Mar 10, 2018
Turtle Flambeau Flowage (TFF) and Mercer Area
March 3rd brings a close to "game fish" season for pike, walleye and bass. However, some of the best panfish fishing is still ahead. Access to the northern lakes varies by the year and is often considerably different from the start of March to the end of March and into early April. Often, early March has deep snow and slush on the lakes making travel difficult. There have been many years where by months end with the sunlight longer and higher in the sky, the snow is melted down and one could literally ice skate on the lakes. Wearing "creepers" on your boots makes travel by foot very easy. The gear required for ice fishing for perch, bluegills and crappie is also easily carried in a smaller sled. Even the drill required to bore holes can be much lower cost and lighter. The small diameter hole needed for panfish can be bored with an auger attachment for a cordless drill (these work quite well) or use a hand auger, again both light weight items. Jig poles, sonar, wax worms, skimmer and a folding chair all fit easily into a small sled. On the nicer days, no portable shanty is needed. Sitting on a folding chair in the warm March or April sun can be a pretty nice way to spend the day. Another bonus; your beverages that in January and February froze, now stay just the right temperature just sitting on the ice.
In recent years the late winter/early spring conditions have been highly variable. Some years we have had ice go out as early as some pretty old locales could remember. While two other years it stayed on the lakes into the May open water season. I do spend some of this season fishing in Florida. A good source for conditions on the Turtle Flambeau Flowage is Marvin or Connie at Donner's Bay (715) 476-2555.
When fishing lakes where perch or crappies are the target, jigging one rod and having another hole next to the hole you’re jigging with another rod can work well. The deadstick rod can be baited with a small fathead and a #10 or 12 treble hook. Sometimes you will get bigger perch on the rod with a minnow than the jigging rod with wax worms. Plastics like gulp hellgrammites are also worth a try.
There are many lakes to choose from in the Northwoods that harbor abundant panfish, many with good access from public landings and plowed roads. In Mercer, some of these lakes are right in town or just a few miles outside of it. If you are more adventurous and also looking to incorporate a workout, snowshoeing into some of the lakes in the Northern Highland American Legion State Forest can offer solitude and some fantastic fishing.
If you are coming to fish from out of the Mercer area, the bait shops are closed in March- but minnows can be obtained at the I.C.O gas station in town. Good luck, enjoy the spring weather.
With six more weeks of winter predicted by the groundhog, we are looking at more time on the ice this year. Now is the time for some of the best panfishing of the season on lakes that have come alive from the mid-winter slump. Bite windows will change from early morning/late afternoon to a more consistent day bite. With lakes losing snow cover, the sunlight will begin to warm north-facing shorelines and pull perch and pike into the shallows for the pre-spawn bite. The game fish season closes the first weekend in March, making this the time to get out and set flags before the end. I will set tip-ups on shallow flats and jig just outside them in deeper water for panfish. Drilling plenty of holes is key when chasing bluegills and perch that are feeding on the bugs that are coming out of the mud. Give holes 5-10 minutes max, and move on if no fish are being marked or caught.
There are other options for game fish once the hard water season closes with river fishing on the Wisconsin River south of Kings Dam in Tomahawk. Through the remaining winter months, I continue to keep charging my batteries for my boat in preparation of open water. Nothing feels better than heading out with the boat for the first time of the year and using longer rods to hook up with walleyes that are in pre-spawn mode. Bring plenty of jigs due to getting snagged on rocks and logs scattered along the bottom. 1/4 ounce up to 3/8 ounce are my go-to weights for keeping in contact with the bottom. Anything less will just blow out in the current with dams from flowages being open from the snowmelt up north. Good luck whether on the ice or in the boat!!!
To fish in northwest Wisconsin in the early spring requires a large dose of flexibility. No one ever knows if we'll be fishing through the ice or launching the boat. It's about a 50/50 proposition. The worst case scenario is that the ice isn't safe enough to venture out on, but yet there is no open water. That's a tough one.
Through the ice, crappie fishing can be fantastic this time of year. Fish have begun to move away from deep basin areas and are moving closer to shallow areas where they will do their spawning come May. Little jigs tipped with waxies or small soft plastics are a dynamite combo. Keep moving in order to contact the fish. Some of the better late ice crappie lakes in my area include Nelson Lake and Lac Courte Oreilles.
If we have an early ice out, the open water option becomes available. Fish locations remain the same as under the ice, as the crappies are moving toward next month’s spawning grounds here as well. I look for areas sheltered by the frequent spring winds and first try a jig and 2-inch twister tail fan casted through the 4 to 10 foot zones looking for active fish. If the bite is tough, I'll consider a small float and soft plastic presentation moving slowly and methodically around likely fish holding areas. Shallow brush, bulrushes and/or fallen trees can all hold crappies in the spring. Be sure to also search the closest drop-offs into deeper water if the fish have seemed to disappear.
Good early open water crappie lakes in the area I guide include Big McKenzie Lake northwest of Spooner and Lost Land Lake east of Hayward. Good luck and good fishing,
U.P. of Michigan
The Lake Gogebic area is a winter wonderland for all types of activities; skiing, snowmobiling, and ice fishing, just to name a few. The Timbers Resort basically focuses on snowmobiling and ice fishing during this time.
Lake Gogebic is the largest lake in the U.P. stretching nearly 18 miles long and 3 miles wide at its widest point and is approximately 14,000 acres. We average over 200” of snow annually. So with that being said, you really need to be prepared when you come to Lake Gogebic for ice fishing. What I mean by that is the best way to get around on the lake is with a long track snowmobile and a portable ice shelter to always be mobile and searching. Speaking from experience, I have to say that Lake Gogebic is one of the most brutal lakes to be on during the winter months. That is because of all the snow that we get up here. The snow creates a lot of slush pockets on the lake. The lake is constantly changing and is why I say a long track snowmobile is the travel vehicle of choice. 4 wheelers may work in the beginning of the season some years, but as winter starts to settle in, chances are you won’t be able to use a 4 wheeler after the first couple of weeks that the ice fishing season gets underway. I had a side by side with tracks that could float over 10” of snow just fine but when you get out here on this lake and run into the slush, the tracks get packed with all that slush getting the vehicle weighted down and then the fun stops. So the moral of the story is being prepared. The best option is a long track snowmobile and portable shelter.
Now that you have some tips on being prepared, Lake Gogebic is an awesome lake to ice fish. The information that I have mentioned above just makes ice fishing on Lake Gogebic interesting and fun. For questions on ice fishing please feel free to contact us at The Timbers Resort on Lake Gogebic.
As we get into the late season of ice fishing, a lot of our customers are here to target perch; in search of that fish of a lifetime. Yes, the lake does offer the largest perch of your life- pushing that 3 lb. mark.
Keep in mind that the walleye fishing closes on March 15th and currently we have legislation that allows you to keep 2 fish in the 13” – 15” range. The other 3 fish of your 5 fish daily bag limit have to be over 15” or all 5 can be over 15”. This legislative change was made a couple years ago to try to enhance the growth rate of walleye in Lake Gogebic. It is a legislative change that is not meant to remain in place for a long period of time but for a short period of time as a management plan. So always make sure you know the laws before you head out.
During the late season, we are targeting the main part of the lake, which I refer to as the “mud flats” in search of those jumbo perch in the deeper water. The best presentation for these jumbo perch is dead sticking with wigglers. We spend time with our customers going over the map when they get here pointing them in the right direction to get on fish.
The walleye bite continues in the shallow weeds on the north end of the lake throughout the year with most anglers using tip ups tipped with sucker minnows in the 4” range. The walleye bite is typically a low light bite with the bite being in the early mornings and evenings. In the mornings, I like to get out there a few hours before daybreak. In the afternoons, I will get set up a couple hours before sunset and fish for a few hours after dark.
Always remember to practice catch and release. We want you to come here and enjoy our beautiful area so it is very important to protect the resource. One of the most important things to do while you are fishing for these jumbo perch in deep water is to bring them up slow so they don’t blowout their air sac and can be released successfully.
The Timbers Resort offers 11 different housekeeping cabins all varying in size located on the north end of Lake Gogebic. We also offer ice fishing snowmobile rentals. We have a Live Bait and Tackle store on site as well for all your ice fishing needs on Lake Gogebic.
Be safe while on the ice and we look forward to seeing you this winter. Give us a call at The Timbers Resort 906-575-3542 for snow and lake condition updates or to make a reservation.
Captain Tim Long
West Coast of Wisconsin
Welcome spring. It has been one long winter here on the West Coast of Wisconsin. It has been an extremely cold winter with a lot of snow. Once the ice clears, the water levels are going to be high making the Big Lake quite volatile. At this time, Lake Pepin is too dangerous to be out on. But if you put in just north of Bay City on the Wisconsin Channel of the Mississippi River, the fishing is quite good. The saugers as well as northern pike are consistent. As the ice conditions change on the Big Lake, the walleyes will be active before they head upstream.
Early trout season is here and the action is great. Pine Creek and the Rush River offer some of the best fishing in the state. It is catch and release, but the winter run off is moving a lot of water making the fishing action packed. Remember artificial bait is all that is allowed.
As April moves in and the nighttime temperatures warm up it will cause the walleyes to start heading up river. So once again, the Wisconsin channel is a great place to be. The backwaters in the Tiffany Wildlife Preserve are still holding ice and the panfishing is good there also.
