Mar 10, 2014
Root and Milwaukee Rivers
When it comes to early spring fishing in Southeast Wisconsin, the steelhead and river walleye run are the main attractions. What I like about these early exceptional opportunities for big fish is that you don’t have to bring the boat out of storage early to capitalize on them. There is plenty of shoreline access to some great cabin fever breaking action.
The two Lake Michigan tributaries of choice in March and April for the steelhead run are the Root River in Racine County and the Milwaukee River in Milwaukee County. Chest high waders, a long spinning rod and some spawn sacs are basically all you need for a world class fishing experience. There are plenty of parks that provide access to these rivers. On the Milwaukee River the recently constructed Fishway at the Thiensville Dam allows fish to make it easily to Grafton.
Rock and Crawfish Rivers
Walleye action can be hot and heavy if your timing is right on the Rock and Crawfish Rivers in Jefferson County southwest of Milwaukee. Fort Atkinson and Jefferson are the main access points to get at the walleyes as they make their spawning run upriver from Lake Koshkonong. In mid to late March and into early April, the dam at Jefferson has been a good spot for big walleyes. I have caught numerous fish in the 8 to 10 pound range there. White 3 in. twister tails, Gulp minnows, or the traditional jig and minnow should be on Mr. Marble Eye’s menu.
After the ice finally breaks on the lakes, usually in the last week of March, Okauchee Lake in Waukesha County has a good crappie bite that lasts for several weeks. Shallow Bays on the north end is where it is happening as water temps rise after a long cold winter.
Kevin Moore, Muskies, etc. Guide Service (414)425-4575, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.MuskiesEtc.com
South Central Wisconsin
Upper Rock River System
Look for walleyes to make their run to spawning areas during this time of year. Many anglers focus on the upper Rock River system, which starts at the Blackhawk Island area and runs north towards Fort Atkinson. Male walleyes can be found here early and will linger in this area for longer periods than females. Smaller males will readily bite and can make for a fun day. Big females move upstream a little later and can be tight lipped sometimes. They’ll move through the area until they spawn and slowly move back down stream. Catching these big pre/post spawn females can be tricky, but not impossible.
The current can be somewhat swift in this area during early spring depending on winter run off and ice melt. Trolling is NOT permitted throughout the Rock River System, but use of a trolling motor for positioning is allowed.
Vertical jigging and bottom bouncing is the choice method by many anglers here. If using the current to drift downstream, dragging a Lindy rig tipped with a live Fathead minnow or Blacktail Chub works well.
There are plenty of snags, especially near the shorelines, but many times this is where the walleyes hang out. If you wish to slow your drift down, use a trolling motor and bounce a 1/8 oz jig tipped with a minnow off the bottom. Artificial baits like Uncle Josh Meat minnows and Northland Tackle Impulse baits also work well. You may need to use up to a 1/4 oz jig depending on how strong the current is.
Don’t be afraid to try big a profile when jigging. We’ve caught numerous walleyes using 4 to7 in. baits. Large profile baits can bring them in some days, while other days the walleyes prefer smaller baits. Only experimenting will tell you what they prefer that day. When using your trolling motor, try to keep lines completely vertical as you move downstream. Work the whole river from bank to bank until fish are located. They move daily, but inside bends and shoreline cover will most likely hold fish.
Lower Rock River System:
The lower Rock River System starts in the Newville, WI area. Down river further sits the Indianford Dam. This area is also an excellent walleye location and less pressured due to limited boat access. If you do venture up river to the dam area, be prepared for quickly changing depths. It is navigable, but do so at your own risk. This area is all solid rocks and they are big. Many props have fallen victim to these beasts. Applying similar jigging techniques discussed above will work well if fishing from a boat. However, the safest and less expensive way to fish this area is from shore.
The “Wall” near the powerhouse is a prime location, but get here early. This spot is good day and night during this time of year. Casting crankbaits and slowly retrieving a minnow tipped jig work well when fishing from the shoreline. If fishing the wall, slip bobbers tipped with minnows can also produce. Be prepared to catch Northern Pike here also. They too are plentiful below the dam in early spring.
Farther south in Janesville, WI sits two other dams. One is located off Centerway Ave. and the other dam, called Monterey Dam, is located off Center Ave. Both are nearly inaccessible by boat and require a shoreline fishing approach, use similar techniques as discussed above. The Centerway Dam has walls on both sides of the banks and only has a small area for anglers. It’s tough fishing, but can produce here and there. The more angler friendly Monterey Dam produces much better and there’s also a handy bait and tackle store at the entrance path leading to fishing areas. “It’s A Keeper” Bait and Tackle has a huge supply of angling products and also has staff with excellent knowledge of the area. If you’re having trouble getting fish near these Janesville dams, ask them for help, they’ll be more than happy to point you in the right direction.
