Wisconsin'™s Opening-Weekend Walleyes

Do you want to catch a wallhanger or a mess of filets on the first weekend in May? Consider these options when making plans for the opener! (April 2007)

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Some heavy social drinkers call New Year's Eve "amateur's night," so they wisely stay off the highways and away from favorite watering holes. Many serious walleye anglers view opening day of the general fishing season in the same light. They opt to launch their boats on waters not subject to seasonal regulation in an attempt to avoid weekend warriors who will surely clog the boat ramps with untested outboards. Unfortunately, the self-anointed walleye purists will likely encounter other anglers with just enough knowledge to be dangerous -- or at least occupying water where you really want to fish.

The popularity of walleye fishing is seeing geometric growth as we ease into the 21st century, with no end in sight to this trend. So, we may as well join the fleet on lakes where the marble-eyes haven't seen an intentional hook in a while. Since walleye fishing rates near the top of what is really important in life, we may as well spend opening weekend on waters with Wisconsin's best 'eye-catching potential.

The following is a look at some of our top waters for dancing with walleyes on opening weekend. Whether you want to catch a wallhanger or some filets, consider these options for the opener. And remember, any time spent chasing walleyes is realizing the good life. You just need to leave your demons on the dock.

MADISON CHAIN

My buddy Ron Barefield said vast tracts of wetlands around Stoughton on the south end of this natural chain of lakes and Cherokee Marsh at the other end are actually watercraft breeding grounds where the boats "hatch" the first week of May and clog every boat ramp with discarded truck and trailer "skins" until Labor Day. There certainly seem to be more folks enjoying the Madison Chain every year, especially irritating personal watercraft and skiers. Fortunately, only walleye anglers are out there when the sun goes down.

The steep breaklines out from Rockford Heights and the Bible Camp on Lake Waubesa are great places to fill a quick limit with "eater" walleyes between 12:01 a.m. and dawn on the first Saturday in May. Key on submergent weeds on top of these breaks by using a suspending stick bait like the Lucky Craft Pointer or Rapala Husky Jerk in the Clown or Nashiki pattern. The secret to hooking up is occasionally ticking the weed tops while making a pretty much steady retrieve while using the trolling motor to ease around in deeper water and casting along the weed edge.

Another good tactic is anchoring up on top of the first breakline out from shore and fishing a jumbo leech under a lighted slip-bobber just off the bottom close to the edge. This tactic also works well around "the big hump" on Lake Kegonsa and off the ends of both Picnic Point and Second Point on Lake Mendota.

If you would rather cast stick baits, pitch the flat out from the Tenney Park Locks on Mendota, or work the big sandbar in Lake Monona where walleyes tend to stage until early June.

Weed growth comes on fast in these fertile lakes, especially down on Lake Waubesa. As distinct weed edges start to develop, try pitching a half-crawler into holes in the developing foliage over at least 10 feet of water. This is the kind of bite you can enjoy during daytime if you can get the boat back in the "salad" away from pleasure boaters. Keep the presentation subtle. A 1/16-ounce black jighead is just about right. (Continued)

Contact: Ron Barefield's Fishing Adventures Guide Service, (608) 838-8756, or e-mail at barefish@chorus.net.

LAKES DELAVAN & GENEVA

Remember that scene in Caddyshack where Rodney Dangerfield played a clueless yacht operator? Inspiration for this may have come from real-life experiences with big boats with out-of-state registrations on Geneva Lake after Memorial Day.

This image keeps serious anglers away in droves from this Walworth County lake. But get on Geneva between now and summer's kickoff, and you can have an amazing angling experience -- especially during the week. For a real shot at a trophy walleye, troll a No. 13 Rapala over the weed tops around The Narrows at night.

Don't let the size of Geneva overwhelm you. The band of walleye-producing water is narrow and quite fishable. It will take time to home in on consistent success, but once you start targeting water with that Shad Rap -- with a small split shot pegged up the line about 30 inches to intercept weeds every once in a while -- you'll have the pattern dialed in to a state of fish-catching perfection.

At 2,072 acres, neighboring Delavan is about half the size of Geneva, and twice as easy to fish. Over half of the adult walleye population swimming in Delavan is above the 18-inch minimum-length limit, and they're probably just a tail kick away from the deep-water weed edge that develops here by late May.