Spring is a great time to come and visit as the eagles are nesting and the trees are starting to bud. It’s time to help us Mississippi River rats wake up from a long winter slumber, so pack up your family and head to the West Coast.
East Central Wisconsin
Lake Winnebago System
This ice season has simply been phenomenal on the Lake Winnebago System. Due to lower numbers of forage being available in the system, the fish have certainly been hungry. Many of us have taken advantage of this and have been rewarded dearly.
As this issue comes out, we are transitioning from ice to open water fishing. If you are lucky enough to safely sneak out onto the hard water on our system, certainly look to the upriver lakes such as Lake Poygan. I have seen some very interesting walleye movements this year on the lake, but what has really surprised me is the minimal numbers of white bass being taken out of one hole/sitting on Lake Poygan.
Throughout the winter, the white bass were practically non-existent on Poygan as I did not know of anyone, myself included, who landed on a large white bass school. Yeah, there’s been a few taken here and there but not in large quantities as years past. I’m sure the schools were in there, but they were certainly not found by me or anyone in my circles. The good news though is that the walleye have been very active.
From what I have seen, there have been multiple smaller pods of fish roaming the depths of Poygan. In most cases, two or three marks would come in and I would be able to usually fish one or two out of there. As I’ve said until I’m blue in the face, being mobile is absolutely needed to be successful on our system. This year I put a big asterisk on my usual attack plan, resulting in me moving until I am marking fish, but actually waiting longer in each spot after marking or catching a fish. The reason for this is that I have seen fish come back through the areas. If you are able to hit the hard water before the ice drops, try to get out there and keep moving until you find at least one decent mark. The usual spots have all been hot out on Poygan but most of my success has been found on the outer limits of the Horseshoe (practically the center portion of the lake).
I have found that the jigging rap in various sizes and colors has been the best in my holes. However; spoons tipped with minnow heads and even tip-ups have all taken fish! Some days the bite has only been had during the wee hours of the morning, while times they have been active all-day long. As the higher temps reach us, large numbers of fish will be heading into the river systems on their way up to the spawning grounds. When the ice drops, it’s time to hit the river. See my article in this issue on page 92 on river fishing for more details on that! Get out there, catch some fish, and have an awesome start to the open water season. Until next time, “Tight Lines. Stay Dry.”
Bay of Green Bay Tributaries
The first open water trip of the year is right around the corner. If you’re like me, it can’t get here soon enough! Fishing in late March and through the month of April, I find myself focused exclusively on walleyes. The annual spawning runs on the Winnebago system and the tributaries that flow into Green Bay are second to none. Usually by mid-March the Fox River in De Pere is free of ice and the run is on. This is a perfect place to hone your jig fishing skills. From vertical jigging with live bait on the channel edges to casting jigs and plastics on shallow flats, you really can’t go wrong with either method. It’s not uncommon to catch 30-50 fish a day at this time of year.
As March turns into April, more open water options become available. The west side of Green Bay begins to produce some giant walleye. The sand flats between the Oconto and Menominee Rivers attract spawning walleye. Make long casts with jigs and plastics or lipless crankbaits and cover water quickly. These fish will typically relate to the warmest water in the area. If the action in a productive area suddenly seems to slow down, you may want to take a boat ride and try to locate some warmer water. Changes in wind direction can move the warmer water and also cause water to become too clear to hold fish. As always, wind can be a safety issue on Green Bay.
If you get blown off the open water, just head to one of the three main tributaries in the area. The Oconto and Peshtigo Rivers offer some great fishing. They are shallow rivers that do have some navigation hazards, so drive slow and watch your locator for depth changes. Because they are shallow, casting jigs and plastics from an anchored position is usually the preferred method.
The Menominee River is the place to be if you like to vertical jig. I can’t think of anything better than setting the hook on a 30-inch walleye that inhaled the jig directly under your feet. There’s no doubt about it, some of the biggest walleyes in the state swim in the waters of Green Bay. I typically will guide for trophy Green Bay walleye through the second week of April and then focus my efforts back to the Winnebago System.
It’s no secret that the walleye run on the Winnebago System attracts a lot of attention, and rightfully so. The entire month of April produces excellent fishing from the mouth of the river in Oshkosh all the way up the Wolf River. Massive amounts of fish will migrate close to eighty miles one way to locate suitable spawning grounds. It’s extremely important to cover as much water as possible to locate productive areas. Keep in mind that these fish are constantly on the move and hot spots can change from hour to hour. By far, my most productive method to cover water and catch fish at this time of year is vertical jigging with live bait. Jig sizes will vary from ⅛ ounce-½ ounce depending on the speed of the current and your ability to control the drift of your boat. I also highly recommend the use of a quality stinger hook to catch those light biters. Good luck fishing and stay safe.