The Yahara River flows south through the Madison Chain of Lakes and miles later, joins into the Rock River. This intersection is only a few miles downriver from the Indianford Dam, offering another pathway for spawning walleyes traveling upstream. Only one dam (Dunkirk Dam) is in between the Madison lakes and the lower Rock River system. With faster moving current, the Yahara River offers a mostly solid bottom with plenty of rock structure. Casting crankbaits or soft plastics can work well in the main channel and if you can locate and eddy, slip bobbers tipped with minnows can produce walleyes. There’s no real prime spot or access point besides the Dunkirk Dam area and a few scatter river side parks, but if you do find other access points, all can be a diamond in the rough in this hardly fished area.
Adam Walton, Pike Pole Outfitters, (608)290-3929, email: email@example.com or visit www. PikePoleFishing.com
Green Lake Area
March is considered the beginning of the end for our ice fishing season. You can get some of your best fishing during the late ice period. Fox Lake, Beaver Dam, and Little Green Lake offer an abundance of panfishing. The longer days and bright sun will start to warm the water in areas and school up the fish and make them aggressive. The game fish season is closed in March on most lakes that are not part of a river system, so for big fish we continue to chase the lake trout around on Big Green, as long as we have safe ice. March is also the time to fish for the pike of your lifetime. Pike spawn under the ice in March on Poygan and Puckaway. The season does not close and there are huge, hungry, pre-spawn, toothy critters roaming the shallows getting ready to spawn. In April, the ice condition is usually questionable so we are chasing walleyes across the state up and down the Fox River and the Wisconsin River. We consider April the start of the walleye run and great walleye fishing.
Captain Justin Kohn, All Seasons Adventures, is a full time fishing guide and tournament fisherman all across Wisconsin. You can reach him at (920)229-3494 or visit www.Facdebook.com/AllSeasonsAdventures.
Castle Rock Lake Area
In early March, walleyes will have moved up the Wisconsin River towards the Nekoosa Dam on Petenwell Flowage. Also moving up to the Petenwell Dam on Castle Rock Lake. Not all fish move up to the narrow part of the river system to spawn, some stay in the main parts of the lakes.
The walleyes that mostly spawn in the main lake move to shallow water areas that warm up fast, have good current flow and gravel bottoms. A good technique to target them during this time of year would be to fish in eddies. Eddies are slack water behind logs, deep water holes, or rock piles that block current and hold slack water areas. These fish will move in and out of these eddies to rest spawn and feed. A good way to fish in the slack water areas is to anchor or tie off to trees just above the eddies. Pitch light jigs 1/8 to ¼ oz tipped with large fat heads, mud minnows and plastics.
Ring worms work great this time of year also. Custom jigs and spins or Bfishn tackle have a great line of ring worm products. Another way to target these walleyes is to troll long lines very slowly using #5 glass raps or #5 flicker shads. When trolling, you will want to have out just enough line to where the baits are just ticking the bottom of the river and zigzag back and forth along the river.
Another great way to cover large amounts of water is to pull Off Shore Tackle planer boards. Creep along just enough with the current to get good action with lures. Generally, walleyes spawn on the Wisconsin River during the first week of April sometimes a little before or after depending on weather and flow. In the spring, start with a smaller presentation in colder water. Once water temperatures rises, you can use a little larger presentation until fish move back to the main lake areas.
Also, this time of year can mean late ice. Late ice is like early ice. Move back into areas where you started out in December. The area you want to target for late ice are deep breaks over large deep wooded or structure areas. In these areas you can target walleyes and white bass that are on their way to the river. Panfish can be found over wooded structure areas with current flow. Late ice means bad ice; the later you go in areas, the worse it may be. Large amounts of current flow can and will cause weak ice and unsafe ice. Edges around the flowages will start to break up as the water levels drop. If it looks bad don’t go. Don’t ever be the first to cross. Never go alone, ALWAYS have someone with you. The weather can make the ice so unpredictable you never know how it can be. Ice conditions can change within minutes.
Other places to target walleyes and crappies would be the Buckhorn Bridge on Castle Rock or below the Yellow River Dam in Necedah. These two areas will hold large amounts of panfish and walleyes in the spring.
Jesse Quale, Green Water Walleyes, (608)547-3022, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.GreenWaterWalleyes.com
West Central Wisconsin
It is that time of year, my FAVORITE time of year! The sun is getting higher in the sky as the days are getting longer. The sub zero temperatures are (hopefully) behind us. Here is to hoping we don't have another blizzard in May!
