Mar 10, 2016
Mercer Area/Turtle Flambeau Flowage
With the close of the "game fish" season, walleye, northern pike and bass on March 5th, most of the fishing in my neck of the woods consists of pursuing panfish through the ice. There are literally hundreds of lakes to choose from within a fairly tight radius of Mercer, most of which have either perch, bluegills, crappies or all three. For fisherman willing to put forth a little physical exertion, there are walk in or, depending on the snow cover, snowshoe in lakes in the Northern Highland State forest. These lakes have low fishing pressure and good populations of panfish, with the thinner ice cover this year the load in could be lightened with a small diameter hand auger.
On the Turtle Flambeau Flowage, there is a good population of nice size crappies that the 10" minimum size and 10 fish limit has helped establish. They are found in deeper water; 20 feet or more in the original lake basins on the flowage. The most popular area for late winter crappies is the Lake Bastine area of the flowage with the closest public launch being Sportsman's landing. A closer access is the private landing at Donner's Bay Resort, Marvin or Connie (proprietors) 715 476-2555 may be able to give a current conditions report.
The search for panfish involves drilling holes and moving around, jigging until active fish are found, of course the use of electronics can be helpful. On many days, especially in April, a Florida suntan (on your face anyway) can be acquired while you're on the ice, bring sunglasses. As always make sure the ice is safe, the length of the ice season in northern Wisconsin varies considerably from year to year.
Lake Superior Tributaries
To the north, one of the most interesting early spring fishing opportunities is the spring steelhead run on the Lake Superior tributary rivers. This season opens the last Saturday in March, some of the better rivers in the Bayfield area are the North Fish Creek, Flag, Cranberry and Sioux. Farther to the west in Ashland County is the famous Brule River, nicknamed "the presidents river" with 5 different presidents having cast flies in it.
The presentation is most often a spawn sac or egg mimicking pattern, drifted in the current. Sometimes a bobber is used or, if you're a fly fisherman, a float, along with a split shot to try to get the bait drifting along the bottom. You don't have to own a fly rod, many people fish them with longer spinning rods and mono in the 10 lb. range. The limit is one fish per day with a minimum length of 26 inches, though most of these spectacular fish are released. Fish move into the rivers with the snow melt and early spring rains. These are wild fish coming from Lake Superior to spawn, the country and rivers are beautiful.
My last trip, I was not only motivated by the fishing, but to do some spring deer scouting. It is some beautiful country to roam around in. A good source for current conditions and tackle for this pursuit is Anglers All in Ashland (715) 682-5754.
Springtime in the Northwoods brings with it a really cool, or should I say hot, ice fishing panfish bite. As ice begins to melt and winters frozen grip on the landscape slowly loosens, some of the best crappie and bluegill fishing of the entire year commences on lakes both big and small. Good choices around the Hayward/Spooner area include the Chippewa Flowage, LCO, Lost Land & Teal and Shell Lake just name a few. A good flasher, jigging stick and a handfull of small ice jigs are about all you need here. Look for shallow flats in depths of 7 to 12 feet and keep moving until you find them. When you're on the right spot you'll know immediately as these fish don't mess around and will hammer anything that moves.
Before we go any further, discussion of the term "selective harvest" seems to be in order. When fish of any species bunch up in predictable locations and are feeding aggressively, we as anglers need to be sure to enjoy great fishing without putting such a pounding on them as to decimate an entire fishery. I've seen real good crappie lakes go bad in as little as one or two seasons because of over harvest. It really does happen more than one might think. Catch some fish, keep a few to eat and let the rest go, next year you'll be glad you did.
In Vilas County, the Phelps area lakes are big and deep and they have some HUGE fish swimming in their waters. A good time to hit these lakes is on late ice and early open water. Since the bigger species of game fish close in early March here, what is an angler to do? Fish for some slabs of our smaller species; bluegills, crappies and perch stay open continuously on inland waters in Wisconsin (including Wisconsin-Michigan boundary waters). As always, Mother Nature is in control of our seasons up here, she dictates whether we will be sitting on the ice or bobbing around in a boat. Either way, these area lakes produce some giant panfish that are waiting for you to experience.
Lastly, safety, which is always my number one priority as a guide. Late ice can become dangerous so be very careful and remember, fishing is not worth your life!
“SET THE HOOK!”
Andy Hendrickson, Hendo’s Angling Expeditions, (715) 401-0475, www.HendosAnglingExpeditions.com
West Central Wisconsin
Chetek Chain of Lakes
It is so hard to predict from year to year, exactly what KIND of fishing for bluegills you will be doing on the Chetek Chain in March and April. Last spring we had ice out in late March, and the previous two springs there was ice on the lake until almost the fishing opener. Either way, it’s always one of the "safe bets" in the Chippewa Valley for late ice and ice out gills.
Areas such as Silver Birch, and the north end of Prairie, are popular destinations for late ice gills. Late afternoon is usually the best time of day. Use your Vexilar if you want, but you really shouldn't need it. Mid-size crappie will keep you busy in between decent crappies and gills.
At ice out, bluegills will move into the shallows. Small presentations such as moon jigs, tipped with waxies, 1/32 oz. jigs with Gulp! minnows, leaf worms and even wet flies will produce.
Mississippi River Pool 5 (Alma)
There is just something about that crisp, fresh, March air and being back in the boat for the first time in four months. Great feeling. I like to try my luck vertical jigging for walleye and sauger, using hair jigs, tipped with fatheads. The lock and dam are popular spots for anglers, but you can have good luck away from the crowds as well. Work eddies and current seams. If the ever popular walleye isn’t cooperating, try sneaking into a backwater with some nightcrawlers or small plastics. This can be a great time to find some jumbo perch!
Chippewa River and its Tributaries
You probably aren't going to find many articles about sucker fishing. But if the ice is out, and you haven't quite got the boat ready, this is a great way to have some fun with the kids! Nightcrawlers fished on the bottom is the most common method. The Chippewa/Eau Claire River confluence at Phoenix Park in Eau Claire, Duncan Creek in Chippewa Falls and Big Falls County Park are all good places to try!
West Coast of Wisconsin
Spring is definitely a great time of year to be on Lake Pepin, which is part of the Mississippi River. The views are spectacular, the trees are budding and the eagles are soaring. In March, the water levels are low and the water temperatures are cool. The fishing is consistent. Saugers are hitting well at each end of the lake. If you are after walleye, you want to be on Lake Pepin, not on the river. They haven’t moved upstream yet. The water conditions will change daily, depending on nighttime weather and when the dam gates are opened. This will increase the water levels and affect the clarity in a negative way.
April brings a whole different fishing experience. The nighttime temperatures warm, but the ice flows dumping into the river from the St Croix drop the temperature greatly. The walleyes will now be heading upriver, so fishing the Wisconsin channel of the Mississippi, from Red Wing down to Bay City, will make for great fishing. The backwaters of the Chippewa River will still be holding ice and the panfishing is excellent. Again, a lot of fish are being caught in April, mostly saugers and walleye, but the white bass are just around the corner.
Early trout season runs from March 7th to April 26th. In Pine Creek and the Rush River, there will be a lot of water moving from the snow runoff and the fishing should be excellent. This is a catch and release season, so the fish must be released immediately and you can only use artificial bait. This being said, plan on a lot of action on the rivers.
Spring is a beautiful time to enjoy the West Coast of Wisconsin. The fishing is great, bird watching is incredible and the river communities are waking up from a long winter slumber. So pack up the family and come visit!