Many walleyes are caught by folks fishing for other species on Delavan. Don't be surprised if one of these myopic critters inhales a Rat-L-Trap retrieved over the long bar out from Lake Lawn Lodge. But you may want to try bouncing a jighead and clear hologram K-Grub along steeply breaking shoreline and around docks on the other side of the lake first.

Contact: Geneva Lake Bait & Tackle, (262) 245-6150.

SHAWANO LAKE

Memorial Day weekend marks the arrival of the Happy Times Flotilla on this northeastern Wisconsin lake. But between the opener and the holiday, you can experience outstanding fishing for a number of species.

Those people chasing walleyes before summer's kickoff find perpetual success on the east end of this 6,032-acre lake. They anchor up near several shallow reefs just before dusk and fish into the night with leeches and fathead minnows under slip-bobbers.

Every reef has a "sweet spot" where walleyes transition up from deeper water. Spending some time doing recon on a slow cruise with the big motor and one eye on the electronics looking for significant bottom changes is time well spent.

Similar recon is advised around Schumacher Island, which is Shawano Lake's primary walleye spawning area. Local sportsmen have placed a number of rockpiles here over the years to augment naturally occurring structure. If there is a prevailing wind for at least a couple of days, work the windward side of the island with shallow-running crankbaits after the sun goes down. Just 2 feet of water is enough to hold May walleyes under cover of darkness -- if forage is present.

Contac

t: Shawano Chamber of Commerce, (715) 524-2139.

WAUKESHA COUNTY LAKES

Waukesha County has several walleye fishing options to consider, and it's a great day-trip destination for many Wisconsin anglers.

If you are looking for a fish fry, Pine Lake in the northwest part of the county is probably your best bet. Although walleyes of trophy proportions are rare here, you have a serious shot at a 25-inch fish as part of the five-fish 15-inch minimum bag limit.

Oconomowoc Lake offers a better shot at a wallhanger. There is a three-fish 18-inch minimum-size limit in place here. At about 600 acres, it is possible to target promising spots effectively in a full day on the water.

Lac La Belle is almost twice as big as Oconomowoc. It is managed as a trophy fishery, with a 20-inch minimum and one-walleye daily bag limit. Once walleyes reach legal size here, they are quickly removed from the system and released into hot grease. But there are boatloads of 12- to 19-inch walleyes swimming in Lac La Belle, thus offering almost sure-thing potential for hooking up many times on opening weekend.

Lac La Belle has a wealth of natural walleye cover. Rocky shorelines and points are veritable magnets for both fish and fishermen. Weed edges are slightly tougher to locate, but well worth the effort. The best way to find a good weedbed is by following the 8-foot contour at a leisurely pace with your boat's primary outboard. Once a promising weed edge is located, try casting a No. 9 fire-tiger or crawdad-pattern Shad Rap or similar lure along the edge, or drop into slightly deeper water and pitch a 1/8-ounce jighead tipped with a fathead minnow. For best results, hook the fathead through the mouth and out through the back and ahead of the dorsal fin. Although this kills the minnow, Lac La Belle's willing walleyes will inhale your offering before the tail quits twitching.

Herein is a great opportunity to afflict the next generation with walleye fever. Young anglers need to experience success to become passionate about fishing. Anybody who can keep a line in the water has a chance at hooking up here.

Contact: Dick Smith's Live Bait, (262) 646-2218.

BIG YELLOW LAKE

It's tough to choose the best walleye lake in Burnett County. But 2,287-acre Big Yellow Lake would certainly be on the short list of any serious 'eye chaser in northwest Wisconsin.

A basic hook, split shot and shiner is hard to beat early in the season here when fished in a controlled drift along the lake's 8-foot contour near the lake's channel with Little Yellow Lake on the northwest side. Post-spawn walleyes stage here until about June 1 when they ghost away to inhabit more classic walleye water like the area around a submerged island located almost due south of Yellow Lake Lodge Road. This island tops out about 3 feet under the surface, drawing walleyes shallow during periods of low light once summer arrives.

If fish have already slid away from the 8-foot contour on the lake's northwest corner, try probing the water north of the boat launch on Lake Avenue Road off County Road U.

Contact: Burnett County Tourism, 1-800-788-3164, or online at BurnettCounty.com.

LONG LAKE

Another popular Indianhead Country 'eye destination is the 3,300 acres of classic walleye water found in Washburn County's Long Lake.

