Mar 6, 2019
East Central Wisconsin
Lower Fox and Wolf rivers
The grips of ‘Old Man Winter’ are finally letting go and that means it’s go time!
The Fox River in De Pere will be the first to become ice free and walleye will stack up in preparation for spawning. While it can get crowded, there are plenty of opportunities to catch fish from the boat or from the shore. Jigs and minnows, jigs and plastics, blade baits and crankbaits will all catch fish. Just remember the special regulations of one walleye over 28 inches may be kept from the first Saturday in March until the first Saturday in May.
The Wolf River in Fremont and New London will also be loaded with walleye heading to the marshes to spawn. Vertical jigging with minnows and “pumping” jigs are both effective methods for catching these walleye during the “up run.” Wolf River Rigs with flies are also deadly.
After walleye have spawned, there is the return “down run” where the species head back downstream. During the down run, dragging jigs tipped with nightcrawlers with the current is a deadly method. Be sure to stop in and see Chris Wenzel at Fremont Bait and Tackle. Chris will tell you where the fish are biting on the Wolf River. He also has a selection of his custom jigs and flies along with live bait.
The Fox River in Oshkosh is another good option for catching walleye from the boat as well as from shore. Vertical jigging with minnows is a good method, but “pumping flies” is very popular and effective here. Pumping flies involves using a standard three-way rig with two flies tied at two different lengths trailing the weight.
Use your bow-mount trolling motor to troll upriver at about 1 mile per hour while keeping contact with the bottom and occasionally pumping your rod to speed up your flies. Often, the fish will hit as you drop the rod back.
Andy Mack, Andy Mack Sportfishing, 262.510.1452, www.macksportfishing.com
Green Bay tributaries
By early March it’s likely some of the rivers in central Wisconsin will be free of ice. Anxious fishermen will flock to the tributaries that flow into Green Bay, as well as the Wolf River on the Lake Winnebago system. Early season walleye fishing can be some of the best fishing of the year.
The Fox River in De Pere usually receives a lot of fishing pressure during this time, and for good reason. The fishing is usually great. When conditions are good, it’s not uncommon to catch and release 50 to 100 walleye in a day’s time.
There are several primary fishing methods that consistently produce. Vertical jigging with live bait in the river channel is productive as soon as the ice goes off the river. As the water begins to warm, walleye tend to move on to shallow flats. Focus on water less than six feet deep. Pitching light jigs and plastics is a great way to cover water in search of these fish as they move around in the shallows.
The Peshtigo and Menominee rivers are usually fishable by April. Although these two rivers are very close together, they fish completely different. The Peshtigo River is a very shallow and narrow river, with numerous navigational hazards. I prefer to anchor the boat and pitch jigs and plastics to current breaks or deeper holes. If the fish seem to be in a negative mood, switch to jigging with medium fathead minnows.
The Menominee River is definitely the place to be if you like to vertical jig. Most of the fishable water is 20 to 30 feet deep. Usually a 3/8- to ¾-ounce jig is needed to stay vertical. The current can be very strong at times, depending on how many gates are open at the dam. A strong trolling motor and good boat control skills will increase your odds of success. Most days on the Menominee, I prefer to use big bait. That may be 4- to 6-inch plastics or the biggest shiner minnows I can find.
By mid-April, my guiding schedule draws me to the Wolf River. Most years the walleye have finished spawning and are headed back downriver by April 15. It’s hard to beat vertical jigging with shiner minnows. I prefer a ¼-ounce short shank jig, and usually use a stinger hook as well.
As water temps on the Wolf River approach 50 degrees, I switch to dragging half a crawler on a 1/16-ounce jig. This can be a deadly tactic almost anyone can do with a little practice. Good luck with all your spring fishing.
Captain Ryan Relien, Fritz’s Guide Service, 920.810.6715, www.fishwithfritz.com. Check him out on Facebook at Fritz’s Guide Service.
Wow! This hard water season sure had some ups and downs, that’s for sure. We started off great, getting on the ice prior to Thanksgiving, but then Mother Nature wanted us to keep our vehicles off Lake Winnebago until almost into February!
Nevertheless, we made due and started putting some fun fish on the ice. While the ice might be on the downward path to being non-existent in the near future, I’m sure some of us are still making a full go of it as we prepare for the open water portion of the spring run. With a large majority of our fish heading up to the northern marshes of our system, there’s one lake that can certainly be a main focal point to try and intercept these fish on their journey – Lake Poygan.
