Some other go to river spots are the Rock River by Fort Atkinson and the Fox River near DePere.
The Fox River bite near DePere is nationally known for HUGE walleyes and abundant smallmouth bass. The smallmouth bass bite continues from early spring throughout the summer. Captain John Hynes, USCG certified and licensed guide operates the West Shore Outfitters out of Green Bay, WI has agreed to share some helpful tips about the Fox River. Captain Hynes suggests focusing on the rock rip-rap or pilings for the smallmouth bass the first few weeks of May. The best presentation is Yum tube jigs or All Terrain football jigs, the best colors are the browns or root beer colors. You want to look for the areas that are 4-10 ft. deep on the current breaks. The best approach is 6 ft. 6 in. spinning gear with 10 lb. Seaguar braid with a 6 ft. 10 lb. fluorocarbon leader. The reason for the long leader is that the zebra mussels and rock tend to tear up the line. There is also a top water bite that occurs. Zara Spooks or Chug Bugs in Firetiger color work very well. That presentation works best in the first few hours of daylight. For the walleyes, most people prefer to fish near the dam. The bite lasts from mid-March to late April. While most people are at the dam, Captain Hynes prefers to troll in front of Fort Howard paper plant in 7-8 ft. of water. The custom painted Tommy Harris Salmo Hornets in pink, firetiger and purple are the preferred lures. The crankbaits should be run 30-35 ft. behind Church Tackle planer boards. The best trolling speed is between 1.5 and 2 mph.
Like most river systems in the state of Wisconsin, the Rock River offers great opportunities for multiple species of fish. The Rock River has a great walleye, catfish and white bass population. They can all be caught in a multitude of ways. In spring, the best presentation is the plain jig and minnow. I prefer the Bait Rigs Odd’ball FinSpin jig. I like the ¼ oz. chartreuse or the ¼ oz. pink colors for visibility in the murky waters. It is important to have a trailer hook for the shy biters. The location I normally fish is by the Newville Boat Launch or in the city of Fort Atkinson, near Lake Koshkonong. As the spring wears on, I will switch from jigging to trolling Salmo hornets or shallow diving Shad Raps from Rapala. One of the keys is putting these baits behind the TX-007 Church Tackle Stern planers. This allows you to get the shallow running crankbaits away from your boat. I’ve noticed that the bite seems to be better on the Rock in windy conditions, with a slight chop on the water, the fish are more aggressive. This may be due to the fact that a lot of the river and Lake Koskonong is only 5-6 ft. deep. Make sure you are aware of the specific rules on trolling, some parts of the river it is not allowed.
The premier river system is the Wisconsin River. There are so many great locations to fish, it’s hard to decide where to go. The Wisconsin River tends to open before many other river systems in Wisconsin so you can have an opportunity to get out earlier. After the ice disappears, I usually head to the Wisconsin Dells or Prairie du Sac. I have found that most of the fish are caught on lindy rigged large shiners or the standard jig and minnow. This past year, I’ve been using the Bait Rigs Odd’ball FinSpin jig. I like to let the stinger hook free, not hooking it into the bait. This lets the bait swim freely, providing more enticement for the fish. Normally I fish the breaks of the river channel, looking for 15-25 ft. of water. The best locations are the slack waters, where the fish are staging to spawn. Most of the fish are on the smaller size range so you need to know your size limits.
Most river systems in Wisconsin contain catfish, and summer is a great time to catch them. My favorite river systems to catch catfish is the Rock River and the Wisconsin River near the Dells, both are loaded with Channel Catfish, with an occasional blue or flathead. As a rule, catfish will spawn immediately after the white bass spawn on most river systems. There are two theories on when the best time to go is. The first is any full moon period after the middle of June and the other is when the cottonwood trees drop their cotton fuzz on the surface of the water. Catfish can be caught all summer long.
For live bait rigs I use pretty standard river methods; one was the three way swivel rig (Wolf river rig) and the other is the slip sinker rig. In both cases the bait is positioned on or near bottom. The three-way rig consists of a 2/0 bait holder hook on 17 lb. monofilament on an approximately 18-24 inch leader tied to a three way swivel. The sinker used is a 1-2 oz bell sinker on an 8-12 inch dropper line. The weight of the sinker is determined by the speed of the current. For a faster current use the larger weight. The slip sinker rig is the same 2/0 bait holder hook on an 18 inch leader tied to a swivel with an egg sinker on the main line. The best bait is nightcrawlers and cut bait. The cut bait is small pieces of suckers bought from the bait shop. The rods to use are heavy action 8 ft. 6 in. poles with some old baitcasting reels on them. Paint the tip of each of pole with glow in the dark paint, it helps the angler detected a bite during the night
We often spend most of our time discussing walleye and smallmouth bass but I’ve caught everything from a paddle fish to a musky on the Wisconsin River. It’s a unique experience when the same body of water allows the opportunity for a 50 lb. carp, a 150 lb. sturgeon as well as walleye, bass and catfish. The only thing that can hinder your success is lack of trying. Most of the species will bite throughout the year. Once the early spring walleye run is over, many anglers leave the rivers for the inland lakes. This opens up an incredible opportunity without excessive fishing pressure that happens so frequently on productive inland lakes. Give a river system near you a chance this spring. You may find you’ll have a great time catching any number of species.