Jul 10, 2014

A Boatless Opportunity

By: Captain Greg Schoemer

As the spring run-offs in the river commence, the dark stained water levels warm into an active feeding and spawning ground for northern pike and smallmouth bass. Many of these stained rivers are tributaries of Lake Michigan and are home to great fishing opportunities. The best part is that oftentimes it’s just you and the river – this is a mildly pressured fishery.

Time and Location

Every year the rivers lose their ice shell at a different time; this can fluctuate annually by a few weeks. I usually start my quest for pike once the river drops from the major crest and warms into the low 40 degree mark around mid-April. This is when I go looking for their spawning areas and just like the popular fall and spring salmon runs, the pike really like to congregate below dams. The season is open year-round below the first dam on Lake Michigan tributaries allowing you a fishing option while the inland lakes and upriver waters are closed. Pike can be seen jumping through the fast white waters, but you want to place your efforts in the deep eddies off to the side from where the dam drops.

Once the river starts dropping to its usual summer levels, the pike seek the deeper holes downriver off the edges of current. They use their bronze color to camouflage against the river bottom, wait for the current to bring them an easy river forage and attack like a golden dart. Pike can be found in these areas all summer long and throughout all parts of the rivers, even upper river areas past the first of many dams. Rule of thumb in the river: if there is deep slack water, stop and put some effort into fishing these spots as they more than likely hold game fish.

The smallmouth path is similar to pike, but changes for their spawn mission. As the pike filter out of their spawning grounds the bass move in and put on a pre-spawn feed. The water needs to get into the low-to-mid 50 degree mark to trigger this swarm of feeding pre-spawn fish. The one thing that makes this bite so intriguing – there are less spawning areas in a river than a lake so there will be many fish hanging out in these tight-quartered holes. This time of year allows you to up your bait size and get some trophy bass out of your preferred stream, and still have a chance to land pike that are lurking nearby. This typically occurs near the end of April or beginning of May when the water reaches their optimum spawning temperature.

Wisconsin’s inland waters open on the first Saturday of May – not only does that open access to the upper river portions, but it chases even more people to the lakes. This leads to peaceful hikes along the river banks and hot spots all to yourself! Unlike bass fishing on inland waters where you can see the fish bedded, these bass will find soft areas of the river. Look for big bends in the river or slight cuts in the shoreline where the water eddies. This is where you will want to target bass for much of the season. The other option is near boulders, where they can hide and snatch up an easy meal moving downstream in the current. Also, locate bridges that carry some depth underneath – the bass will use the man-made pilings as a hiding spot from prey and a cool spot out of the hot sun. The best thing about the bridges is that it offers a good access location and usually holds fish worth targeting before hiking up or down river to find additional fishing spots.

I live in Sheboygan County and concentrate my efforts primarily on the Sheboygan River, and sometimes on the Pigeon River. My favorite spots in the Sheboygan River for numbers of fish are under one of the many dams and also on the upper-river portion as you head west out of the city of Sheboygan on Highway 23.

My best advice is to look at a map and see where the river winds through the county. Target locations where roads cross the river. Put on a pair or rubber hip boots and start exploring.

Tackle

Summer river fishing in Sheboygan County allows you to chase two different species in the same areas and often with the same lures. Since this is a shoreline fishing or hiking situation, you want to pack as little as possible to make your day successful. I wear a pair of rubber hip boots so I can walk the river’s edge in the water as some of the shorelines are filled with tall grasses and prickly weeds. Also, staying in the water and accessing from public spots allows me to get in some great areas where if accessed by land, I would be trespassing onto private property.

I have two different rods for the river. The first is my live bait rod that I use primarily for spawning fish. The second is a casting rod used after the fish have settled back into their summer areas.

For a live bait rod, I suggest a 10 to 12 foot rod with a medium-sized spinning reel spooled with 10 pound braided line. The long rod allows me to fish some of the desired pockets on the edge of the current. I point the rod tip up in the air to prevent the line from dragging in the current and pulling my float too quickly downstream. I use some custom-made balsa floats, but a standard slip bobber rig will work since most areas are shallow. Under the float is a small barrel swivel with a few feet of 10 pound fluorocarbon leader tied to a #10 octopus hook and a few small split shots. The best live-bait choice is a medium golden shiner fished in the eddied spots of the river. The current will circle around it, keeping it continuously in the strike zone on every cast.

The rest of the summer I grab a 7 to 8 foot medium-action spinning rod spooled with 10 pound monofilament. This line is light enough to cast lengthy distances when fishing wider spots of the river, but strong enough to land a big pike with a mouthful of razor sharp teeth. Pick out a medium-sized reel with a good drag – you never know when you will hook into one of the big carp that also live in these rivers. My baits of choice for bass and pike are bright bladed inline spinners in size 3 and 4, bright or natural colored floating crankbaits, or a lightly weighted jig head on rubber swim baits. With a small assortment of lure choices you can pack a few of each lure into a small over-the-shoulder tackle bag.

I encourage anglers to take advantage of this opportunity. No boat required – just some determination to explore areas by foot. It is so rewarding to find success! Get out and explore Sheboygan County or find a river system near your home; give this inexpensive fishing style a try. Last but not least, make sure to bring a can of 100 percent DEET bug spray, so the fish aren’t the only thing biting!

Pike pic: Author Greg Schoemer with an average-sized spawning northern caught below a dam in the Sheboygan River.

Bass Pic: Author Greg Schoemer pulled a trophy smallmouth out of this wide bend eddie in a Sheboygan River pre-spawn hole with a medium shiner.

Lure Pic: Greg’s favorite floating style crankbaits: a pair of custom-made inline spinners, and a rubber swim bait. Also shown is his preferred rig for fishing live shiners.

Greg Schoemer is a state of Wisconsin licensed guide and a USCG licensed Captain. He spends much of his time guiding the waters of Sheboygan County for Wolf Pack Adventures (WolfPackAdventures.com). Greg has captained trout and salmon charters on Lake Michigan for over 12 years and has led his crew and clients to some top tournament catches. At only 25 years old, Greg is an industry veteran with experience on waters throughout the country.