Lake Poygan has been a blast so far this year. It really has. With the low numbers of hatch reported in various areas – especially the sheepshead – many anglers have dusted off their tip-ups and hunkered down in wait for hungry walleye. It has seemed the afternoon to evening bite has been a whole lot better than early morning. Fish have been constantly targeted in the shallower areas during the late afternoon to evening periods, roughly in depths of 5.5 to 6.5 feet.
By being mobile, schools of fish have been located. The trick, however, is that it’s difficult to stay on active fish the entire day. The fish have been constantly moving, for the most part, as they are hungry. Areas outside of Horseshoe and Norwegian bays on Lake Poygan have held some nice fish, but as we slip into the late ice time period, the river channel will be targeted by some. The huge factor, like always, is safety. Having a spud and a floatation device – along with checking the ice for yourself – are just some considerations one must take in the late-ice time period.
While I did mention tip-ups – that are obviously holding lively minnows – I’ve had great luck again this year on swim baits without any meat. As usual, the #3 Jigging Rapala has been my go-to setup. I really can’t say a specific color has been best, but two have stood out: the infamous clown pattern and the gold pattern. It should be mentioned many others had great luck on gold spoons tipped with spikes and even minnow heads.
While some may be able to target areas via ice, others will be looking forward to a boat safely getting them on to fish. No matter which way you decide to target our pre-spawn walleye, please have all aspects of safety at the top of your list.
This is the start to an amazing time here on the Lake Winnebago system, and I hope you all have a blast. So, until next time, “Tight Lines. Stay Dry.”
Kyle Sorensen, OB Outdoors, check out Kyle’s videos online at www.OBoutdoors.com.
South Central Wisconsin
Petenwell and Castle Rock flowages
By March most fishermen are finishing up the ice season on both the Castle Rock and Petenwell flowages. For the last three years, the ice season has ended the second week of February due to poor ice conditions with warmer temperatures in late January to early February.
Those still getting out on the ice have been fishing the channel targeting walleye, crappie, perch and white bass. Anglers will jig with slender spoons, RPMs, jigging raps and Swedish pimples tipped with minnow heads or loaded up with spikes. Some folks will use tip-downs for perch and crappie while others will use tip-ups for walleye. All these styles of fishing can be very rewarding on both flowages.
Fish are on their migration route to the spawning grounds during March, and can typically be found in very large schools but then be gone the next day. At times these schools of fish might be a couple hundred yards apart, and other times it might be a half mile or more – the key is to move, move, move.
As March winds down, more boats will come out of winter storage. Many fishermen will target the headwaters downstream of the dams and work their way north, following fish to the spawning grounds. Fish like to stack up in deep holes and big bends in the river channel out of the current. Anglers will use hair jigs tipped with large fathead minnows, while others like to pitch plastics, like AuthentX ringworms, Moxi and Ribb-Finn minnows. Once fish arrive on the spawning grounds, anglers will target them up shallow at night casting crankbaits over shallow rocks!
This time of year, everything revolves around current and water temperature. Last season the water was very low for the first part of April, so fish stacked up in deep holes and a majority of the fish spawned downriver, not making it even close to their normal spawning grounds. On normal years where there is good current and the right water temperatures, fish will move out of the current in as shallow as two feet of water. This time of year can be very fun targeting big fish!
Jesse Quayle, Green Water Walleyes, 608.547.3022, www.greenwaterwalleyes.com. Check him out on Facebook at Green Water Walleyes Guide Service.
If there’s still ice, March can offer some excellent pike fishing. Ready-to-spawn, big pike are congregated and have their feeding bags on. I mainly focus on very shallow areas located near marshes or areas with weeds present.
A sturdy tip-up rigged with big bait is all that’s needed. I use Beaver Dam rail tip-ups spooled with 25-pound braid and attach a 30-pound steel or 40-pound fluorocarbon leader. If pike are a bit finicky, I’ll use fluorocarbon leaders since they’re less visible. If pike are aggressive, I use steel leaders. The steel tends to hold up better over time.
When it comes to bait, I use the largest shiners I can find or suckers ranging from six to 10 inches. For the larger suckers, I use dual hooks, like those on Predator rigs. To cut down on falsely tripped flags caused by large bait, I’ve found cutting off their tail helps.
Once the ice leaves, many anglers hit the Rock River for the walleye run. Although the river is a great location, the main lake shouldn’t be overlooked. Often less pressured, walleye can be caught by slow trolling crankbaits near the river inlet or mid-lake areas. Speeds of 1 to 1.5 miles per hour are a good starting point. Snap jigging and using Lindy rigs near the river inlet are a couple other tactics that can produce good results.
