River Currents

by Free Speech on March 2, 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

Shad, Sheds, and Saugers


Most anglers in the southern half of Wisconsin know that gizzard shad are one of the main forage fish in the Mississippi River, Wisconsin River, Lake Wisconsin, and many more of the states waters. The shad are not considered an invasive species, but they are not native to our northern waters and thus very sensitive to colder water. Every fall when the water temperatures drop into the 40’s and 30’s gizzard shad have a major die-off and can be found dying in the shallow water and covering the shorelines on many rivers and lakes.
Living on the Lower Wisconsin River, I have grown accustomed to this annual ritual after observing it for over two decades. But, this fall was the first year that I can remember when there were no visible signs of the shad on the Wisconsin River or neighboring Lake Wisconsin. The gizzard shad is also one of the main food sources for the eagle population that winter in the Sauk Prairie area. Shad are easy pickings for the eagles and these protein rich fish help the bald eagle get through the tough Wisconsin winters.

Gizzard Shad from the Wisconsin River

Gizzard Shad from the Wisconsin River

I did some research and contacted Gene Van Dyck, the DNR fish manager for the Lower Wisconsin River (LWR) and asked him what happened to the shad this year? Van Dyck responded that there were now basically no shad left in the Lower Wisconsin River, few left in Lake Wisconsin, and even drastically low numbers in the Mississippi River. Why, I asked the DNR fish manager and he responded that “last winter with extreme snow and cold (2007-2008) was hard to say the least on all ages of shad in the LWR. Then, the floods this past spring, basically eliminated all reproduction of shad in the Lower Wisconsin River. Thus, we went from an all time high in shad numbers to the bottom of the barrel in a few months.”
Shad mature at two years of age with females laying approximately 385,000 eggs. Since gizzard shad are extremely sensitive to the cold water every year they experience a die-off when the water cools in the fall and early winter. To have a successful reproduction come spring, they need to have warm and stable water temperatures and water levels. Gene Van Dyck added that “if conditions are right a limited number of two-year old shad can fill a river up in a year.” But, if conditions aren’t right even a large number of shad won’t bring off any hatch. What is needed is a limited number of shad hopefully moving from the Mississippi River or from Lake Wisconsin (if there are enough left) into the Lower Wisconsin River and then have the proper and right spawning conditions. So, a rebound by the shad is totally dependent upon the number of shad left in either the Mississippi River or Lake Wisconsin and the proper spawning conditions that spring. In closing, Gene added that “we could have shad back next year or maybe in 5 to 10 years. There’s no way of knowing and it’ll happen when it does.”
Now what does all this mean to the fisherman? It could mean that there will be better fishing because gizzard shad are a main forage fish of many of the game fish species in the rivers and lakes of southern Wisconsin. This is why the Rapala Shad Rap in such a good bait on so many waters. Shad Raps resemble a live shad. But, if the shad don’t make a comeback in the next year or two another rough fish on the lower end of the food chain will fill the void left by the gizzard shad. The fish that could replace the shad are; Buffalo Sucker, Common Carp, River Carp Sucker, Quillback Sucker, Highfin Carpsucker, White Sucker, and Redhorse Sucker. All of these roughfish are relatively common in most local rivers and lakes and make up a large part of the fish biomass.
Members of the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council that monitor the local eagle population in the winter have seen bald eagle numbers go down drastically this winter in the Wisconsin River valley region mainly because of the lack of shad as a major winter food source. The wintering eagles have moved to areas with the open water they need for fishing and to locations where there still are the forage fish they need for survival. The moving water in most rivers remain open during winter allowing the majestic birds to feed.  But, there is no doubt that the eagle have found other locations that still have the protein-rich fish (shad) that are “easy pickings” for wintering eagles. We still have eagles in our area of Wisconsin, but not in the numbers that we are normally accustomed to.


