Spring Panfishing Finally Here!!!

by Free Speech on April 26, 2011

Lodi, WI~

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

Spring Panfishing on the Madison Area Lakes

Soon, the best panfishing of the year will begin on the Madison Chain of Lakes and most waters in southern Wisconsin. The Madison “Chain” is made up of Lakes Mendota, Monona, Waubesa, Kegonsa, and Wingra which are all within a few miles of the Wisconsin state capital. All of these waters are very good for fishing and particularly fishing for crappies and bluegills come springtime. The only exception is Lake Wingra, which has a good bluegill population, but many of the fish are small and you’ll have to sort through these fish to get a good meal.

Lakes Waubesa, Kegonsa, Monona, and Wingra are panfish and bass lakes with other gamefish being stocked. Lake Mendota is more of a walleye and northern pike lake, but it also contains a very good panfish population and good numbers of both bass species. All of these lakes are very good for most species of fish and the springtime is particularly good because fish are in shallow water and easier to catch while being accessible even without a boat. This is the time of the year when shore anglers can have as good fishing as those anglers in boats.

So far, this spring has had the normal ups and downs in weather and recently even freezing temperatures and snow. Crappies have just started to bite and consistent bluegill action is still a few weeks down the road. The “rollercoaster” spring with frontal systems moving thru the state every few days has prevented any consistent pattern and made fishing tough. This week looks better with temperatures in the upper 50’s and low 60’s with a few showers, but no cold and snow! The key is having some prolonged and consistent weather with night time temperatures in the mid to upper 40’s. A few days of warmth is enough to bring the crappies into the shallow and quiet bays that are sheltered from the wind.

Come spring, all fish including crappies and bluegills, seek out the warmest water that they can find after a winter of cold water and a slow metabolism. The magic temperature for crappies to get active seems to be around 50 degrees. Crappies will spawn when the water temperature is in the mid to upper 50’s while bluegills like warmer water in the 60’s to lay their eggs.

One must remember that the northern part of Wisconsin and Minnesota still have ice on lakes. These lakes are opening up around the edges and hopefully they will be open for the inland fishing opener on May 7th.

As I said, crappies and bluegills will always seek out the warmest water they can find. These areas have slack and calm water in out-of-the-way locations. Back bays with dark bottoms of mud or muck, warm up much quicker and get the food chain in motion earlier than any other areas of the lake. This is why you should try to fish smaller lakes early in the spring because they warm up quicker than larger bodies of water and help get the metabolism going in the right direction for the crappies and bluegills. I suggest fishing Lake Waubesa, Lake Kegonsa, and Lake Wingra before fishing the larger Lake Mendota and Lake Monona because they don’t warm up for weeks.

I was out on Lake Monona with the DNR observing their spring fyke netting and I was amazed at the large numbers of bluegills and largemouth bass that were netted. Anyone would be happy to bring home a few meals of these fish! But, when this netting was done the water temperature was 42 degrees.                         Now, most fish species will be in water that is less than 10 feet deep and often shallower. On a warm and sunny day, it is not unusual to find crappies in water that is only 2 or 3 feet deep water. Crappies spawn weeks before bluegills, but they both occupy the same areas of any lake and they will remain in these spawning locations for an extended period of time even after spawning. A couple other key factors to remember are that warm nights and warm rains can help your spring fishing and often keep the fish active in the shallows. Cold fronts will push panfish and gamefish back into the deeper water and make your fishing more difficult. One does not have to be on the water at sunrise in the spring for crappies and bluegills. Try waiting till the rising sun warms the water before going fishing. Mid-day can often be the best time for fishing in the spring.

Now that we are getting the kind of weather to bring the crappies and bluegills into the shallows, it’s time to look for the kind of structure that will hold and attract these fish. Crappies love wood of any kind be it fallen trees, brush, stumps, and wooden piers which hold the warmth longer and help get the food chain in motion. Locate an area with wood and a dark and muddy bottom and you’ll find crappies whether in the Madison lakes or any other southern Wisconsin waters.

Some other locations for both crappies and bluegills are; canals that lead to the main lake, backwater areas, fish cribs, northern shorelines that receive more sunlight, and any location that has new and emerging green weeds. All of these things help warm the water quicker and bring in another key element, food. The warmer water gets the bugs, micro-organisms, and plankton hatching and they provide much of the panfish’s early food. Here’s a simple formula to remember, warm water plus food and stable weather means good fishing. While crappies prefer wood, bluegills like emerging green weeds and submerged brush in the spring, but both fish species will be in over-lapping locations in the early spring.

Some good early locations for both crappies and bluegills on Lake Waubesa are the weedy south-end of the lake, the Hog Island area, the channels off Upper Mud Lake, the Bible Camp area, and the southern shoreline out from Jordan Drive. Lake Kegonsa’s best locations are the new weed growth locations in Atkinson Bay, Colladay Bay, Lund’s Point, and all the north shoreline near the Fish Camp State Park. Lake Kegonsa has little structure except for a few points and the large weed beds. Be mobile and keep moving till you find active fish. A good pair of polarized sunglasses can help you see the fish and their beds during the spawning periods.

What do you need in equipment and gear to catch spring crappies and bluegills? Use ultra-light gear in both your rod (G. Loomis, Fenwick, Okuma) and reel (Daiwa, Shimano.) I’ve found that four pound test monofilament (Berkley Trilene) works for both species, but if you’re fishing wood and brush you may want to go to six pound test mono. The keys for this fishing are light line (use green line in fertile waters), small ice fishing jigs, small jigs (1/32nd), plain hooks with a long shank, a small and sensitive float, and live bait or the Berkley Gulp. The new plastics work well, but always have an assortment of bait including wax worms, red worms, and small crappie minnows because what the fish want can change. If something isn’t working then try something else till you find what the fish prefer that day. Always have an assortment of ice jigs and round headed jigs in all colors and sizes. I’ve had days when all the fish wanted was a plain hook, a red worm hooked in the collar, and a float fished around the weeds or brush. In the spring, you’ll also want to fish very slowly because fish are not going to chase bait in chilly water.

One last recommendation is to use a longer rod, one about 7 to 7 ½ feet, so that you can make long casts to the shallow water crappies and bluegills. Don’t come roaring up to your spot and cut the main motor and expect to start catching fish. Stop your motor at least 50 yards away from your fishing location and approach the fish area using your trolling motor (Minn Kota) be it a bow-mount or transom model. Make long casts at the fish and try to be as stealth and quiet as possible, so that you don’t spook the fish. When crappies and bluegills are this shallow, it’s easy to scare them away and back to deeper water.

The limit or combination of panfish in Wisconsin is 25 fish. But, you don’t have to keep that many fish every time that you go fishing. Practice selective harvest with keeping enough fish for just a meal or two and leave some for the next angler. Panfish, just like any fish species, can be over-fished. During the spring when spawning fish are vulnerable, try to release some of the larger females and bull males. The Madison lakes have a great reproducing population of bluegills and crappies, but don’t take their numbers and size for granted. Now, you have the locations, techniques, and tactics for catching panfish in the spring. The best part of this fishing is that you will have some of the best eating fish to enjoy!

Gary Engberg Outdoors

Wally Banfi with Nice Crappie!

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Previous post:

Next post: