Mar 10, 2017
Turtle Flambeau Flowage (TFF)
The close of the game fish season in northern Wisconsin this year is March 5th. This brings an end to watching flags snapping skyward from the tug of a walleye, bass or pike. This is a time to fish with a little more mobility using jig poles and electronics. The fish most commonly pursued with this method are crappie and bluegill. Crappie minnows, or wax worms, on small jigs, usually work well on these fish. Oftentimes, plastics such small tube jigs can be just as effective.
March can provide some fun late season ice fishing. Most often the ice will remain thick and safe for most of the month. However, during this time of year it is important to check on local conditions before venturing north. In the Mercer area, Turtle River Trading Co. 715 476-0123, can provide you with bait, tackle, and most importantly, current conditions.
I spend most of my time fishing the Turtle Flambeau Flowage. Crappie and bluegill are found in the deeper original lake basins and over wood structure on the edges of the original river channels, usually in the 15 to 25 foot depth range depending which river channels you are targeting. Work spots thoroughly, but if not finding action, moving to others is the key.
If the search for fish on the 13,000 acre Turtle Flambeau Flowage feels a little too daunting, there are a lot of lakes in the near vicinity to Mercer. These smaller lakes can obviously be easier to locate fish on with a lot less water to search. Some of the close lakes that offer good access and good fishing are: Mercer Lake, Grand Portage Lake (Tank), Echo Lake, Wilson Lake, Lake of The Falls and First, Second and Third Black Lakes are a few of the nearby lakes. Again, drilling a lot of holes and moving around is sometimes what it takes to locate active fish.
Area fishermen welcome the warmer temps of March and April. As the snow melts and the runoff pumps oxygen rich water into the river and lake systems, the panfish bite goes crazy. Crappie are especially easy to catch this time of year and we go after them in a variety of ways; tip-downs are super popular because they allow anglers the ability to cover a larger area of ice. I like to run and gun, drilling a number of holes and dropping a spoon like a Buckshot or Swedish pimple down the hole with a gob of spikes on it. The larger the bait, the faster I am able to get it to hungry slabs. Lakes that have easy access for foot travel like Duroy, Musser, Butternut, Solberg and other smaller lakes are very popular late ice destinations.
The late ice bluegill bite is also good on most area lakes in early spring. I like using tungsten jigs, tipped with spikes or a waxie, for the hungry bluegill. Target them on area lakes near cribs or on 8 to 15 foot mud flats. As the ice deteriorates, we like to get a jump-start on open water fishing by going after redhorse suckers on the Flambeau, Elk and Jump River systems. With the game fish season being closed until the first Saturday in May in all of Price County, many anglers look to these feisty rough fish to fill their sport fishing needs. Redhorse fishing requires only some simple tackle, a hook, some sinkers and a crawler for bait. Cast a few rods out, sit back, relax and wait for a bite. This is a great family event and a great way to introduce new anglers to the sport of fishing.
Fishing in early spring around northwest Wisconsin revolves around late ice. With game fish seasons ended, we focus on catching big crappie and bluegill. In the Hayward area there are many lakes to choose from. Grindstone Lake has a great panfish bite in the spring. Expect better than average sized fish but maybe fewer in number then on some other lakes. Stick with little jigs, tipped with wax worms or spikes. Move frequently until you get on the fish.
In the Spooner area, it's tough to beat Long Lake for panfish action. Many public access spots are available here. I tend to focus on the upper end of the lake, near the narrows. Here you are close to good fishing and Long Lake Bait shop is just up the hill. Nice crappie and bluegill are common here, along with an occasional decent perch or two.
Over by Siren are the ever-popular Clam Lakes. Hot panfish action can be had here too. Again, keep moving until you contact fish.
Like other anglers, I love a successful day on the ice. Being bundled up while enjoying what Mother Nature has swimming below the frozen lake ice. On inland waters in northern Wisconsin, panfish are the only species open after early March. There are dozens of bodies of water within 20 minutes of the city of Rhinelander that have big panfish as well as a lot of appropriately sized eaters. The Rhinelander Flowage is a great place to find fish and most times it is not hard to find them. Look for pods of ice anglers off Boom Lake in different lakes and bays such as Bass Lake, Thunder Lake, and Peggy’s Slough.
Another good option is to target crappies by fishing the cribs on Boom Lake’s shoreline with tip-downs while jigging. Lake George is another area lake that has a good population of panfish. George is full of rock bars and has some big “pans” in it. Fish off steep drop-offs that are adjacent to rocks and/or shorelines.
