Float and Fish the Wisconsin River This Summer

by Free Speech on June 25, 2010

Lodi, WI~

Lodi Valley News serving Lodi, WI & the Lake Wisconsin area with local information since Earth Day 2008.

River Currents
by Gary Engberg
©2010 Gary Engberg Outdoors

Enjoying the Wisconsin River, close to home with lots of recreational opportunities, is a great "stay-cation" option.

Enjoying the Wisconsin River, close to home with lots of recreational opportunities, is a great "stay-cation" option.

We’re nearing the end of June and the warmest months of the year are on the very near horizon. This is the time of the summer when it’s difficult to be comfortable with summer’s heat and humidity. I’m blessed with living on the Lower Wisconsin River (LWR) where I can relieve summer’s heat by just jumping in the river. The flowing water’s of the Wisconsin River offer relief even on the hottest summer day and paddling and floating on the river is a great way to spend your leisure time in the outdoors.

This past weekend, I wasn’t fishing or guiding because I was trying to catch up on my lawn work and finish planting my garden. But, I was outside much of Saturday and Sunday and I was amazed at the low number of people that I saw on the Wisconsin River. There was a steady breeze both days that made paddling down the river a little harder than just floating. But, the temperature was near 80 degrees and it was comfortable outside both days despite the lack of sun. As I just said, I was mildly surprised at the low number of people on the river canoeing, kayaking, tubing, and or fishing. The parking lot down Highway Y across from Black Hawk River Runs (608-643-6724) was only half full of vehicles from those who rented canoes or kayaks. Black Hawk River Runs is a good canoe livery for renting a canoe for an afternoon or a day or two.

The dam on the Wisconsin River at Prairie du Sac is the last dam on the river before its confluence with the Mississippi River. There is over 85 miles of free-flowing river west of Highway 12 that offers limitless outdoor opportunities for the individual looking for a relaxing paddle down the river. Besides giving you some much needed exercise, there also is beautiful scenery, varied and abundant wildlife, and the peace and serenity that come from being a part of nature as you paddle and float down the scenic waters of the Wisconsin River. The water level was higher than normal this past weekend, but not high enough to cancel any plans. The higher and faster flow makes paddling much easier and the only drawback that I see is it might be more difficult to find a spot for camping on one of the river’s islands. But, the river flow has been steady for over a week and the river will soon be going down if you’re thinking of a day or overnight trip this week. If you have a flexible schedule, then try to float the river during the week and you’ll have it and all its beauty to yourself! But, no matter when you come to the river, rarely if ever will you feel crowded by people, canoes, or fishermen. The best thing that keeps these waters from over-crowding is the river’s depth. This is a canoe, kayak, and small boat river where big boats and pontoons don’t have the water depth to move freely. The shallow depth in most areas, the sand and rock bars, and the constant flow adjustments from Alliant Energy make the Wisconsin River very canoe and kayak friendly.

I’m still amazed at the lack of people that I see on the Lower Wisconsin River considering that it is less than 30 miles from Madison and three hours from cities like Chicago. Once you get moving down the river, you’ll be over-whelmed at the natural beauty that is so close to these urban areas. The Lower Wisconsin Riverway was included in the state’s Stewardship program a couple of decades ago, so this land and water is protected from development and will forever remain pristine. It is not unusual to see countless bird species, waterfowl, deer, beavers, river otters, plus many flowers and trees that you won’t normally see in populated locations. If you’re a photographer, you’re in for a great time with countless photo opportunities. The wildlife and scenic panorama’s give any skill level photographer a chance for some great photos and lasting memories. As an example, there are eagles that have again returned to the area to nest and raise their eaglets along the Wisconsin River shore. Besides the eagles, I regularly see osprey, turkey vultures, blue herons, egrets, and even pelicans flying up and down the river.

If you take a float trip and enjoy fishing then make sure that you bring your fishing rod and reel. The Wisconsin River offers the angler a chance of catching about any fish species that swims the state’s waters. Regularly and without any sophisticated equipment, an angler can catch walleyes, saugers, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, catfish, northern pike, muskies, white bass, panfish, and a large assortment of roughfish. Since space is at a premium when canoeing, try to take a rod and reel that will allow you to catch a wide assortment of fish with a minimum amount of equipment. I suggest a medium or medium-light rod anywhere from 6 to 7 feet long with an open-faced spinning reel spooled with 6 pound monofilament line. Also, try to bring a small tackle box with an assortment of jigs in different weights, some plastic grub or twister tails, plain hooks in different sizes, split shots, some spinner baits, and a few crankbaits like the Rapala Shad Raps. If your reel has extra spools, have a few spooled with different monofilament line weights because the line you use for panfish is not what you want for walleye or bass. Try to use as much artificial bait as possible to save room, but if you have space in your cooler bring some nightcrawlers because they will work well for most fish species. Put the crawlers in a zip-lock bag with some worm bedding and keep them cool for best results. Make sure to bring a sharp fillet knife if you plan to eat some fish along with some fish batter, cooking oil, and a cast iron fry pan. A shore meal of fresh fish you just caught and cooked on an open fire is tough to beat anywhere!

Canoeing on the Lower Wisconsin River is a relaxing and enjoyable way to spend summer days close to home.

Canoeing on the Lower Wisconsin River is a relaxing and enjoyable way to spend summer days close to home.

The Sauk City area has everything that you could want. Besides the canoe and kayak rentals, there is camping supplies, restaurants, bait shops, grocery stores, campgrounds, and motels all within a few miles of the Wisconsin River. The Wilderness Fish and Game store (608-643-2433) in downtown Sauk Prairie has about everything that you may need including live bait, camping gear, and an up-to-date fishing report. This is a tourist friendly area and you’ll find people friendly and helpful. Besides, the wonders of the Wisconsin River there is always something happening in the area and I’d check out the Sauk Prairie Chamber of Commerce (608-643-4168) for the many festivals, attractions, and summer activities.

The gas prices seem to be going up and many people are still struggling with the down economy, but here is a place where you can take the whole family and spend some much needed time in the Wisconsin outdoors without spending a fortune on gas and driving for hours. You can take a day trip, an over-night trip, or even a trip for a few days and have a wonderful experience in the outdoors. This under-utilized river is at your fingertips and you don’t even have to spend hours driving to get there. Wisconsin has limitless locations where families and individuals can get away from the crowds and enjoy the outdoor wonders while being close to home and the Lower Wisconsin River is one of these great places. If you give it a try, I’m sure that you’ll “love” this gem and come back again! You may always contact me at www.garyengbergoutdoors.com for more details, information, and tips. Have fun!!

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