Bart Armstrong, (715)204-2410
East Central Wisconsin
Spring is my favorite time of the year! Ice out and open water fishing. The walleyes are making their annual run and life is good. While the ice is still floating down, I start by drifting and jigging. I use 3/8 and 1/2 oz. jigs, depending on the current, tipped with a minnow and stinger hook. Make sure you use a long enough stinger that the minnow can still move naturally.
As soon as the ice has stopped coming down, I begin anchoring and jigging Wolf River Rigs. I use gumdrop floaters and 12 lb. mono or fluorocarbon for the rig. I generally anchor on the inside corners where the current is slower. I'll anchor until 11 am or so then I begin drifting and jigging looking for active fish.
And since it may be an early start to the season, on the down run, walleye will be very aggressive and hungry. Crankbaits are an excellent method of catching this amazing fish. Fish wooded shorelines, drop-offs and shallow corners. Shad Raps and Flicker shads are a go to bait. This is a great way to catch a limit in little time. I also drag nightcrawlers on the bottom on the down run. 1/8 oz. jig with a half crawler and long line hit on the bottom. This is a tricky technique! Trying to tell the difference between a bite and the bottom can be tough. I use sensitive rods, braided 10 lb. line and light wire jigs. The braid and light wire hooks are to save jigs from snags. You can bend the hook but not break it off.
I hope this helps all of you this year on your quest for more walleye. Use safety when drifting with icebergs and don't get trapped by an ice jam. If anchoring, always keep a pocketknife handy just in case an ice chunk hits your anchor rope.
Good luck and tight lines!
Captain Patrick Morack, Moracktion Guide Service, (920)216-9085
Now that the ice is melting, all of us seem to have the same idea, spring fishing! For those of you that enjoy walleye fishing the Fox, here are a few tips to help you be a little more successful. I think we have all witnessed the many boats up around the dam. There are always boats coming and going; trying to find that special spot where the fish are sitting. That kind of activity tends to scatter the fish even at depths down to 20 feet.
Find a spot away from the crowds. Drift slowly downstream keeping your jig vertical. If your boat is drifting too fast, use your Minn Kota trolling motor to slow down. When going slow, you’ll sometimes notice your jig tends to get downstream from you. Don’t be afraid to try a little heavier jig in order to keep your line vertical so that you can feel the bottom.
As the fish move upstream, they’ll try to stay away from the faster currents. The current is always slower right on the bottom. Additionally, look for those breaks in the current along the main channel, the fish tend to travel along those edges. If the water visibility is 6 feet or better the fish can be spooked from your boat, so try making long casts into the current breaks.
The six plus miles of the Fox River from the dam to the mouth of Green Bay is loaded with areas that hold walleyes. Don’t be afraid to venture downstream and take advantage of some of the best walleye fishing on the Fox. Fish the many bridges, drop-offs, and rocky shores; they can be treasure troves of great fishing!
Good Luck and Have Fun!
Captain Jeff Boutin, Team Outdoors LLC, (262)352-2758, www.team-outdoors.com
As the days get longer and the water warms a bit in March the pike and perch will be going into spawn mode. Look for pike and perch schooling up in the shallow bays all over the Winnebago system where the sun hits the most. The warming of the bottom, due to sun-exposed areas, will attract pike and perch this time of the year. While panfish and walleyes are legal all year round, the pike are protected on the Winnebago system from March 6th until the opener in May.
The runoff from all the winter snow will have lots of walleye moving up the Fox and the Wolf rivers in April. As soon as the landings are ice free, we will be putting the boats in the rivers and chasing walleye. April is usually a popular month to go back and forth between the river walleye and the late ice panfish that are schooling up in the bays.
South Central Wisconsin
Upper Rock River System
As soon as the ice melts in late March, many anglers will start chasing Rock River walleyes that begin to migrate to spawning areas. Male walleye 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 downstream. The current can be somewhat swift in this area during early spring… depending on the winter run off and ice melt. Trolling is now permitted throughout the Rock River System, but the number of boats in a confined area will make things interesting.