Upper Rock River
The spring walleye run makes this area popular and anglers use a variety of techniques to catch fish. A popular, productive way is simply vertical jigging with minnows or plastics.
With fluctuating depth, it’s important to keep your bait near the bottom and be able to adjust accordingly. The current will dictate the weight needed to keep your presentation in the strike range. The current can be somewhat swift in this area, so larger weights may be needed.
Electronics – such as the Humminbird Helix unit with Chirp technology – greatly help with bait placement when vertical jigging and with seeing fluctuating depth changes associated with river contours. For vertical jigging, I use a variety of jigs, including the Kalins Google Eye and Round Head jigs. I’ve also had good results with Fin Tech Nuckle ball jigs. With a little trial and error, you can determine which presentation and color is best.
Many factors can change fish feeding activity, so don’t hesitate to change things up if the bite slows. Jigging blade baits will also work well in stained water, along with casting Rapala Rippin’ Raps if boat traffic allows.
Some other tactics include pulling flies, trolling cranks and snap jigging. It’s very important to keep your lure in the target area, as well as maintain the speed of your boat and maintain the amount of line you have out. For trolling, use stick baits – their action is perfect when trolled slowly. When snap jigging, I use plastics like AuthentX Moxi, various paddle tails and Kalins Sizmic Grubs. All have worked well.
If you’re looking for bait and tackle, the Rock River Bait Box near Fort Atkinson and is right on the river. It carries a variety of gear specific to the Rock River and updates day-to-day information on the bite pattern.
Lower Rock River
The lower Rock River system starts in the Newville area. Downriver further sits Indianford Dam. This area is an excellent walleye location and less pressured due to limited boat access.
If you do venture upriver to the dam area, be very cautious. It’s navigable, but numerous shallow rocky areas are present and can easily eat a propeller. Applying similar jigging techniques discussed earlier 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, along with pike and occasional crappie or perch. Casting crankbait or slowly retrieving a jig tipped with live bait or plastics both work well when fishing here. If fishing the wall, slip bobbers tipped with minnows can also produce.
Centerway Dam is located even further downriver in Janesville and offers shore-based anglers an opportunity to catch plenty of fish. Since a second dam located downriver from Centerway Dam was removed last year, walleye and other fish can now run unobstructed all the way to this location. Try using similar techniques discussed previously when fishing here. Vertical jigging or walking baits right along the wall are a few other great ways to catch fish.
It’s A Keeper Bait and Tackle is located on the south side of Janesville near the removed dam. It also has a large supply of angling products specific to the area and can offer up-to-date information on the lower river fish bite.
Captain Adam Walton, Pike Pole Fishing Multi-Species Guide Service, 608.290.3929, www.pikepolefishing.com.
Turtle Flambeau Flowage
“Game fish” season closes March 3 this year and opens again May 4. Admittedly – with the exception of the November and December hunting season – this interim period is when I personally spend the least time fishing. There are, however, fishing opportunities in the Northwoods.
On the Turtle Flambeau Flowage west of Mercer, it’s a favorite time for some anglers to fish for crappie and other panfish – crappie, perch and bluegill fishing remains open all year here. Most years there is safe ice well into March and sometimes early April. It can be a very enjoyable time of the year to spend a day on the ice with the sun getting higher in the sky and the panfish very active on the right days. As always, the ice must be monitored closely for safe travel. Contact Donner’s Bay to help with current travel conditions.
On the Turtle Flambeau Flowage, crappie are fished mainly in the river channels and original lake basins in the 18- to 30-foot range. On the north end of the flowage off of Sturgeon Bay landing and, the Turtle River channel is a good area to try for crappie.
Around Donner’s Bay, both the river channel and the original Lake Bastine basin are popular and productive crappie areas. Other basins reached from the Springstead or Fisherman’s landing areas are the Baraboo basin, the little-more-remote Blair Lake, the “Horseshoe” and Townline lake basins. I wouldn't drive a truck through the narrows to Blair Lake – the current can create thin ice, but snowmobile transport is good. Later in the season, the narrow area going into the "horseshoe" part of the flowage near Shenenbeck’s Point has an area of shallow boulders that can warm up and create thin ice late in the season.
The Mercer area has an abundance of other lakes to try for panfish. My youngest son has come home with nice catches of panfish on some of the small lakes in the Northern Highland State Forest. These lakes are off the beaten path – some can be accessed by snowmobile, others by snowshoes. Fishing for crappie and bluegill offers the advantage of carrying lighter weight gear, making it easier to transport. Jig poles, electronics, drill and skimmer – along with crappie minnows and wax worms – are the standard equipment.
