Mar 10, 2015

Spring River Fishing

By: Larry Smith

In March and April some of the best walleye fishing can be found on the tributaries of the Bay of Green Bay.  Fishing the tributaries off of the Bay of Green Bay such as the Fox River, the Oconto, The Peshtigo and the Menomonee can lead to the kind of fish you don’t even need to bend the truth about. There are also a few smaller tributaries that can also be greatly successful.

When it comes to giant walleyes in the spring, these are definitely some of the key spots to look for that elusive 10 lb. walleye. I talk about current in a lot of my articles and when it comes to spring fishing it really doesn’t matter what river you are fishing; current is the key in bringing numbers of fish out of the bay and into these rivers. One of my favorite rivers to fish is the Peshtigo River. We do a float trip starting from just below the dam in Peshtigo down to the mouth. On an average day, the trip takes 8 to 10 hours to float from top to bottom, fishing our way down river. The techniques can range from anchoring and pumping jigs in the current, to pitching plastics across the current, as well as vertical jigging through the deep holes, using live bait.

The first technique, anchoring and pumping jigs, is getting up above the deep holes and casting down river with a jig that is heavy enough that when you pump it it goes back to the same spot every time. If the jig is too light, you will find out that you keep letting out more and more line every time you lift the rod and you won’t consistently find bottom every time. If the jig is too heavy, every time you lift the rod tip forward, the jig will keep coming towards the boat rather than falling back into place. The size of the jig will depend on the amount of current. 3/8 oz. are typically a good starting point for a jig.  I normally use a 6-1/2 to 7 ft. medium action rod with some kind of super braid line (I like 10 lb. fire line) with a 3-4 ft. fluorocarbon leader.  I use pee line for a fluorocarbon. This seems to be the most abrasive. Make sure to use a quality ball bearing swivel to join these lines together for the simple reason that when you are pumping these jigs into the current you will create a lot of line-twist and when you are letting the jig back it will spin in the current and you will not get as many bites. Some days, live bait such as big fatheads are the key, yet other times jerk shad work very well. The last couple years, hair jigs have also been a key to catching big walleyes. Finally, one last thing to remember when using this technique, when you have a year that has a lot of high water, (this will be especially true when the walleyes are headed upstream), getting into the flooded timber on the edge of the current breaks will be something that proves beneficial. These fish do not like to fight the main current as they are swimming up river. They tend to come up along the edge of the river.

The second technique is pitching jigs and crank baits across the current. With this technique, anchor on the sides of the deep holes rather than up above them. Pitch your jig or your crankbait across the deep hole. When using a jig with either plastics or live bait, the key is that the weight of the jig should keep you tight to bottom but you do not want to be hanging up constantly.  You will want it to slide with the current. If the jig is too light you will not feel bottom contact at all.  If it’s too heavy, you will not get it to slide smoothly down the current when pitching across.  Keep your rod tip high and watch your line to see if it is sliding through the current. Sometimes it will get hung up on debris and you will have to lift it about 6 inches to get it moving again. A high visibility line is preferred with this technique. This is true for two main reasons; the first is so that you can see if your jig is stuck on the bottom.  Second, and most important, is so that you can see your line jump when a fish strikes your bait.  I normally do not use a barrel swivel when pitching jigs across the current. I just splice in about 3 ft. of 10 lb. test peeline fluorocarbon leader. Some days, live bait works very well.  But it seems like the big fish come off of the plastics; plastics such as jerk shad and ring worms.

The third technique is vertical jigging though the deeper holes. I use live bait more often when using this technique. I typically use fatheads or emerald shiners.

Last year, we had an extreme amount of run off due to all the snow we received over the winter. The walleyes had a lot of options as far as the rivers they ran up into. When you are fishing up to the north of Green Bay and you have three main rivers like the Menominee, Peshtigo, and Oconto, the walleyes on this end of the Bay had felt strong current coming out of all three of these rivers. The walleyes then ran heavy up into all of them. On a winter like this one where we are not getting as much snow, there is a good chance there will not be as much run off. A key thing to remember when fishing these areas is that the Peshtigo is the narrowest of the three. On a normal year when fishing the Peshtigo, it’s more of a flat bottom boat river as opposed to a v-hull. The Peshtigo, on a low water year, will have more direct current flowing out of it into the Bay of Green Bay. More walleyes will migrate up into the Peshtigo due to the force of the current. Last year is the first time in four years that I did not see the numbers of walleyes due to the amount of current coming out of the other two rivers. The Oconto last year had extremely high numbers of walleyes in it because of the current.

A last reminder that in the spring until the first Saturday in May, you can only keep one walleye in the rivers or on the Bay of Green Bay. I think this is an awesome rule. It helps keep our system strong. These are great times to take kids and women out to experience some of the best walleye fishing that Wisconsin has to offer.   Besides the great fishing in these areas (such as the Peshtigo and the Oconto river areas), the people are extremely friendly and there are plenty of nice and comfortable motels to stay at.  And… the food is awesome! If you get a chance stop in for breakfast at the Corral Diner in Peshtigo- and in the evening sneak across the street for a steak at T Browns and say “hi” to Ralph. 

Good luck fishing.