This aptly named lake offers perhaps your shortest odds of tangling with a trophy walleye from any water in the northwest part of the state -- especially now before weed growth becomes a prevalent habitat option. Any green weeds you can locate on opening weekend will likely hold fish, with weed growth a direct corollary of how hard a winter the northwoods had. If winter was severe, the fish could still be hanging around primary spawning areas like Kunz Island and Holy Island where dragging a plastic fliptail or big minnow across the rocky rubble bottom can be profoundly effective.

Your surface temperature gauge can be a good indicator of walleye location for the opener. If water temperatures along the 8-foot contour out from the islands are at or below 50 degrees, staying out a long cast from shore and pitching the jig right on the shoreline can offer stunning results. Even with a warm spring, the fish will still be holding in less than 10 feet of water on opening weekend.

If you're looking for a wallhanger, think muskie-sized lures like a 5-inch K-Grub or a Bomber Magnum Long-A stick bait in chrome/black or clear/black hues that emulate the cisco forage base that makes the deep waters of Long Lake a walleye hawg heaven.

Contact: Washburn County Tourism, 1-800-367-3306.

RED CEDAR LAKE

Timing is everything when fishing on the north end of this 1,841-acre Barron County water around the inlet, and your boat's surface temperature gauge is the major indicator of how good the fishing is likely to be.

When walleyes in Red Cedar are post-spawn near the inlet to Balsam Lake and the confluences with both Sucker and Pigeon creeks, they congregate in amazing numbers. The key is finding 45- to 48-degree water. Once water temps warm past 50 degrees, the fish move deeper and fan out into the lake where you can find them probing humps around the 12- to 15-foot contour. But they can also be right on shore feeding heavily when winds of seasonal change put a good "walleye chop" on the water.

Red Cedar Lake has three good public boat ramps, but the one on the west side in the county park is probably the best.

Contact: Barb's General Store, (715) 234-7724.

EAGLE RIVER AREA

If I didn't think living over on the Mississippi River was the best of all worlds, my second choice would be taking up residence somewhere around Eagle River. If you can visit here either side of summer, you will realize the north country is a very special place indeed.

The deep-water weed edges at entry and exit points in Cranberry, Catfish, Eagle and Scattering Rice lakes -- and any woody cover or docks nearby -- are great places to fill a quick limit.

Lac Vieux Desert, which is arguably our state's best multi-species fishery, is just down the road. It is 2,900 acres of rockbars with cabbage beds on the west end. There is similar habitat in Rice and Thunder bays, where a fire-tiger No. 7 Shad Rap is very effective.

Then there is North Twin, which is probably the most consistent walleye lake in the Eagle River area in the spring. You'll often catch all the fish you want around the rockpile toward the south end of the lake without needing to venture farther north. But North Twin's north end offers the best spring action, especially around the creek entry near the "old factory and hospital bar."

Holiday Bar -- which is within walking dist

ance of a tavern with the same name, or vice versa depending on how you look at it -- is a good place to find fishing legend George Langley. Langley will probably be the only guy wearing waders at both Holiday Bars. He'll either be eating lunch inside or trying to catch a few walleyes about 100 yards away with a black/silver No. 7 Rapala. The jig-and-minnow combo is still the "go-to" weapon on North Twin, with white being the most productive jig color.

Big St. Germain is another option for the opener. This round, clear lake has a perpetual walleye chop in the spring. Catching fish is just a matter of pitching a jig and minnow along the windblown shoreline -- especially near the Plum Creek entry point on the north side, several northside rockbars and on the sandy gravel structure on the south end when wind is out of the north.

There are several other smaller area lakes, some only a couple hundred acres, that have limited access and fishing pressure is limited to lake-dwelling cabin owners and a few locals. Such fragile fisheries couldn't stand mention in this magazine, but they are certainly worth a look if you can find them with a little research.

George Langley is the most knowledgeable fishing contact for the Eagle River area. You can reach him at his Eagle River Sports Shop at (715) 479-8804, or by e-mail at fishing@eaglesports.com. George typically holds his best fishing spots close to the vest. You could try a little small talk before asking specifics. A great icebreaker is "are you open for business yet?" Good luck!

Find more about Wisconsin fishing and hunting at: WisconsinSportsmanMag.com

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