May 10, 2018
This winter was long and drawn out for sure. But now, your boat is all gassed up and ready for the season ahead. All the gear is in and the batteries are charged up.
If you start out with walleyes for the opener the first Saturday in May, one of the changes this year impacting Oneida County is the new trolling rule. Flowages such as the Rainbow and Willow restrict motor trolling to no more than one line per person, and no more than three total lines per boat used for trolling. These lakes have been a three-line per angler limit in the past and have now changed this year. All other bodies of water are the same for trolling in Oneida County.
Another regulation put in place last year is a limit on panfish for the months of May and June during spawning season. These limits are posted at landings and are also in the fishing regulations pamphlet.
Crappie pre-spawn begins this time of year. You can locate fish in shallow mud bays with warmer water temperatures. I begin by looking for emerging lily pads popping up in the shallows. The mud bottom helps water temperatures come up during the day and the lily pads give cover for the crappies coming in to eat minnows. As the season progresses, the crappies will push into cover such as overhanging trees and stumps in the water. Ultra-light rods and reels combined with pencil bobbers and small jigs tipped with plastics or live bait work best for catching bucket mouths.
Walleye action is keyed in on shallow areas with sand/rock sections of the lakes and flowages early in the season. Early morning and late evening is when the fish push shallow to feed. The standard jig and minnow tactic is my go-to when targeting shallow water walleyes. During the day, head out to the first breakline and use jigs. Another effective tactic is to try trolling with Flicker Shads to contact fish.
Musky season opens the last Saturday of May in the northern zone of Wisconsin. This year it does not coincide with Memorial Day, but is a weekend earlier. If targeting musky, start out small and shallow with twitch baits and glide baits. Use cover as a focus point as many of these fish are just coming off the spawn and cruising the shallow bays. If no fish are in these locations, pull out to the weed edges and work them with the same baits. Other fish will be suspended out even deeper. Throw and troll smaller lipped crank baits to catch these fish.
This time of the year is one of my favorite parts of the fishing season with so many things going on and so many fish to target. You can target walleyes during the early mornings, then switch gears during mid-day and chase panfish in the shallows. Then, go back to walleyes during low light once again. Good luck and tight lines this opener of fishing!
Dan Gropengiser, Grop’s Guide Service, 715.360.1601
This 3,200-acre lake in Washburn County – just east of Spooner – is a great destination for early season fishing. Good crappie and bluegill action can be had in the shallows this time of year. Small, soft plastics suspended under a float is the perfect way to get your bait in front of fish in the 3- to 6-foot zone. Long Lake also has a strong largemouth bass fishery with good numbers of fish in the 15- to 20-inch range. Bedding bass on Long Lake love a purple wacky worm fished weightless, but a variety of other options will catch fish here as well.
This clearwater gem just south of Hayward has a real nice walleye bite this time of year. On Grindstone, finding the newly emerging cabbage weeds is often the key to consistently catching early season walleyes. Lots of fish fall victim to the old staple, a jig and fathead minnow. But don't overlook the soft plastic option out there as well.
Swim bait-type paddle tails or Berkeley Gulp Alive minnows catch plenty of fish. The bonus with plastics is there's no need to bait up after every bite. There are also times when anchoring and breaking out the slip bobbers is the most effective way to catch walleyes on Grindstone. It pays to be versatile. Good luck and good fishing.
Jim Stroede, Jim Stroede Guide Service, 715.520.7043, www.JimStroedeFishing.com
Turtle Flambeau Flowage
It’s been a long cold winter in northern Wisconsin, and the fishing opener in May is always one of the telltale signs of spring in the north.
With a potential late ice out, it’s possible walleyes will have just recently spawned. On the Turtle Flambeau Flowage this condition can mean a significant amount of walleyes relating to the original river channels. Popular fishing areas are the Flambeau River that flows in on the east end of the flowage, and Murray's Landing located near this point. The Turtle River comes in on the north end and offers a boat landing near the confluence with a nice county park campground.
Fishing these river channels is most productive with an 1/8-ounce jig and an extra-large fathead minnow. Finding holes in the channel and slowly working the bait with the current has worked best for us. The flowage has diverse structure to fish, however, different conditions call for different methods. Last year on opening weekend, we had great walleye and perch fishing working shallow flats in the 3- to 6-foot range with 1/16-ounce weedless jigs and minnows. Fish relating to the various kinds of wood structure in anywhere from three to 18 feet of water are good bets for walleye and perch in May and June.
Catch-and-release smallmouth is from opening weekend through June 15, with catch-and-keep following. I've written about the fantastic smallmouth fishing on the Turtle Flambeau Flowage, which is some of my favorite fishing. The peak is early June when they're in shallow water and along rocky shorelines.
This time of year also has the best potential for fly fisherman. Each year I guide a father and son who come exclusively to fish with fly rods. They also like the action of top-water fishing and catch the majority of their fish on poppers. Last year they didn't cast anything subsurface and had action almost all day for two days.
The musky season begins May 26! I'm personally starting to do more musky guiding. Last year was good for muskies – early season and most of the summer provided the most action on bucktails, but also did well on top water baits.
I had the good fortune to miss a little of Wisconsin's long winter in the Florida Keys. Now the boat is ready and it’s time to go fishing. Have a great season.
Jeff Robl, Bobber Down Guide Service, 715.766.0140, www.BobberDownGuideService.com
East Central Wisconsin
If you’re a fisherman around the Winnebago System, you’re probably full of anticipation. As the calendar turns to May, it’s the start of some fantastic fishing. May and June on the Winnebago System is what I refer to as “free-for-all fishing.” Every popular fishing tactic comes into play on a daily basis.
When my clients call to book a trip, I’m often asked, “When is the best time to troll, or jig, or slip-bobber fish?” The answer I give is, “Right now.”
However, every year is different. Some years, if we have high water, the river bite may extend through mid-June. If we have a lot of runoff and the water gets a little dirty, we may have some great reef fishing. One of the most popular methods is to troll the open water mudflats with planer boards and crank baits. I will try to break down the tactics I use to consistently produce fish for my clients.
During May: As weather patterns begin to stabilize and water temperatures climb, the fishing continues to get better and better. The walleye migration back to Lake Winnebago is in full swing and river fishing is still a great option. Fish can be spread out from New London all the way south of the Wolf River to Oshkosh. The reefs around Oshkosh have probably been producing walleyes for two weeks already. The prime tactics for the fish still in the rivers is to drag 1/16- to 1/8-ounce jigs and nightcrawlers or pull small streamer flies into the current with your bow-mount trolling motor. I rely heavily on both tactics at this time of year.
As for walleyes that exited the rivers and made their way back into Lake Winnebago, the first place to start looking is the reefs around Oshkosh. Reef fishing at any time of the year is influenced by the wind. Generally the windier it is, the shallower you can fish. The wind will concentrate baitfish and diminish water clarity. You should be fishing fast at this time of year.
Move from reef to reef and don’t spend more than 20 to 30 minutes in an area without some action. Often a small move of 50 yards can make all the difference. Once you locate fish that want to eat, you can often catch several very fast. Pitching jigs and live bait, or slip-bobber fishing over high spots on the wind-blown rocky structure is hard to beat. Don’t be afraid to work some rocky shorelines with small crankbaits like shad raps or jigs and plastics.
May is also the peak of the white bass run. Catching white bass is just plain fun and a great option for anglers that want a lot of action. When I’m fishing the Fox River in Oshkosh or the Wolf River in Winneconne, I prefer to pull flies. I can cover a lot of water and it’s extremely effective. Once I move to the stretches of the Wolf River above Fremont, I will usually fish from an anchored position with small spinners or live bait on a three-way rig.
During June: June is my favorite month on Lake Winnebago. I’m 100 percent focused on walleyes. Almost all the fish have migrated back to the lake and are set up in their summer patterns. Water temperatures have risen into the low 70s and the water usually has diminished visibility. I personally prefer about two to three feet of water clarity. On years without a lot of runoff, Winnebago can stay much clearer than I like, which makes fishing shallow tough.