Ryan Relien, Fritz Guide Service
Spring is here, and if you are anything like me the first thing I think of is…the walleye run!
The Fox River in De Pere Wisconsin has become one of the top destinations in our state for the spring run.
My favorite way to fish walleyes on the Fox is jigging. A lot of people think it is a very easy way to fish walleyes. However, jigging takes practice, patience, and boat control. Put these 3 together and you will catch fish! The most important, and the toughest part, is boat control. One thing that helps me is using the foot pedal on my Minn Kota Terrova. I will set my motor on a number based on current speed. I use the pedal to turn the motor on, and then off. As my line starts to fade up stream, I will turn it back on and then off again. Always watching my line.
Another great way to be successful is pitching jigs. Find the areas with little to no current, or the edges of current breaks. You always want to pitch your jig sideways or downstream. Bringing your jig back up stream will allow you to feel those slight taps on your line. If you cast upstream, those will never be felt. When retrieving your jig, drag it slowly along the bottom giving it a slight twitch and hesitate for a moment, watching the tip of your rod. Many times you will not feel a hit, just a little added weight to the tip of the rod. A couple of different presentations to use is a jig and a minnow, a twister tail or a ring worm. Generally ringworms are a little long, so I like to cut the front 2” off and use the tail.
The last tip, get out early and stay away from the other boats. The spring walleye runs attract many anglers. With boat traffic and fishing pressure, the fish will tend to scatter and get turned off. You’ll find better success spot hopping the river banks and break lines on your way down the 6 plus miles of the Fox River. I’ll see you on the water this spring! Have fun and be safe!
South Central Wisconsin
Petenwell/Castle Rock Flowages
In the month of March, a lot of fishermen are looking forward to getting in the boat, while others can't wait for turkey season to start. This time of year on both flowages can be some of the best ice fishing all season. Most people are targeting walleyes, panfish and white bass. These fish will start to get really active this time of year. Walleyes are caught along drop offs, flats and main river channels. The technique of choice is jigging or running tip-ups. For those jigging, most jig with rattle spoons tipped with minnow heads, spikes or waxies. While using jigging raps plain is another method that will catch fish. Use tip-downs this time of year for crappies and perch. Tip them with small minnows or wigglers for perch tight to the bottom. For the crappies, run small minnows 2 to 4 feet off the bottom. Bluegills will be very active this time of year, a lot of the fish being caught are tight to wood structure. Use small jigs tipped with plastics, spikes or waxies.
During the month of April, 90% of fishermen are targeting walleyes on the flowages, most will be below the Nekoosa or Petenwell, Dam. The train tracks off the north east side of Castle Rock and the Buckhorn Bridge off the west side of Castle Rock are also good places to try. Target deep holes, slack water areas and gravel bars out of the current. Another method is to fish jigs tipped with minnows, plastics and even plain hair jigs. Blade baits work very well this time of year as well. Some others target perch in slack water or in deep holes. For perch use small jigs and slip rigs tipped with a half crawler. Small fatheads are a good choice as well. Good luck fishing and enjoy the spring!
March can be a good time to target pre-spawn pike through the ice. They can be found in or near shallow bays, preferably near marshes, as they stage for their annual spawning. A strong tip up rigged with a large sucker or Shiner minnow will do the trick. We also use 50 lb fluorocarbon leaders, Beaver Dam Liquid Steel leaders, or Northland Tackle Predator Rigs to prevent break offs. The Predator Rig is preferred when using large suckers since it has two large treble hooks that branch off into a “Y”. It’s recommended to drill a 10” 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.
While many anglers head to the river once the ice leaves, walleyes can be found in the main lake itself also. Often less pressured, these fish can be caught by slow trolling crank baits 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
Like many other river systems, the Rock River spring walleye run is very popular among anglers. 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 run off 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 with CHIRP technology, will greatly help with bait placement when vertical jigging and with seeing fluctuating depth changes associated with river contours.
For vertical jigging, we use a variety of presentations, including the new Kalins Google Eye, Northland Tackle’s RZ jigs, Stand-up Fire-Ball jigs, and “Rock-It” 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 in stained water, 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 different, so try experimenting until the correct set-up 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 behind a bottom bouncer. Puling an AuthentX Moxi, paddle tail, or Kalins Sizmic Grub can also produce a large amount of fish.
River crappies are often overlooked due to the “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.
If you’re looking for bait and tackle, the Rock River Bait Box is located near Fort Atkinson and is right on the river. They carry a variety of gear specific to the Rock River and will have updated day to day information on the bite pattern.
Lower Rock River System
The lower Rock River System starts in the Newville, WI area. Down river 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 up river 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 safer 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 plastic work 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 nice assortment of bait and tackle.
The two dams located down river 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.