River Currents

by Free Speech on September 25, 2009

Lodi, WI~

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

Lodi, WI
by Gary Engberg
©2009 Gary Engberg Outdoors

Early Fall Fishing on Madison’s Waters

Author Gary Engberg with a Lake Waubesa walleye.

Author Gary Engberg with a Lake Waubesa walleye.

Its early fall in Wisconsin and as I’ve mentioned before now is the time to start getting ready for some of the years best fishing. If you’re an outdoors person then this is “your’ time of the year. One has a difficult time deciding what outdoor activity to participate in with most hunting seasons being open in some part of Wisconsin and fishing just starting to heat up.

After having the coldest July on record and a cool August, September has already had some of the warmest days of the summer. The cool summer kept the weeds down and the water considerably cleaner on the Madison Chain of Lakes this summer. An example of the cleaner water was the overall clarity on Lake Mendota, where you could see to 10 to 12 feet down in the middle of summer. Some of this can be attributed to which direction the wind is blowing, but the cooler temperature helped keep the weeds down. This past summer, the wind blew from the north and north-west a considerable amount of time. The blue – green alga was down as was the Eurasian milfoil making local waters much cleaner this fishing season. This may make fish a little spookier, but I don’t think it hindered fishing to any extent.

The water temperature on most waters in southern Wisconsin has risen since the Labor Day weekend. The beginning of the month there was water temperatures ranging from the high 60’s to the low 70’s in the southern half of the state. Since then, the water temperature has risen to the mid to upper 70’s. What is usually needed for good fishing is stable weather which has seemed to have avoided us most of the summer along with a lack of precipitation. This past weekend, local waters were in the mid 70’s which is warm for this time of year while still being many weeks away from the fall turn-over. Fish of all species know that winter is coming and its time to start feeding for the winter months when their metabolism slows down. Turnover starts when the water temperatures is in the 50’s which looks like October is going to be the start of this fall’s hot fishing.

Last week, I talked to numerous guides and anglers who all seem to be saying the same thing. Fishing is tough now because most fish are scattered throughout the water column without any consistent pattern or active bite. Walleyes are mostly in deeper water, on the sharp breaklines, and off points. Guides Wally Banfi (608)-644-9823) and Tony Puccio (608)-212-6464) have found fish (mostly walleyes, smallmouth, and northern pike) in water 25 to 35 feet deep and even deeper. Don’t be afraid to live bait rig with a big chub (4 to 6 inches long) or shiner in the deep water. Puccio has had success trolling lead core line in water 25 to 30 feet deep and pulling Rapala Shad Raps in # 5 and # 7 in perch and firetiger colors. Banfi has had success with a simple rig of bullet weight above a barrel swivel and a fluorocarbon leader (about 3 feet) to a plain hook with ½ a nightcrawler. You may add a colored bead above the hook for added attraction. Either cast and slowly retrieve this rig or drag it along the bottom while working off your trolling motor. The rig can be successfully fished outside weedlines or up and down steep breaks like the one off Lake Mendota’s Governors Island. As the water cools, dragging a jig and big chub up and down the breaks will catch big walleyes. Fish will be looking for “big meals” since the hatch of the year and all other forage has grown all summer and is considerably larger than they were in the spring. A fish would rather have a big meal now than many small ones! The key to fall angling is to use big baits because they catch big fish.

Trolling the deep slot on Lake Waubesa off Rockford Heights with crankbaits or spinner rigs with a nightcrawlers will also catch walleyes, northern, and muskies. Lake Waubesa and Lake Kegonsa are both good fall waters with an abundance of panfish and gamefish. The bluegills are active on Lake Waubesa near Hog Island on wax worms, spikes, and small tubes with white being a hot color.

Smallmouth are now going to be in the deeper water till things cool off and ideally they will be concentrated off the rock bars (Dunn’s Bar and the Brearly Street Bar) and on hard rock and gravel bottom locations. You can also find smallmouth outside the weedlines, around and on any main lake humps, and scattered along flats with green weeds that give them access to deep water. Live bait rigs, jigs and tubes, safety pin spinners, and casting crankbaits will all work for “smallies.” As the water cools, I switch to live bait with a circle hook with big chubs and shiners being my bait of choice.

A nice northern pike from Lake Mendota.

A nice northern pike from Lake Mendota.

Largemouth bass are going to be mostly weed orientated, but it is possible to find largemouth in deeper water off any lake point, near creek mouths that run into lakes, and scattered along weedy flats. Good electronics will help you find some of these suspended fish that many anglers miss. Try fishing large plastics (lizards, worms, and crayfish) amongst the weeds on a weedless jig. Cast to the open pockets in the weeds and just outside them with a heavy jig. Lake Mendota has a great population of largemouth, as does both Lakes Waubesa and Lake Kegonsa. Try casting large crankbaits parallel to the weeds and just outside the weedline for big bass. Mud Lake between the Yahara River and Lake Waubesa is another good fall location for largemouth bass.

The best action these days is on muskies with Lake Monona producing 6 fish over 50 inches this year. The warm water has top water baits still producing with bucktails and jerk baits also catching big fish. Many anglers are having success trolling crankbaits in the prop wash and on Off Shore planer boards for muskies. Trolling is not allowed on all waters in the state, so check your regulations before you hit the water. Trolling is legal on the Madison lakes. Trolling allows you to cover more water than by casting and also allows you to spread your baits throughout the water column. As I said earlier, fish are scattered and can be now found about anywhere and at any depth where there is forage fish or bait. It’s too early to start using suckers on a Quick-Set rig because the water is still too warm for lively suckers. Wait until the water is in the 50’s before using live bait and then pick the darkest suckers in the 12 to 14 inch range. This fall should be excellent for muskies on the Madison Chain with the lure of big fish now that the 50 inch barrier has been broken.

There is a Professional Muskie Tournament Trail tournament this fall where some of the country’s best anglers will catch some big fish if the weather cooperates. Last week, the DNR also stocked Lake Monona with some 12 to 14 inch muskies. Stocking these lakes has helped produce these 50 inch fish that are now being caught.

There is an excellent bite for trout on Devils Lake as I write. The inland trout season closes September 30, 2009. But, Devils Lake is still open through the fall. Drift across the main basin with a fathead minnow, a split shot, and a # 8 hook for trout action. Most trout are over the 9 inch minimum with many in the 12 to 15 inch range. Be sure to have a trout stamp if fishing Devils Lake.

The Wisconsin River and Lake Wisconsin have been slow due to the lack of a decent water flow from the lack of rainfall. Both of these waters will improve as the water again cools and we get some rain. Walleyes, saugers, smallmouth, and muskies are all going to be active come October.

The month of October and the beginning of November should be good fishing for all fish species. Cooler weather, precipitation, and stable weather patterns should get fish in the right mood and give the fall angler the fishing that we all expect before the “hard water” season is upon us. If you want a guide, local information, and what’s active, go to www.garyengbergoutdoors.com for all you need this fall. Fishing may be tough for another week or two, but it will continue to improve as fall progresses.

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