What a Difference a Day Makes!

by Free Speech on February 21, 2011

Lodi, WI~

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

Fishing with Gary

We all have heard this familiar saying many times and last week it came up again for all those anglers who’ve been fishing Wisconsin’s rivers for a few days and even more for some hardy souls. The Wisconsin River is one of a few bodies of water that stay open all year for walleye and sauger fishing. Last week and through Saturday, there were dozens (I counted 37 boats one day) of boats fishing the open water below the Prairie du Sac Dam at the “twin” cities of Sauk City and Prairie du Sac.

Most waters, with a few exceptions, don’t open for walleye fishing till May 1, 2011. The Wisconsin River closes for some species like muskie and catfish, but not walleye and saugers. There have been a few boats out for a couple of weeks fishing the dam’s open water. The water stays open all year long due to the river’s current and flow. Many fishermen think that walleyes and their close cousin, the sauger, migrate upriver when the weather warms come springtime. Though some fish will migrate toward the first impassable dam that they can’t get through, many walleyes started to move upriver last fall and throughout the winter. The immediate area below the dams always has deep water and an abundance of forage or feed to “hold” them till the spring spawn which happens when the water temperature is in the early to mid 40’s degree Fahrenheit.

A little over a week ago, there was a shelf of ice below the Prairie Dam where ice fishermen were fishing less than 10 feet from the flowing water. This has always been something that I wouldn’t do or recommend to anyone. There is no such thing as safe ice, no matter what many think! One could always see a boat or two fishing on a sunny day and if air temperatures were close to the freezing mark earlier this month. The first real thaw or meltdown last week brought out many anglers with “cabin fever” and the urge to catch a walleye or two. The boat landing at the VFW Park has been opened and maintained with regular plowing and sand for the ice for weeks. While driving through the park, I saw license plates and trailers from Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin. The anglers that I talked with said that they were tired of ice fishing, happy to be out fishing in a boat, and that the fishing was average to good with a few legal walleyes to take home to eat. They said that they regularly caught many smaller and non-legal fish to keep their spirits up. I saw an Illinois fisherman with a nice 20 inch walleye and two 16 inch saugers that he kept to feed his family that night. Remember, that the legal walleye size on the Wisconsin River is 18 inches and the sauger legal size being 15 inches with a daily limit of 3 fish of any combination.

The water level on the Wisconsin River is good with enough water for most boats and the high water of spring is yet to come from the upcoming melt-down of winter’s snow. There’s no great secret to walleye fishing this time of year. The same basic rigs and tactics that worked decades ago are still working now and producing fish. No matter what technique or tactic one uses, the key is using a slow presentation and getting the bait in the walleye’s face. Fish are lethargic this time of year with the river’s cold water and walleyes won’t go very far or chase bait for their food. Walleyes and saugers prefer to wait in ambush behind any structure that will break the current while allowing them to conserve their precious energy.

Techniques that I like to use this time of year are; the basic jig/minnow combo, a jig/plastic (twister, shad tails, and ringworms), a plain hook, bead, and split shot, or a three-way with a plain hook or floating jig and a minnow. Be sure to have jigs in sizes from 1/16th ounce to ¼ ounce and in all colors including purple, black, electric blue, chartreuse, glow, orange, and green. The same colors also hold true for plastic colors too. The other equipment or gear needed is a good open-faced spinning reel (Shimano, Daiwa, Okuma, Garcia) balanced with a medium or medium-light rod 6 foot rod (G. Loomis, Fenwick, Okuma) with a fast tip. I suggest using 6 to 8 pound monofilament (Berkley Trilene) because you will get some snags and mono gives and the super or braided lines do not. As far as live bait goes, try getting some larger fathead minnows around 4 inches and some smaller ones around 3 inches because you never know what the fish want on any given day.

This is also the time to start wading and even fishing from shore. Try these tactics during low-light periods of the day or night because walleyes and saugers will come into shallower water to feed out of the river’s main current. Bring along some stick baits like floating Rapala’s or Storm Thundersticks to fan cast the shallower water. Make sure that your drag is set right and your hooks are sharp in case you hook on to a large female walleye. Unless, any large walleye is your fish of your lifetime practice catch and release. If you are an angler who likes to wade, be sure to use waders at are at least 4 ML thick for warmth and wear a life jacket.

We were fooled for a few days with the brief warm-up, but the weather is warming up again and early spring river walleye fishing is just around the corner. I’ve kept a diary for over two decades and some of the largest walleyes caught in the spring are caught close to the first of March. Be careful, have fun, and above all be safe! www.garyengbergoutdoors.com

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