River Currents

by Free Speech on February 16, 2009

Lodi, WI~

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

by Gary Engberg

©2009 Gary Engberg Outdoors

This past weekend, many of you took advantage of the warm temperatures and sun to cure their “cabin fever.” I was at the National Pheasant Fest in Madison with a booth at the Alliant Energy Center and didn’t get to enjoy the much needed break in the weather. But, I saw people driving and pulling their boats up Highway 12 early both Saturday and Sunday mornings on my way to Madison. These people were on their way to the local Sauk Prairie VFW boat landing to try and take advantage of the weather and get in some early Wisconsin River walleye and sauger fishing.
The walleyes and saugers have been moving up the Wisconsin River since last fall and from now till their spawning sometime in March will be finding “holding and staging” areas below the dam. Some of these locations can be relatively close to the dam and usually within a few miles of the obstruction. The Prairie Dam is the last dam (or first dam for fish moving upriver) on the Wisconsin River as the water flows toward the Mississippi River at Prairie du Chien some 90 miles away. I’ll talk more about spring walleye fishing as we get closer to primetime, but if the water and landings are open and you can keep the guides on your fishing rod clear of ice then there are walleyes to be caught. Many of these early and active fish are smaller males which move into spawning areas much earlier than the females. The only problem that happens is that many of the smaller males are caught in deeper water and often deeply hooked. Many of these small male walleyes end up dying from being yanked up from deep water and having their air bladder expand or from swallowing the hook. This is a problem with early walleye fishing where anglers catch dozens of small males that end up dying from lack of care. If you’re catching these fish try to reel them in slower and try to set the hook earlier preventing “gut-hooking” and killing these fish.

I’m sure that many of you readers have read my comments on the lack of gizzard shad in the Lower Wisconsin River. Gizzard shad are a primary forage fish of many fish species in the river. They also are a big reason why the Lower Wisconsin River is major wintering location for the bald eagle. Many experts have blamed the lack of shad as one reason for lower eagle numbers in the area this winter. Living on the LWR, I see my shoreline and up and down the river covered with dying shad every fall and winter once the temperatures cool and winter sets in. The shad die-off is a normal occurrence and happens every year. But, this year there were no dead or dying shad! I decided to check into this and contacted Gene Van Dyck, who is the Fish Manager for the Lower Wisconsin River.
Here is what Gene told me in a couple of emails and I feel that it is worth passing on to you. Now, there are virtually no live shad left in the river. Gizzard shad have a very short life span and need to have annual year classes to maintain their populations. Last winter was hard to say the least for all ages of shad, according to Van Dyke. The floods this past spring basically eliminated all reproduction of shad in the LWR. The river went from having an all time record high to the “bottom of the barrel in a few months of time.”
Van Dyke went on to say, “The Mississippi River shad numbers are way down as well, but I’m not sure if they are almost non-existent as is the case with the Lower Wisconsin River (LWR). Even more so, I’m not sure of the status of the shad population in Lake Wisconsin. Shad mature at 2 years of age with females laying 385,000 eggs each. Shad are extremely subject to die off in cold water.” Their reproductive success relies on warm stable water temperatures and levels. This is the exact opposite of what we have had the past two winters in most of southern and central Wisconsin.
If conditions are right, a limited number of 2 year old shad can replenish the river or any body of water in a year. If conditions aren’t right, then all the 2 year-old shad won’t hatch and refill the Wisconsin River. What is needed is a migration of some adult shad from Lake Wisconsin or the Mississippi River into the river and then good spawning conditions. So, you can see that their rebound depends on the number of shad in both the Mississippi River and Lake Wisconsin. The main ingredients and conditions have to be there for a successful hatch. This could happen next year or it may take 5 or 10 years with no way of knowing. Gene Van Dyke’s parting words were, “It’ll happen when it does.” Now, you know the whole and rest of the story!

The National Pheasant Fest held this past weekend in Madison drew over 20,000 people in the three-day event. His was Pheasant Forever’s fifth such event and the first ever in Wisconsin. The Fest opened on Friday with a Bird Dog Parade of over 34 different sporting dog breeds at the Exhibition Hall. The high level of excitement carried over all weekend with 20,255 people attending to see the 600 exhibit booths, dozens of non-stop seminars, and hundreds of bird dogs. Pheasant Forever also signed up 1,100 new members over the weekend.
The Pheasant Fest will also leave a conservation legacy in Wisconsin and the upper Midwest. Over 500 landowners took advantage off the Landowner Habitat Help Room, and an estimated 20,000 habitat acres were evaluated for management recommendations.
Personally, I was amazed at the great attendance and the large number of young children that were brought to the event to take part in the many activities Pheasants Forever and the DNR had for children. I never knew that so many people in the area were interested in pheasants. But, this was a National event with thousands of people coming from all-over the Midwest in take part in this premier event. There also was the first-ever Renewable Energy and Wildlife Habitat Forum which examined the future of renewable energy and the opportunities for wildlife habitat.

Be extra careful when ice fishing because there is no such thing as SAFE ice.  Be sure to check out the ever-expanding website at www.garyengbergoutdoors.com.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Previous post:

Next post: