Mar 10, 2018
Springtime is Right Around the Corner
By: Jeff Boutin
Springtime is right around the corner. That perfect time when the ice will start to break up and the rivers will begin to flow. When this happens in Wisconsin, outdoorsmen start to think walleye. Dependent on the weather sometime in March, almost every river in the state that holds walleye and is open to fishing, will have fisherman either lined up on the shores, or in a boat fishing hard for these marble eyes, period!
This is one of the favorite times of year for fishermen. Why? Well, both small and big fish are heading to the same place in order to spawn in the rivers. This can be the best time of year to get the “trophy” walleye you have been looking for your whole life. The “30 incher” or the “10 pounder” as we say. But for many, just catching a walleye in the mid 20” range can be a trophy.
Amazingly, fishermen in general have started to promote and practice self-conservation. It wasn’t long ago that fishermen would brag about how many big fish they caught, and how many fish they had in their freezers. Those days are gone and, in general, the vast majority of anglers today practice catch and release while sometimes taking home only their fair share.
This takes us back to the trophy walleye… When you say the Fox, Peshtigo, Marinette, you are talking about tributary rivers on the Bay of Green Bay, which consistently produce trophy fish. Many of these rivers are jigged with just a jig and a minnow or jigs with Moxy tails or paddle tails.
Over the past several years, the Fox River in De Pere has been changing. And, it is changing for the better. Water quality is way up and the PCB’s are at the lowest levels in our lifetime. The water coming from the paper mills is cleaner than the water that they are taking in. They have vacuumed up the bad stuff and added gravel beds in different locations throughout the river. Walleye anglers know that walleye and gravel beds work great together.
The best way I know to find these new gravel beds and rock piles is to use the Humminbird Mega Side Imaging. Humminbird invented it, and it is by far the best side imaging technology on the market. When traveling at 3-5mph you can see 50-60 ft. out either side of your boat. You will have no problem picking up the detail of the rocks and gravel beds located throughout the river. You will also be able to locate exactly where on the beds the walleye are positioned. When you locate these areas on your screen, move the cursor to the spot and mark a waypoint. On your mapping page, move the cursor to the new waypoint. When you do this, you will notice that the screen will show you how far you are located from the spot. Position your boat casting distance either directly downstream, or sideways to the fish. The problem with casting upstream is that the current will carry your bait back down and this makes it very difficult to feel any bites. Use your Minn Kota trolling motor and set a “spot lock.”
The first time I fished the Fox was in the spring of 1987. We took our boats up by the dam and casted jigs. Back then, seeing 25-30 boats up by the dam, we thought seemed crowded. It was common to catch 50-60 walleye in just a few hours with most fish being 14-16-inches with no size limit. Over the past 30 years, the river has transformed into one of the top destinations for trophy walleye in the spring of the year. Today’s regulations are set so it is one fish 28” or over (trophy walleye only, and most anglers take a photo and release those bigger fish). Amazing as it is when the walleye run is on, you will see every boat launch full, and several hundred boats on the river.
When looking for places to target when fishing the early spring river run keep the following in mind. When walleye travel in rivers they don’t want to fight the river currents. The currents are always stronger on top and throughout the water column than they are right on the bottom. Another area that tends to have little or no current is along the breaklines that run along the shorelines. When fishing the river channel you must make sure your bait is right off the bottom. Vertical jigging is one of the most common ways to present your bait to the fish. Keep in mind vertical means straight up and down. It may sound easy but boat control and using the correct weight jig in order to vertical jig properly is the real key. Here’s a drawback to vertical jigging; generally, this is done in the river channel where the fishermen are driving their boats back and forth from spot to spot. All this pressure and noise tends to spook and scatter the walleye. Don’t get me wrong, you can still be successful, but I believe once the pressure starts, there are better ways to catch fish.
Another great way to catch walleye is pitching jigs. This should be done along the breaklines in the river where you can see the current breaks on the surface or there is no current at all. Walleye tend to travel through these areas seeking warmer waters and food. Keep in mind shallow water with little to no current will warm much more quickly on sunny days, and it is no different when the warm spring rains hit us.
When pitching Moxy and paddle tails, you need to be patient with your presentation. It is a slow drag along the bottom and then wait for the walleye to pick it up. Many times you will never feel the hit, the fish will add a slight pressure to your rod tip, or you will see your line twitch just the slightest amount. Having a high-quality fishing rod will be only one of the keys to success. Today, fishing without braided line is like fishing without a hook! You will want to add a few feet of fluorocarbon leader at the end of your braid and that way you will put more fish in your boat, guaranteed.
Fishing with Rippin’ Raps and vibrating blade baits, thereby getting the walleye’s attention will be the key. These are cast and allowed to sink to the bottom. After that, it is just a matter of understanding the cadence that the fish are looking for. Is it a short, strong rip with a hesitation, or perhaps a long, smooth rip and then rip it again just before it hits bottom? There are many ways to present these baits. Understanding what you did when that walleye crushed your bait will be the difference between a couple of fish and catching fish all day long.
Getting local information can also be important to your success. Located at the Fox Point boat launch in De Pere there is the Swamp Donkey Bait and Tackle owned by professional angler and guide Rob Korth. He is open early every morning in the spring. Rob and his crew will help steer you in the right direction.
With this kind of fishing pressure, there are still ways that you can be successful. Get on the water early, and stay away from the other boats. The water is much clearer than ever before. Boats and fishing pressure will scatter the fish. The Fox River from the dam to the mouth of the bay is over 6 miles. There are many places that hold walleye, find them and make them your next favorite spot to fish.