Three main types of habitat are going to produce at this time of year: rocks, weeds or open water. Rocky reefs along the west shore can be fished with several methods, but jig fishing with live bait is the most popular. Trolling across the tops of the reefs is also very productive, but can be complicated if several other boats are already fishing the area. Another great option is trolling the open water mud flats. Massive amounts of walleyes will suspend around schools of baitfish in open water. The use of planer boards to spread lines while trolling is the most effective way to target these open water fish.
When the “mud bite” is on, it’s not uncommon to catch and release 30 to 50 walleye in a single day. Crank baits like #7 Flicker shads or Salmo Hornets are great choices to start with. Once a school of walleye is located and you establish a good trolling pass on your navigation system, try switching over to crawler harnesses and see if that convinces the bigger fish to bite. If the big fish aren’t found out in the mud, head shallow to some of the weedy bays on the west shore or on the south end of the lake. Weed fishing usually isn’t action fishing, however, it can be some of the most exciting walleye fishing around. Anyone who says walleye don’t fight has never hooked a 25-inch fish in three feet of water. Hang on tight, it can turn into a circus.
I hope you can use some of this advice when planning your next trip to the Winnebago System. If you are new to trolling, pulling flies, or dragging crawlers, I would encourage you to spend some time watching instructional videos on YouTube, or seek hands-on instruction from a guide like myself.
For a current fishing report, check out the Fritz’s Guide Service page on Facebook or look for one of my reports on Lake-Link.com.
Ryan Relian, Fritz’s Guide Service, 920.810.6715, www.FishwithFritz.com
May and June are exciting times on the Winnebago System. Walleye, white bass, panfish, catfish, bass, northern and flatheads are all biting. Walleye are on the down run and headed back to the lakes. Casting cranks and dragging jigs with crawlers are the best methods in the river. On upper river lakes, trolling crank baits is the most effective way to catch these toothy critters.
White bass are abundant during May and the run on the river goes into June. Inline spinners, jigs and minnows, Wolf River rigs with flies and a bobber with a minnow all work well for white bass. Keep moving until you find an active school.
Panfish and bass are on their beds. Bobbers with wax worms, red worms, crawlers and minnows will produce the best bite for panfish. I fish a lot of back waters, sloughs and channels for both bass and panfish. Bass can be caught on spinnerbaits, plastic worms and topwater frogs. The northern population is coming back after the die off several years ago. Big spinners and spinnerbaits work best.
The catfish are really biting in May. Cut minnows, stink bait and chicken livers on a Wolf River rig are great options. Flatheads are a little trickier to catch. Live suckers and bluegill are the bait of choice on a sliding Wolf River rig. For flatheads, I fish directly above a deep hole.
I hope this information makes you a more successful. Be safe and courteous on the water. Tight lines!
Capt. Patrick Morack, Moracktion Guide Service, 920.216.9085
South Central Wisconsin
This time of year can be some of the best fishing. Trolling a variety of crankbaits is the common method for catching multiple species of fish. Flicker Shads, Salmos and Rapala Shad Raps are often used and all work equally well. Certain colors will work much better depending on weather conditions and water visibility. A little trial and error is needed since factors change daily.
Walleye, sauger, pike and white bass are the usual suspects chasing cranks, but occasional crappies, perch and catfish can also be caught. Although largemouth bass and musky are certainly not new to the system, more anglers are reporting higher numbers of them caught. The increasing weed growth occurring more each season is a big factor supporting these bigger numbers. The panfish took a winter kill earlier this year, but 2018 spring surveys by the state Department of Natural Resources shows the panfish numbers remain strong. Slip bobbers near rock piles and docks is a simple but effective way to them.
Upper Rock River
The Upper Rock River System gets plenty of pressure during the walleye run, but it offers action year round. Vertical jigging, snap jigging and trolling are effective ways to boat multiple species of fish. Kalins Lunker Grubs and Sizmic Grubs work well both vertically jigged or pitched and bounced. Jigs tipped with live bait are another option. Depending on depth and current, we use ⅛- to ¼-ounce jigs and either bounce or slowly drag along the bottom. Trolling three-ways with crankbaits or flies also work well and can cover quite a bit of water when searching for active fish.