The last body of water to mention is the Rainbow Flowage. The Rainbow arguably has the biggest panfish out of these three waters. You will need to do some homework if you desire to fish the Rainbow. This water covers a big area that stretches from Lake Tomahawk to St. Germain. You will travel on roads ranging from paved to dirt in order to research the whole body of water. The best bet here is to take a Saturday or Sunday and explore what you can. Be sure to take a pair of binoculars along too. This time of year, I always use tip-ups to employ all three lines to maximize my success. My tip-downs are equipped with a single or treble hook and a sinker along with a crappie, rosy red or fathead minnow.
The last point to discuss is keeping fish. I have spoken about it before and it is very important to me. Only keep the eater panfish and leave the big ones to spawn and grow. These adult panfish can produce up to 100,000 eggs every year so, take a quick picture and release them. Our fishing future depends on it!
West Central Wisconsin
Chetek Chain of Lakes
These next two months are going to be prime time for chasing bluegills and crappies. Beginning with ice fishing and ending in a boat. I assume the boats will be on the water by mid-April.
First off, ice fishing. The landings will probably start to get torn up a little bit, and the ice may start to do some honeycombing. Grab your cleats. With the warmer weather, you may not even need an auger. Last year that was all I did on Prairie Lake. A bucket with a Vexilar, and one jig rod. Just walk from open hole to open hole, seeing what you can mark. Bigger crappies were usually suspended up high, with big bluegills down toward the bottom. Bait color really doesn't seem to matter at this time of year. I'm usually targeting bays and less than ten feet of water at this time of year. The warmer it gets, the better the fishing gets, however, the less safe the ice is at this point, too.
Eventually, it will get so warm that the ice will just disappear. When that happens, I have a blast chasing big bluegill in five feet of water or less. I fish near timber, sometimes right up in it. Anglers will have luck on a variety of baits such as worms, waxies, Gulp! and wet flies. Usually, when you catch a couple, there is a lot more where they came from. So, throw out an anchor and enjoy the day!
West Coast of Wisconsin
Lake Pepin and Mississippi River Area
Spring has arrived here on the West Coast and the water levels are definitely above normal. We did not have a lot of snow, but the fall was extremely wet so the river froze about 3 three feet above normal, which is why the water level is where it is. This has made the backwater fishing “the place” to get in some really fine fishing. The waterholes are full and the ice has been pretty solid. The perch and the panfishing are excellent and you may hit some walleye on Buffalo Slough if you are lucky.
April brings us an all new fishing expedition. The big lake is open and the water levels are changing with the opening of the dams. The days are warm but the ice that flows into the river from the St. Croix River keeps the water temperatures down. The walleye will be heading up the river making fishing on the Wisconsin channel of the Mississippi (Redwing down to Bay City), an excellent time to be on the water. A lot of fish can be caught in April; sauger and walleye mostly, but the white bass are soon to be here. The backwaters of the Chippewa are now thawed and the panfishing remains great.
The early trout season is open from January 7th to May 5th and all rivers in Buffalo, Pepin and Pierce Counties are open. Remember you do need a stamp and it is catch and release. The fishing is really excellent on Pine Creek and the Rush River. The brown trout are staying mostly down by deltas near the Mississippi. If you go up stream a bit, you will find an abundance of brook and an occasional rainbow. If fly-fishing is your passion, now is the time to come to this side of the state.
It has been a long winter and the Mississippi River folk are slowly waking up, so why don’t you come and see how beautiful the West Coast of Wisconsin is? That’s all for now, see you on the river.
East Central Wisconsin
It's my favorite time of the year! Late season ice fishing and the start of open water fishing. The walleye are all gathering in Lake Poygan waiting to head up the river. It is a perfect time to catch a couple meals. In March, I like to use tip-ups and shiners. Hungry walleye are looking for an easy meal. A #12 treble hook and a split shot 10 inches above is all you need for this rig. Lightly hook the shiner in the middle of the back then set your tip-up so the minnow is about 4 to 6 inches from bottom. Remember, walleye always feed up. Sit back, relax and wait for a flag.
Now, it's time to get the boat ready, batteries charged up, reels spooled with new line and tackle box organized. The ice is still floating down, but the landing is clear. Time to start catching some walleye. While the ice is coming down, the only safe way to fish is vertical jigging while floating amongst the icebergs. For jigging, I'm using a 3/8 or 1/2 oz. jig, depending on the current. I also have a #12 stinger hook on. As soon as the ice stops flowing down, it's time to anchor up. I fish current breaks and inside corners. For this technique, I use Wolf River rigs. I replace the hook with a floater and use the lightest weight possible to touch bottom. On these rigs, I use 12 lb. fluorocarbon. The stiffness of the fluorocarbon helps with the presentation and causes less twist-ups. I generally put a #12 stinger hook on as well. If anchoring isn't productive, it's back to drifting and jigging.