Vertical jigging and bottom bouncing is the choice method by many anglers here, as is slow trolling/dragging with Moxi plastics. 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 walleye 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 Berkley Gulp 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 different sized bait profiles when jigging. Some days big baits work best and other days it’s the opposite. Make sure to 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. Downriver sits the Indianford Dam. This area is also an excellent walleye location and is usually less pressured due to limited boat access. If you do venture upriver to the dam area, be prepared for quickly changing depths. It is navigable, but do so at your own risk. This area is mostly solid rocks and they are big. Many a 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 throughout the day and night during this time of year. Casting crankbaits and slowly retrieving a minnow tipped jig works 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. Make sure to give “Trep’s Bait” a visit. They have a convenient shop right near the dam and offer a good assortment of bait/tackle.
Farther south in Janesville, WI sits two other dams. One is located off Centerway Ave. and the other is located off Center Ave. Both are nearly inaccessible by boat and require a shoreline fishing approach, using 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 Center Ave. Dam (aka Monterey Dam) produces much better and there’s also a great 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.
Adam Walton-Pike Pole
Petenwell and Castle Rock Flowages
March late ice
This time of year, on both flowages, the power company will have dropped the water levels for the spring runoff. This also can be some of the hottest fishing time all season. Fishermen will still be targeting walleye along deep timber structure and big bends in the main river channel. Walleye are on the move at this time. One day you will catch them in one spot, and the next day they will be a couple hundred yards north working their way upriver to the spawning grounds. Target them by using tip-ups with medium golden shiners, a small treble hook, 10 to 12 lb. mono line 6 to 12 inches off the bottom.
When jigging for walleyes use slender spoons, jigging raps, and rattle spoons tipped with minnow heads, waxies and spikes. The panfish bite is very good this time of year. Lots of nice crappies, white bass, perch and even nice gills are caught. With the water being lower than normal, targeting deep holes can prove to be successful. Also target wood structure and deep breaks off the main channel. Small slender spoons, tungsten jigs painted in bright colors tipped with plastics, or live bait like waxies, spikes, and small fat heads. Tip-downs, with small crappie minnows or rosie reds 2 to 3 feet off the bottom are also effective.
Another note for fishing the flowages this time of year, is that river is starting a stronger flow in late March. You want to stay away from the head waters of both flowages. On Petenwell Flowage this would be the Yellow Banks area on the western shore. The east side is north of the Lure Bar area. This opens up very fast with good water flowing. For Castle Rock, the east side of the lake is south of the train tracks down to Carlson’s Supper Club. The west side Buckhorn area is south of the bridge.
This time of year, the walleyes are on the spawning ground in the river. Walleye are caught jigging live bait and pitching ringworms. As the water temperatures rise, anglers will either troll or cast small stick baits. Not all walleye head to the river to spawn. There are a good number of ‘eyes that spawn on main lake, gravel flats, and in shallow backwater areas. Walleye spawn around the 42-degree mark. Walleye also like a good current flow. There have been years the walleye stayed down towards the north end of the lake to spawn because of the lack of current. On Petenwell Flowage, fishermen target slack water areas along shore and behind islands. These give the walleye a rest spot from spawning and areas to feed. Another good place to try are the rock piles up towards the Nekoosa Dam. Deep holes in front of Chester’s Creek, Brown’s Creek and Yellow Banks hold good numbers of walleye. A good spot for fishing Castle Rock is below the Petenwell Dam, and the train tracks to the south of the dam. Fishermen on the west side (Buckhorn) fish the Yellow River area and the Buckhorn Bridge. Around the last week in April, good numbers of crappies and white bass start to make their way in the river to spawn. This can make for some very fun times for the family. Any questions about the flowages drop me an email www.Greenwaterwalleyes@yahoo.com Check out our facebook page Green Water Walleyes Guide Service. For booking of guide trips and fishing reports check us out on lake-link.com.
Be safe this season and catch lots of fish!