Ice fishing has its dangers. Be aware of conditions and tread safely on the ice. Generally, there is good ice most years for March, and sometimes into April. April is probably the quietest month in the Northwoods as some businesses take a well-deserved break after the snowmobile season.
In Mercer, bait can still be obtained at the I.C.O. gas station after the bait shops close for a few weeks before the much-awaited opening weekend in May.
The month of April reminds me of this line from the 1972 movie “Jeremiah Johnson” is which Jeremiah asked Griz, “Would you happen to know what month it is?”
Griz responded, “No, I … truly wouldn't. I'm sorry pilgrim. March? Maybe April? March maybe. I don't believe April. Winter’s a long time going, huh? March is a green, muddy month down below. Some folks like it. Farmers mostly.”
Jeff Robl, Bobber Down Guide Service, 715.766.0140, www.BobberDownGuideService.com.
Oneida and Lincoln counties
Longer days and warmer temperatures are welcome here in the Northwoods after the middle of this winter’s brutal cold and heavy snow. It’s the time ice anglers live for in pursuit of panfish and a chance for open water anglers to get their hulls wet.
With warmer weather and longer days, the snow cover is coming off the lakes allowing sunlight to penetrate and give life to the bugs. Panfish schools broken up during the mid-winter doldrums start to come together and feed in the shallows. We are now able to move around more freely and not be locked down in shacks due to cold weather conditions. Drilling plenty of holes on spots will help you engage with more fish during peak bite periods.
The crappie and gills will be sliding toward shallow water breaks and bays in search of minnows and bugs. Grubs, Gulp and Dave’s Wedgies are what I’m tipping my jigs with and I’m also running tip-downs with crappie bait or Rosie reds. While jigging I will catch a couple of fish from one hole and move to the next as a result of the school spooking from fish being pulled up the hole. Moving to the next hole you’ve previously drilled will keep the bite going.
The open water river bite in the Tomahawk area will begin as soon as the river thaws and ice chunks are floating south. Pay close attention to regulations for the area, as many dam locations are closed, yet, until the opening of gamefish season in May. You can also stop into Aquatic Arts when getting your minnows and jigs and ask the staff about locations to fish.
Many fish will be staging in the deeper holes as they move upriver for spawn. Bright colored jigs in ¼-ounce to 3/8-ounce work best in the dark stained water, and you want to rig them with medium to large Tuffies. Chances are you will run into a mixed bag of jumbo perch, slab crappie and walleye. Water flow does affect how the fish movement progresses prior to spawn and which locations fish will push to first.
This is a fun time of the year when you can be out on the ice one day and in the boat the next day. Pay close attention to ice conditions that continue to vary as the hard water season comes to an end.
South shore landings are going to be the safest access due to the sun not beating on them. You’ll notice the north shores of many lakes will be the first place ice will pull away. You may be able to get out on the ice early in the morning, but not get back off at the end of the day. Good luck and be safe on the water!
Dan Gropengiser, Grop’s Guide Service, 715.360.1601.
West Coast of Wisconsin
Winter is slowly trying to say, “good bye.” The ups and downs of the temperature have left the main channel of the Mississippi River unsafe.
The boat landing is open between Red Wing and Hager City on the Wisconsin channel. The fishing has been quite good. Walleye are starting to show up as they head to the backwater of the river before they move to the big lake for summer. The ice in the backwaters of the Tiffany Wildlife Preserve is solid and the perch and crappie have been really active.
April brings open water to Lake Pepin, but only experienced boaters should venture out. The water is high and moving fast with a lot of tree stumps just under the surface. The fishing can be good at the mouth of the Rush River and Pine Creek. Between the marina in Pepin and Reads Landing to the south is a great place to look for sauger and walleye. You may even come upon a school of some smallmouth.
This time of year is a great time to shake the rust off of our fly fishing equipment because catch-and-release season is open and we have incredible trout streams flowing into the ‘Sippi.
The ice is slowly thawing and the nights are cold, but now is also a great time to come watch the eagles and migrating birds head north. So don’t be hesitant about making a trip over to the West Coast of Wisconsin. This Sippiriverdrifter says, “Over and out.”
Bart Armstrong, co-owner of Spring Street Inn, Spring Street Outfitters and Har-nes Gallery in Stockholm, 715.204.2410.