Big Round Lake, near Balsam Lake, WI
This fantastic body of water is always worth a look for late ice jumbo bluegills. I like to target the shallower water on the west end of the lake. Use moon jigs tipped with waxies or spikes. Many times these 'gills will be covered in black specks. These are completely harmless. Personally, I do not keep bluegills under eight inches, and that is the typical rule for this lake. Most of the gills you catch here will MORE than eclipse this size! If you do happen to be able to fish the lake before the game fish season closes, do yourself a favor and bring along some tip-ups and some shiners. Bass are plentiful in Big Round, and it is home to some very large northern pike.
Chetek Chain of Lakes, Chetek, WI
I have had many conversations with friends and colleagues about the Chetek Chain, and we always come back to the same question. How? How can this body of water keep producing so many panfish? Though there are many great options for locals in the Chippewa Valley, the Chetek Chain stands alone as the centerpiece. The old stand-by. Everyday, all winter long, hundreds of anglers take limits of panfish daily. (Though there are some bad days). Thousands and thousands of panfish are harvested out of the Chain every winter, and the fish factory keeps turning out fish!
Starting in late February, you really don't need a lot of time to locate fish. Personally, unless it is a very nice day outside, and I just want to breathe the fresh air, I don't even show up until 4:00 p.m. Here is the kicker, if you are a jig fisherman, and you know where to go, many times you only need to drill one hole! By 5:00 your flasher unit should be getting the "Christmas Tree" effect. The crappies will be in full swing! You sometimes will have to do some sorting, but that's half the fun. Tip downs will produce nicer fish, however. I definitely recommend giving the Chain a try, especially if you have kids who love to catch!
Ice out on the Chain can be an absolute blast. Panfish will move into the shallow water and are readily available. Small offerings are best. Waxies, small gulp minnows, and flu-flu's will produce fish. Fly fishing with wet flies is also popular at this time of year.
Mississippi River and Backwaters, near Pepin,WI
What a wild time of year to be so close to the mighty Mississippi! At the same time you have your choice of ice fishing or open water fishing!! It all depends what you are in to. There are even some folks who will take out the boat, to access areas to ice fish.
You don't know what the backwaters are going to bring this time of year. Little Cecils are a good choice for bluegill and crappie. Watch out for moving water. This is one of the only areas in Wisconsin where you can legally tip-up fish in the month of March, so that is also worth a shot. There are many largemouth to be had in the backwaters. Also, if the ice is good on Lake Pepin, it can be a great time ice fishing in the slack water for jumbo perch. Cecils or moon jigs tipped with waxies will work. Use tip downs with minnows to increase your odds.
Now this is what I LIVE for! Open water fishing on the Mississippi River in March and April! The open air, bald eagles as numerous as crows, and dreams of big spring walleye! As soon as the boat landings are clear of ice, anglers are launching their boats, dodging icebergs, and are on the hunt for spring walleye and sauger. If you can't wait for the ice to clear the landings, no problem. The landing at Everts Resort in Hager City, WI does not freeze due to warmer water. Ring worms, blade baits, and hair jigs tipped with minnows are the weapons on choice on the big river. Vertical jigging and dragging are the methods of choice. I prefer to use a stinger hook to deal with all of the pesky "short biters." Since this is the Sippi, you need to use caution as always. Running into a Wing Dam with your lower unit could ruin your day! This is an extremely popular time of year to be out, as many, like myself, are suffering from Spring Fever. It is not uncommon to be amongst 100 or more boats, especially on the weekends. It comes with the territory. I recommend fishing the river during the middle of the work week if at all possible. Also, with the rising temperatures brings melting snow. That equals higher, and faster water. Don't bite off any more than you can chew, especially if you are not comfortable with it. Fishing is to be enjoyed!
Lake Wissota, Chippewa Falls
Mid to late April, when the water temperature (normally) creeps near 60 degrees is THE time to get after some slab Lake Wissota crappies! The formula is quite simple. Find timber (fully or partially submerged) and park. No fish? Move. Crappie minnows dead sticked (suspended) right over the side of the boat in deeper water will work wonders. Use slip bobbers to locate crappie in the shallower water near shore. Red and chartreuse tube jigs will also produce crappie. Remember if you happen to catch one of the many walleye in this lake, the season is currently closed and they will need to be returned to the water.
