River Currents

by Free Speech on April 2, 2010

Lodi, WI~

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

Lodi, WI
by Gary Engberg
©2010 Gary Engberg Outdoors

Wading Wisconsin’s Rivers for Walleyes and Saugers

The Where’s, When’s, and How’s

Phil Schweik of Hooksetter's Guide Service with a big walleye caught wading at night

Anglers have been fishing many of Wisconsin’s rivers for walleyes and saugers for weeks. The nice thing about early spring river fishing is that a majority of Wisconsin’s rivers are open year-round for walleye and sauger angling. If you are unsure about a river being open for fishing be sure to check out the 2010-2011 Fishing Regulations booklet before fishing. Here are some of the state’s rivers that are open all year to walleye fishing; the Mississippi, Wisconsin, Rock, Fox, Wolf, Crayfish, Pecatonica, Black, and Yellow Rivers. I’ve kept a fishing log for as long as I have been guiding and many of the year’s biggest walleyes come during the months of March and into April when female walleyes are heavy with eggs before spawning.

During early spring and into the month of May, many anglers find that wading is an excellent way to fish for walleyes. One of the reasons that wading is so productive is that the fish are in shallow water and very accessible. As soon as the water temperature hits the low to mid 40’s, female walleyes spawn and drop their eggs on rocky and gravel shorelines when available or they will use marshes if no other suitable spawning location is available.

Walleyes and their cousin, the sauger, begin their migration up rivers in the fall and winter looking for suitable holding areas for winter. As the water warms and we get close to spring, the walleye move as far upriver as they can before encountering an immovable object or a dam. As an example, there are numerous dams on the Wisconsin River and then look at the many pools on the Mississippi River that are separated by dams. Once the walleyes come to a dam, they’ll then filter back down the river (up to a few miles) to staging or holding spots out of the main river current where they will stay until the water warms up for their spawning. All walleyes do not spawn at the same time, so you may find fish in shallow water for a month and even longer. The smaller male walleyes and saugers arrive at the spawning sites weeks before the females and are very active while they wait for the females. Remember that not all females will travel all the way to tailrace area, so fishing can be good for miles below the dams.

The best time to wade rivers is early and late in the day during low light periods. This is the time that many of the walleyes and particularly the big females will be in water less than 5 feet deep. No matter where you live, there are always rivers with walleyes within driving distance.


You’re going to be wading in cold water, so you need a quality pair of neoprene waders that are 4 ML thick. The balance of your cold weather fishing clothing is also very important, if you want to be comfortable in 40 degree water. Fishing is no fun if you’re cold, so make sure to dress properly! Underneath my waders, I wear long underwear made of the new “space-age” fabrics that wick the moisture away from your body or wool and cotton long underwear, if you prefer natural fibers. Next, I’ll wear a cotton turtleneck and layer whatever else I feel I need for the day. Gauge your clothing by the weather and it is always better to have too many clothes on than not enough. On your feet, wear a thin pair of thinsulate socks and then a pair of medium weight wool-blend socks. Lastly, wear a Gore-Tex jacket on the outside in case of rain or snow and to break any wind. Always wear something on your head because that is where most of your body’s heat is lost. A wool or Gore-Tex hat works in all weather. If you feel that you need them, wear some neoprene gloves or gloves with the fingers cut off so that you may still cast and reel. One last item of importance, especially if you’re fishing at night is a light source, like the clip-on light made that attaches to your hat’s bill. Walleyes often go shallow at night to feed where the water can be a little warmer. All that is needed is water a degree or two warmer to attract walleyes and saugers during this cold water period of spring. Fishing during low-light times is good, but night fishing can be great if you hit things at the right time.

Equipment and Gear

Wally wading the Wisconsin River

The equipment that you need for spring walleye fishing is nothing special. Use a 6 foot rod with medium or medium light action and a fast tip (I use a G. Loomis SJR 720 or 721). If casting crankbaits, you may want a longer rod about 7 feet long for making longer casts and not spooking walleyes in the shallows. For reels, try the Daiwa SS 700 or the Garcia Cardinal spooled with Berkley Trilene monofilament in green and 8 # test. You can use 6 # test mono, but I’ve found that the higher test mono saves you a few jigs and allows you to pull free of the many snags that you’ll encounter in a river. Last, an angler needs a good quality jig with a wide hook gap and a slow fall (like the Bait Rigs Slo-Poke). Some fishers prefer to use a “stinger hook” on the end of their jig for light biting fish.

As far as terminal tackle goes, have a good supply of jigs in assorted colors and sizes. Change jig colors regularly or have a couple of rods already rigged with different jigs and baits, so you don’t have to waste time while you change jigs and crankbaits in the cold. Try using some glow colors that show up better at night or during the low-light periods. Be sure to have some different kinds of plastics like ringworms, shadtails, and grubs because the river’s current gives action to these attachments. Hair jigs are also great for river fishing because like plastics the river’s flow makes the hair pulsate and create its own movement. Again, have a variety of sizes and colors and change them regularly to see if there is a certain size, color, or movement that the fish want the day you’re fishing. Live bait isn’t always necessary, but it never hurts to have a few different size minnows along in case that is what the walleyes want that day. Berkley (Pure Fishing) has been making a new product called Gulp which works great and many successful anglers are now using it exclusively instead of live bait. Although, I’ve found days when the fish want a certain size and color plastic tail or Gulp and other days when a plain hook, a split shot, and a minnow does the trick. The best rule of thumb is to be prepared and cover all your bases when it comes to color and kind of bait.

Techniques and Tactics

As far as techniques go, cast up river and slowly work your jig back varying your retrieve from a slow retrieve to a stop and go one. In cold water, a walleye isn’t going to chase your bait and that is why I preach to clients that I guide to use a slow, slow presentation. Areas to fish and cast toward are; back eddies, points, rocky shorelines, riprap, wood, bridges, and slack water areas. One of the most important things to remember is that walleyes and saugers don’t want to fight the river’s current and burn up unnecessary energy in cold water. They like areas where they can rest and then dash out and grab food as it passes or floats by them. Also, try fan casting these areas with crankbaits like Rapala Husky Jerkbaits, Mann’s Minus 1’s, and any other long stick-type bait. These baits have a tight wobble which is what you want this time of the year. The best colors that I have found are natural ones or try to match the forage with black/white, blue/white, silver/white, perch, chartreuse, and firetiger and make sure that the treble hooks are sharp. Casting crankbaits after dark can be very productive on big walleyes this time of year. The thrill of having a large walleye hit your jig or crankbait in shallow water is tough to beat!

No matter where you live there’s a river in close proximity to wade for walleyes. Do a little research, dress warm, and bring a landing net. I suggest that you always fish with a buddy, wear a life jacket, and tell someone where you’re going just in case…Keep your boat in storage and try to get into wading because now it can be the most effective way to catch walleyes. The peace and solitude of night fishing is well worth it, even if the fishing is slow.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Fish Tales Restaurant April 2, 2010 at 8:41 PM

Great fishing info! I posted it on our Facebook page. We love reading the articles on this site. Well done!

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