River Currents

by Free Speech on February 26, 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

Early Walleyes and Saugers on the Wisconsin River

Wisconsin River sauger

Saugers, like this one, are plentiful in the rivers and lakes around the Lodi, WI area.

This is the time of year when I and I know many of you have “cabin fever” and are looking forward to a true Wisconsin tradition, river fishing for walleyes and saugers. It’s been a typical Wisconsin winter with some cold weather and enough snow to keep you busy shoveling. Personally, I’ve kept busy with my new Lab, Katie, who has to be doing something outside with her boundless energy. Plus, I’ve been doing some ice fishing, looking for eagles and wildlife to photograph, feeding over 100 pounds of bird seed a week, and getting ready for the sport show and seminar season. But, I’ve had enough of winter and the stable and sunny days last week had me thinking of walleye fishing on the Wisconsin River.

It is not unusual to be fishing open-water on the Wisconsin River below the dams at Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin Dells, and Nekoosa in February. In the last decade, there have been a few years where walleye and sauger fishing started this early. Most people think that the “spring walleye run’ starts in March and April when the temperature hits the magic 40 degree mark and all the walleyes in the Wisconsin River system decide to migrate toward the first impassable structure or the dam’s on the river system. The truth is that walleyes and saugers start migrating upriver toward the Prairie du Sac Dam in the late fall and winter and find an area where they will hold till spring. This location is usually a deep water location with access to shallow water feeding flats that have bait fish. These “holding areas” can be close to the dam’s scour hole which is usually the deepest water below the dam that was formed when the water was high from the melting of winter’s snow and rushing through the open dam gates. There is water over 30 feet deep below the Prairie Dam which is deep water for the Wisconsin River where farther downriver 10 feet is considered deep. The scour hole is only 20 to 30 yards below the dam gates. Though many walleyes and its cousin, the sauger, can be very close to the dam, there are locations downriver 2 to 3 miles that will also hold fish this time of year before the spawn. This time of year, many of the smaller males will be active and arrive before the larger female fish. This is why you’ll often go through dozens of smaller, non-legal walleyes and saugers before you catch a legal fish. The legal size for walleyes on the Wisconsin River is 18 inches and the sauger must be 15 inches with a daily bag limit of 3 fish of any combination.

I wasn’t the only one thinking about starting the outboard motor up and heading to Sauk City or Wisconsin Dells! There have been anywhere from 10 to 15 boats out fishing most days for the past week. Even Sunday, there were a handful of boats fishing even with the threat of a snow storm. There is little if any skim ice on the east side of the Prairie Dam where there’s a slack water area. The west side of the dam is where the fast water constantly flows. You’ll soon be seeing anglers wading and casting for walleyes on this side. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some wader’s this week, but they better have 4 ML thick neoprene waders for comfort and warmth. Wilderness Fish and Game employee, Dean Carlson, caught over 30 walleyes and saugers in a few hours last week while anchored and drifting with his trolling motor below the dam. Dean caught a limit of fish, but chose to release them. The other anglers told me the same story, but one hardy angler said that he had caught a 27 inch walleye near the Highway 60 Bridge just after dark the other night. Wilderness Fish and Game (608-643-2433) has the best bait in the area and they (Wally, Wayne, and Larry) said that they’ve been constantly busy with angler’s buying minnows and having fresh line spooled on their reels. You also can get a reliable fishing report when buying your bait.

The weather report for this week looks pretty good with temperatures in the 30’s and a stable barometer. If you can keep the rod tips on your rod open from freezing, then it’s warm enough to fish. I hope to get out by the middle of the week as long as my outboard starts. The forecast is for sunny skies and not much wind which if you dress properly is very comfortable.

As far as equipment goes, you want to use 6 to 8 # monofilament line like Berkley Trilene in the green color (to match the stained river water) on an open-faced spinning reel (Shimano, Daiwa, Garcia). I match this with a 6 foot medium or medium-light rod with a fast tip (G. Loomis, Fenwick, St. Croix) and you’re about set for a rod and reel. As far as terminal tackle goes, have a good supply of jigs from 1/8 ounce to 1/4 ounce in assorted colors like black, blue, purple, chartreuse, orange, green, and glow. You’ll also need some plastic twister tails, shad tails, and ringworms in the same colors as the jigs. The forage in the river is larger now before any new hatches, so use larger plastics and minnows. I recommend Kalin’s, Walleye Assassin, and Berkley Powerbaits in my plastics. The scented Gulp is also a top-notch attractant for walleyes and saugers. Finally, have some quality hooks of different sizes, a few beads, some split shot, and a few slip sinkers for live-bait rigging on a “dead” rod. Some days, the walleyes want just a plain hook or a hook with a bead above as an attractor and a minnow. Buy minnows in a couple sizes because early in the year the fish can be selective.

Most anglers anchor and fish directly below the dam while casting and retrieving their jigs/minnows, vertical jigging, or drifting while controlling your boat with your trolling motor. The most important thing to remember is to fish very, very slowly. Retrieve your casts slowly, change your jigging cadence from slow to slower, and keep moving around till you contact active fish. Most if not all of your walleyes and saugers are within a foot of the bottom and they won’t chase a minnow very far. Then, you may choose to work from shallow water (less than 10 feet) to deeper water or vice versa. It’s not important to get on the water at day break, let the sun rise and warm things up for a few hours. But, try to fish the last hour after the sun drops below the tree line because that is the time both walleyes and saugers will move shallow to feed. I had fresh walleye fillets the other night and they are soooo good and rival the fresh bluegill that I’ve been eating. Eating fresh fish regularly is great!

The area ice fishing has been hot and cold. The Madison Lakes have slowed down with bluegill and perch activity inconsistent. There are some mid to high 20 inch walleyes being caught on Lake Mendota after dark and late at night for the all night guys. Even Pancake Bob has been having a tough time with bluegills and he’s an excellent ice angler. The only “hot” bite that I know of is on Crystal Lake where fishermen have been doing very well on crappies after dark and into the night. The magic depth has been 10-13 feet using minnows and a slip float or small bobber. The crappies are all around 9 to 11 inches with a few larger ones. Crappies, like walleyes, muskies, and largemouth are some of the fish that will be active and feed at night. Any questions, photos, or comments go to www.garyengbergoutdoors.com

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