Captain Chris Powell, Chippewa Valley Guide Service, (715)577-9771, email: Wissotafish@gmail.com or visit www.Lake-Wissota.com
Late Ice Crappies
During this time of year, the game fish season is closed on most all waters in the area so this is a great time to hit the ice in search of panfish. My favorite species to target in the Vilas/Oneida County area during this time are slab crappies. During the winter, crappie movement will vary from lake to lake but generally most northern Wisconsin waters crappies will spend a lot of time suspended off structure. This can be a difficult species to target since movements will vary on a daily basis depending a lot on barometric pressure. Fishing can be rewarded with punching a lot of holes and using today's high tech electronics such as flashers and cameras. As "late ice" approaches, crappies will be a little more predictable to locate in a day’s time on the water.
Crappies are starting to stage near spawning grounds. The areas I look for on a lake will generally be a bay where there is a shallow weed flat 5-8 ft, and off the flat where there is a good weed edge in the 8-12 ft range with deeper adjacent water (20-30 ft). Generally, crappies during late ice times will be holding in one of the 3 specific areas depending on the time of day and barometric pressure. During low pressure, crappies will be higher in the water column or in the weeds. If there is high pressure, crappies will be at the base of the weed lines or holding lower in the water column in the deeper water.
I will start punching holes on the weed flat and drop the camera in and do my looking since that is usually the easiest place to either connect with fish or narrow down your search. Crappies will school in certain patches throughout the weeds so if you find them in one spot, locate the concentrations of fish. If no fish are present on the flat, move to the weed edge and punch holes along the weed break. If they are still not present, head outside the weeds over the deeper adjacent water. This is where the flasher helps locate fish that can be anywhere from right under the ice to down to the bottom depending on the day. Generally, the higher the fish in the water column the more active they are. Things can change with crappies on a daily basis. One day you can go and they are covered up in weed flat, the next they are not present. They will not be far but you have to do some hole punching to search them out.
Jigging crappies on a rod are a lot of fun to coax into biting. My favorite approach is jigging a small Swedish pimple or the likes. I generally start small and work larger in lure size depending on fish activity level. Tip with minnow head, waxie, or plastic. Hop from hole to hole and catch a fish or two and move on once the bites stop. Many times if fish can be seen easily on the flasher, I will just hop from hole to hole until I find the school. Jig up slightly above the fish since they like to chase baits up, and when in deeper water it could mean they follow your bait up for several feet before they bite.
The second tactic for late ice crappies is the use of tip-downs. I generally put them out once fish locations have been found. I rig my tip-downs with a size 10 or 12 treble hook and split shot size that balances them out so the slightest hit will drop the rod. Rosie reds and fat heads are typical crappie baits on my tip downs. One key thing is to put two minnows on the treble hook. I usually place one minnow facing in each direction. It keeps the minnows moving more in the water since each minnow on the hook is kicking the other in the head with its tail. They move and act more lively which is key to getting more crappie hook ups.
Good lakes to target late ice crappies using these tactics in Vilas/Oneida County are: South Twin Lake, Big St. Germain, Minocqua Lake, Tomahawk Lake, Lac du Flambeau Chain, Manitowish Waters Chain.
The Wolf River will start producing catches of walleyes as the ice disappears. The most productive method of fishing it is by vertical jigging or anchoring on the edge of the current and popping a jig off of bottom. A Wolf River rig is also a very productive method of catching fish.
The Fox River from Lake Poygan to Winnebago will also produce large numbers of walleye using the same techniques as the Wolf River. One other method of fishing the Fox River is to pull flies. This is a very effective method to put fish in the box. As soon as the walleyes are headed back down the river, the white bass will show up and can be finished in the same manner as the walleyes. People will be surprised to find out they can catch walleyes and white bass together.
Fishing the reefs of Lake Winnebago will also begin to show signs of walleyes appearing as all walleyes do not go up the river to spawn. Some walleyes will spawn in Lake Winnebago. These fish can be caught by trolling, jigging, or slip bobbering.
Fox River to Bay of Green Bay
For the Fox River from De Pere to the Bay of Green Bay, the action should be starting to heat up as soon as the ice goes out. Walleyes can be readily caught by vertical jigging. As the water warms up, the bigger females will move to the shorelines and can be caught at dusk and into the twilight by casting large shallow running crank baits. Fishing on the Bay of Green Bay will start as soon as the ice is gone and fish can be caught by trolling crank baits or vertical jigging. Trolling on the bay with boards and pulling crank baits will be very effective. Please sure to check all game laws and know the regulations and size limits on these different bodies of water.
Any questions please feel free to contact Captain Jim Klein of Bills and Gills Guide Services, (920)680-7660, email: email@example.com or visit www.BillsandGillsGuideService.com