Be safe and tight lines.
South Central Wisconsin
Petenwell and Castle Rock Flowages
March: During this month, most people are getting boats ready for the open water season. Others are finishing up with some late ice. This time of year both Castle Rock and Petenwell will be drawn down for the spring runoff. A lot of people I talk to will ask, “Can I still fish the flowages after they lower the lakes? Can I still drive out? Take ATVs out?” The answer is yes.
You will want to take caution during this time of year in areas where there were heaves all winter, mainly the headwaters of the lakes. On Petenwell, I don't advise people fish north of Lure Bar on the east side of the lake. On the west side, I don’t advise fishing north of Long View. The main channel flows down from Nekoosa, out at Yellow Banks, heading east down along the lure bar and then back across towards long viewpoint. This portion of the lake will open up very fast with good current flow. At times, a lot of shoreline will get busted up with heavy winter traffic. If it looks bad, just go down and around the shoreline.
People fishing Castle Rock will want to stay away from the heaves, and the headwaters of the Wisconsin River on the east side of the lake. For the Buckhorn side, which is the west side, you will want to stay away from the Little Yellow and the Buckhorn Bridge. Both the Yellow River and the Wisconsin River will have current this time of year. These areas below Buckhorn Bridge and the train tracks on the Wisconsin will open up first with good current flow.
Fishing can be very good on both flowages. Walleye will really be on the move toward the headwaters of the dams. People will still be catching good numbers of panfish. White bass really turn on in March. This is still a good time to fish the main channel for walleye. Use tip-ups with medium golden shiners 6 to 8 inches off the bottom. For those that like jigging, Slender spoons tipped with minnow heads or loaded up with spikes will also take fish. Over the last two seasons, we have also been catching a lot of walleye on the R.P.M. (Rotating Power Minnow). This bait is similar to a jigging rap. The great thing about the R.P.M. is that there is a built in swivel at the top of the bait. No more adding an extra swivel up the line, which is something you need to do with Rapalas. Also, with the R.P.M., there are no front or back hooks. So, no more hang-ups on the edge of the hole while fighting a fish. Lastly, on the R.P.M. the hooks are located at the belly of the bait for great hookups!
If jigging for white bass, crappie, bluegill and perch, try fishing deep holes or in the main channel over wood. Also fish tip-downs with small minnows couple feet off the bottom. If jigging, a good technique is to use smaller Slender spoons tipped with spikes. Another jigging option is to fish tungsten (Chekai) jigs tipped with spikes, waxies and plastics. Panfish plastics (chigger fry) work wonders on the flowages.
April: On most given years, the walleye spawn the first and second week of April. On Petenwell Flowage, walleye travel from the lake north toward Nekoosa Dam. But keep in mind, not all fish will head north to spawn. There are a large number of walleye that still spawn in the main lake and down along the south dyke above Petenwell Dam. Try fishing deep holes in the river. Chester Creek, Brown Creek, and 10 mile are all great starting points to start out the run. Many will target walleye up below the dam and the park area in Nekoosa. This is a shallow rocky area with great current. This type of bottom is what the walleye are looking for to spawn.
On years where the water has been low, with very little current, the walleye have spawned downriver. Many will try fishing ring worms, jigs tipped with large mud minnows and even troll small crankbaits. On Castle Rock, fish the deep holes below the train tracks of the Wisconsin River. Another spot to fish is below the Petenwell Dam in the slack water. Tackle of choice will be blade baits, jigs tipped with large minnows and ring worms. If targeting the Buckhorn bridge side, which would be the Yellow River, fish north and south of the bridge in the deep holes with ringworms and jigs tipped with fatheads. Few people will work their way up to Murphy’s Slough on up to the dam in Necedah. Tackle of choice are plastics, ringworms and jigs tipped with minnows.
For more information on the flowages, or to book a guide trip, give me a call (608)547-3022. Check us out on Facebook, Green Water Walleyes Guide Service. You also can check us out on Lake-link.com for fishing reports and other questions.
If ice holds solid, early March can produce some monster pike. They can be found in shallow bays, preferably near marshes, as they stage for spawning. A strong tip-up, rigged with a large sucker or shiner minnow, will do the trick. We also use 50 lb. fluorocarbon leaders, steel leaders, or Northland Tackle Predator Rigs in our setups. Predator Rigs work well for overly large baits since it has two “Y” treble hooks. It’s recommended to drill a 10-inch hole, if possible. Many times fish can be found in 2 to 3 feet of water and trying to turn or maneuver huge fish into a small hole can be challenging.
Although many anglers head to the river once the ice leaves, walleye can also be found in the main lake itself. Often less pressured, these fish can be caught by slow trolling crankbaits near the river mouth or mid-lake areas. Speeds of 1 to 1.5 mph are a good starting point. Snap jigging near the river mouth is another tactic that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Upper Rock River System
When talking about the Upper Rock River System, I’m speaking of the area of river before it flows into Lake Koshkonong. Season is open year-round on this system, so once the ice is gone, anglers come from all over to target pre-spawn walleye. Don’t be surprised by the crowd of boats, which is common this time of year. Many anglers use simple, yet productive, vertical jigging techniques as a go-to, but other tactics such as slow trolling cranks, plastics or three-way rigs work very well also. The current will dictate the weight needed to keep your presentation in the strike range. It can be somewhat swift in this area during early spring, depending on winter runoff and ice melt, but we typically start with the smallest weight possible, allowing the bait to work 4 to 8 inches off the bottom. Electronics, such as the Humminbird Helix unit, will greatly help with bait placement when vertical jigging and with seeing fluctuating depth changes associated with river contours.
For vertical jigging, we use Northland Tackle’s RZ jigs, Stand-up Fire-Ball jigs, “Rock-It” jigs, and their new Swivel-Head jigs. All have produced well when tipped with live bait or plastics. With a little trial and error, you can determine which presentation and color is the best. Many factors can change fish feeding activity, so don’t hesitate to change things up if the bite slows. Jigging blade baits such as Vibrations Tackle’s Echotails will also work well, along with casting Rapala Rippin’ Raps, if boat traffic allows.
For trolling cranks or jigs, it is very important to keep your lure in the target area. The speed of your boat and the amount of line out are key to achieving this. Each bait can run differently, so try experimenting until the correct setup is found. When using a three-way rig, we like to start with bright colored lures, such as Rapala Husky Jerks or Storm Thundersticks, and pull them behind a bottom bouncer. Pulling an AuthentX Moxi, paddle tail, or Kalin’s Sizmic Grub can also produce a large amount of fish.
River crappies are often overlooked due to “walleye fever,” but areas of cover all along the banks can hold some big slabs. Staying mobile is important and using a basic minnow tipped 1/32 oz. jig under a bobber will quickly tell you if fish are present or not. Water depths of 2 feet will hold fish if conditions are right, so it pays to cover the entire spot before moving on.
Lower Rock River System
The Lower Rock River System starts in the Newville, WI area. Downriver further sits the Indianford Dam. This area is also an excellent walleye location and is less pressured, due to limited boat access. If you do venture upriver to the dam area, be very cautious. It is navigable, but rocks, eddies and changing current can be dangerous. This area is full of solid rocks and some are quite big…it’s great cover for fish, but not so awesome for props.
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, if the water is not flowing fast. This location produces plenty of walleye and pike action, along with an occasional crappie or perch. Casting crankbaits or slowly retrieving a jig tipped with live bait or plastics works well when fishing here. If fishing the wall, slip bobbers, tipped with minnows, can also produce. Trep’s Bait is a convenient shop located near the dam on County Hwy M and they offer a decent assortment of bait/tackle.
The two dams located downriver in Janesville, Wisconsin offer shore based anglers the opportunity to catch plenty of fish. The first one is located off Centerway Ave. and the other is located off Center Ave. Since both are nearly inaccessible by boat, a shoreline fishing approach, while using similar techniques as discussed above is recommended. The Centerway Dam has walls on both sides of the banks and has limited access for anglers compared to the more angler friendly Center Ave Dam (aka Monterey Dam). The Monterey Dam also has an excellent bait and tackle store near the entrance path leading to fishing areas. It’s A Keeper Bait and Tackle has a huge supply of angling products specific to the area and also offers up to date information on the fish bite.
The fishing in southeast Wisconsin on Lake Michigan remains very good with the cold weather causing the fish to school up. The targeted species at this time remains to be brown trout with a few coho mixed in. Trolling for these fish, or jigging from a boat remains productive. The jigging technique that works best is the 3/8 oz. jig head with a Gulp! Minnow, size 3 to 4 inches. When trolling, use slide divers with long leads and Michigan Stinger spoons. The downriggers with Stinger spoons should be run back 100 to 150 feet. Church Tx-12 boards with 1, 2, and 3 color leadcore with Bomber long A crankbaits, and Brad’s Thin Fish are great options for getting these fish. The best color spoons are Wonderbread, Yellow Tuxedo and Hudd Special. It is common to catch in excess of 30 fish per trip using these techniques during this time period.
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