Lower Rock River
This section of river is shallower than the upper section, but trolling crankbaits or drifting/dragging jigs tipped with live bait along the bottom both work good here as well. Clam beds and small, rocky areas near Newville are great spots to target walleye, as are various structural areas located down river near Janesville. Panfish can be found hanging out near fallen timber near shorelines and bridge pylons. We use small Kalins roundhead jigs and Northland Tackle Gumball jigs under a bobber to target them. A small chunk of nightcrawler or crappie minnow will often do the trick.
Please note construction of the Interstate 90 Bridge near Newville is still ongoing and crews temporarily created a narrower river channel under it. Buoy markers help navigate through the construction area.
Madison Chain of Lakes
When water temperatures hit the mid-60s and 70s, panfish action heats up due to spawning activity. Look for open pockets in shallow, weedy areas and the fish should be nearby. A basic live minnow under a slip bobber works well for crappies along weed edges, as do light-weight jigs slowly popped through cover. Small 1/32-ounce or 1/16-ounce jigs tipped with Gulp baits or Northland Bloodworm jigs work well. Working shallow, sandy pockets inside weed beds will produce bluegill as the temperature warms. Simple wax worms or red worms rigged under a bobber will likely keep kids busy. Please be selective when targeting any spawning fish, especially bluegill easily picked off their beds.
Captain Adam Walton, Pike Pole Fishing Guide Service, 608.290.3929, www.pikepolefishing.com
Petenwell and Castle Rock flowages
May and June can be some of the hottest fishing all season. Water temperatures are rising and water levels normally will be at summer time pool. For those targeting walleyes this time of year, most will be out on the main lake trolling flats, humps and the head waters of the river. Many will troll #5 Shad Raps or #5 Flicker Shads in eight to 12 feet of water. At times, fish will be even shallower early morning and late evening. Another tactic is to troll cranks in the deeper portion of the river.
Some will jig these holes with weedless jigs tipped with a half crawler, leeches or minnows. For those fishing live bait out on the main lake, many will fish dead sticks, Lindy rigs and jigs tipped with a variety of different kinds of live bait. Places to target are main lake drops, the edge of the main river channel and submerged timber. Walleyes might be one of the most targeted species out on both Castle Rock and Petenwell flowages, but there are many other species to target.
Musky fishing the last 10 years has improved due to catch-and-release and the many different clubs with stocking programs. Panfishing can also be good this time of year. Bass fishing for both largemouth and smallmouth bass is another option.
For those interested in targeting catfish, both flowages are loaded. Places to try are the channels in just about any spot below the dams, in the river and out on the main lake. For people that like to target white bass, the flowages have a good spring run, just like the Wolf River. People target them below the Nekoosa Dam and below the Petenwell Dam. Some of the tried and true tactics are to pull three-ways and flies, jigs tipped with minnows and plastics.
Jesse Quale, Green Water Walleyes, 608.547.3022, www.greenwaterwalleyes.com
West Coast of Wisconsin
The West Coast of Wisconsin is in full spring mode. The weather is beautiful, the Mississippi is moving a lot of water, and the fishing is excellent. We are fishing in Pool 4 of the Mississippi River between Dam 3 and 4 or Lake Pepin and the bottom of the Chippewa River, an area known as the Tiffany bottoms.
The water level is a little high due to the winter runoff and the rain. The crappies and panfish are biting in the backwaters of the Chippewa River. A great place to put in is Huck’s landing, where you can cover a lot of area with little hassle. One could also hit the Buffalo slough off Fox Coulee Road.
The walleye fishing on Lake Pepin has been really good. The Mississippi can be unpredictable, but as long as we are done with the rain, the water should remain clear and the temperature consistent. If you work the whole lake system, you will certainly have some action. Just a reminder that channel cats are always here and can be big fun. And cooked properly, it doesn’t get any tastier.
Come join us on the Mississippi River. The eagles have hatched, the pelicans have arrived, and the fishing is action packed. You won’t be disappointed.
Bart Armstrong co-owns Spring Street Inn, Spring Street Outfitters and Har-nes Gallery in Stockholm, 715.204.2410