This is now the time of the year when hunters and non-hunters begin the late winter and early spring ritual of hunting for antlers that the deer have shed. The “shed season” can begin as early as January and continue into April. The variables that affect shed hunting is the winter’s snow cover and below zero temperatures. These factors prevent people from getting out into the woods to search and find last season’s antlers. The key is to be able to get and find the sheds before rodents and other animals devour the antlers for their mineral content. It’s amazing to see how quick animals can chew up antlers. A nice rack can be marred in just a few hours of time.
Shed hunting is hard work and like most things that are worthwhile, you have to put in many hours to be successful. I like to compare shed hunting to the scouting you do for deer every year. The more time spent in the woods, the better are your chances of finding antlers. Plus, the exercise that you receive while searching the woods and valleys is welcomed after a winter of inactivity and cabin fever. This time in the woods also helps you become a better hunter and outdoorsman.

Deer antler shed

Deer antler shed

The first and most important step in finding shed antlers is to locate the areas where deer have been spending their winter. Deer can be in a completely different area than they were during the hunting season. The key is to find the food sources that the deer are using this time of the year. In Wisconsin, there are countless corn, wheat, soybean, and alfalfa fields, which even when harvested, leave waste grain that the deer feed on during the winter months. Try driving country roads late in the afternoon looking for deer from the road with a good pair of binoculars (like Vortex or Zeiss). Once you find deer, then start looking for the bucks, which are usually hanging around together in loose bachelor groups.
Next, you’ll need to get permission from the landowner to walk the land where you spotted deer. Then, get yourself a plat book and start knocking on doors in the countryside. Most people will give you permission to walk their land while looking for sheds. This is much easier than getting permission to hunt.
Once you’ve gotten permission to access some land, then it’s time to get out and start walking. Try to concentrate your efforts on feeding and bedding areas. Focus on thickets, field borders, grassy areas, and about any place that show you visible signs that deer are bedding in the nearby area. Used trails and paths, fencerows, and the edges of woods and fields are other locations to check. Some shed hunters say that they often find antlers within 30 to 40 yards of woods and next to fields where the deer have been foraging for food. Fencerows are “hot spots” because deer often have to jump over them and the impact on landing often jars antlers loose. If you find half a rack, keep looking because the other half is often close by that spot. Antlers are found in these locations because they are where deer are spending most of their time. Also, check the same locations (bedding and feeding spots) that the deer used the year before because you can often find shed antlers in basically the same areas as the year before. But, bedding and feeding locations are key places to concentrate your efforts.
Shed hunting can be a great hobby for the entire family and a great way to spend time in the woods till the next hunting season. It’s also relaxing and another way to get through the winter and at the same time get some valuable exercise. The time spent in the woods will greatly improve your hunting skills and woodsmanship.
Shed hunting is much like looking for morel mushrooms. It’s hard to find the first ones, but once you find one, the others are much easier. Times wasting, so get out and start looking!


Father & son are proud of this catch of saugers

Father & son are proud of this catch of saugers

The sauger population on Lake Wisconsin is becoming one of the best in the Midwest since the slot size regulations were implemented a few years ago. All walleyes and saugers under 15 inches must be released and all of these species over 20 inches must also be let go. An angler may keep one trophy over 28 inches. These regulations have allowed the sauger population to grow and rival the saugers that anglers catch on the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. There are now numerous saugers in the 22 to 25 inch range instead of the slender saugers that anglers used to harvest in the 15 to 17 inch size. I would not be surprised to see a new state record sauger come from Lake Wisconsin. The current state record is 6 pounds and 4 ounces from the Mississippi River. Last year, I saw and caught numerous saugers that were close to 5 pounds. The slot regulations are definitely working on these waters and helping protect the sauger and walleye females that produce the future fish populations. This year, put Lake Wisconsin sauger fishing on your fishing calendar.
Feel free to contact me with any questions and always check out my website at www.garyengbergoutdoors.com.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Wally Banfi March 3, 2009 at 9:32 AM

Very Interesting article…It looks like we should
have very good fishing on Lake Wisconsin this year!
Waldog Out!

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