Green Bay's Walleye Restoration

Green Bay walleye fishing benefits greatly these days from intensive walleye stocking and habitat work by both the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Walleyes For Tomorrow. (May 2009)

Trolling between Idlewild Point and Larsen's Reef, just west of Sturgeon Bay, rewarded Capt. Bret Alexander (left) of New Franklin and his fishing buddy, Capt. Jeff Weatherwax of Sturgeon Bay with a fine Green Bay walleye.
Photo by Ted Peck.

Walleye fishing in Green Bay is better now than Wisconsin fishermen have seen it in more than 20 years.

From Fox River in the south to the tip of Door County in the north, Green Bay walleye fishing benefits greatly from intensive walleye stocking and habitat work by both the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Walleyes For Tomorrow. Collectively, these efforts play a role in the resurgence of marble-eyes in this complex fishery.

But Paul Peeters, Green Bay Basin manager for the WDNR, says the actual impact of man's intentional efforts to improve Green Bay's walleye fishery may be dwarfed by the consequences of unintentional introductions of more than 170 actively reproducing exotic fish species found in Green Bay and Lake Michigan.

"It's really tough to gauge how effective stocking efforts have been in Green Bay," Peeters says. "Mother Nature does a much better job of plugging species into the best available niche and watching them prosper."

Peeters adds, however, that the potential effect of VHS (viral hemmoragic septicemia) disease resulted in a walleye-stocking moratorium over the past two years. During this time, WFT used its funds for habitat improvement, constructing reefs at the south end of Green Bay. State WFT chairman Mike Arrowood says his organization improved a long, rocky reef off McDonald's Marina near the Fox River, and three large rocky structures cumulatively referred to as Joliet Park Reef.

"These reefs should serve as both good spawning habitat and overall attractors for the walleye population swimming near the south end of the Bay," Arrowood says. "We have been given the tentative go-ahead to resume stocking walleye fry out of Sturgeon Bay again this year by the WDNR, with the approval of the state Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection."

Still, Peeters questions if the stocking efforts will play a significant role in the overall effect upon Green Bay's walleye fishing. (Continued)

"Walleye fishing is better now than most folks can remember," he admits. "However, I don't believe humans can take much credit -- at least, not intentionally. The only thing constant in the Green Bay-Lake Michigan ecosystem is change. With over 170 exotic plant, fish and invertebrate species all competing to find an advantage, the matrix of species relationships is so complex that we will never be able to get ahead of the game."

Peeters cites two well-known exotic species -- zebra mussels and a little baitfish called the goby -- as examples of this change.

"There really aren't that many zebra mussels in the bay anymore," he points out. "It's been overtaken by a more successful exotic species: the quagga mussel."

Meanwhile, gobies have out-competed several species of native chubs, which once were a major part of the walleye forage base in Green Bay. Both smallmouth bass and walleyes have been feeding heavily on gobies here for the past several years.

As a result, the fishing tactics and lures that anglers employed with considerable success five years ago, or even just last year, may not work several years from now.

A solid example of the need to tweak angling presentations can be found in K-Grub lures. This 5-inch plastic flip-tail grub is deadly on early-season smallmouths and walleyes in the bay. But K-Grubs in green hues, which resemble gobies, now produce more strikes than the once popular clear hologram color patterns, which mimicked shiners, a native forage fish that has been replaced by gobies.

Casting 5-inch K-Grubs at night on a 1/4-ounce jighead along the Green Bay shoreline has been an effective 'eye-catching method for decades. Limit catches are possible by shoreline anglers working the waterfront from Potowatomi State Park, near Sturgeon Bay, up to Oconto County Park No. 2, and from the many docks in the Sturgeon Bay ship canal.

One of the most popular shore-fishing sites in the ship canal is out from Beach Harbor Resort, according to resort owner Jon Hansen. "Our shoreline will be jammed with anglers at midnight Friday, before opening day," Hansen says. "The walleyes will be here, and the (creel) limit changes from three to five fish when the general season opens (at midnight)."

WDNR fisheries biologist Scott Hansen says fisheries surveys in recent years show incredible numbers of 19- to 23-inch walleyes.

But Hansen agrees the fishery in Sturgeon Bay, as it is in all of Green Bay, is incredibly complex and, as he puts it, "Mother Nature gets to bat last. This, more than any other factor," he adds, "will drive future walleye fishing success here in Sturgeon Bay and the grander scale of Green Bay in years to come."

Located in Green Bay, just south of the Sturgeon Bay ship canal, a five-mile-long series of humps, breaklines and rockpiles, known as Larsen's Reef, are among the premier walleye magnets of the Wisconsin side of Green Bay's walleye fishery. Here, trolling is the most efficient way to catch walleyes during open water. When the bay is covered with ice, Larsen's Reef and similar structures farther up the Door Peninsula hold, perhaps, the shortest odds for icing a trophy 'eye anywhere in the state.

During periods of low light, walleyes tend to slide from deep-water haunts toward shallow water along shorelines and on top of structures like Larsen's Reef. "Shallow" is a relative term this time of year, as cool water temperatures and an overwhelming urge to spawn drive fish into much shallower water than where you find them other times of year.

A good strategy for taking Green Bay walleyes in May includes trolling along the 12-foot contour and adjusting the presentation according to walleye activity, or lack thereof.

The Door County shoreline from the mouth of the ship canal down to Henderson Point in Green Bay holds countless walleyes this time of year. Wind is almost always a factor here. When a good blow out of the west blasts against the rocks on the Door County shore, it's possible to catch a limit while trolling before you can get all the lines you planned on fishing into the water. One of the most productive areas to init

iate a controlled drift is out from Potowatomi State Park.

Capt. Bret Alexander of Alexander's Sport Fishing Guide Service in New Franklin has these fish dialed in better than just about any other 'eye chasers out of Sturgeon Bay.

"I won't say we put at least one 10-pounder in the boat every night in May," Alexander grins, "but those nights when a heavy cruiser isn't mixed in with the typical bag of 19- to 22-inchers in the livewell are pretty rare this time of year."

Another great trolling spot lies just far enough away from both Sturgeon Bay and Green Bay to avoid angling pressure. Some 20 years ago, Capt. Karl Plog of DePere and I took a string of pike, splakes and walleyes too heavy to lift by trolling from Oconto Park No. 2 to Peshtigo Point. These fish jumped all over chrome-and-blue stick baits, which resembled alewives. But that's changed, too; these silvery baitfish aren't as numerous as they once were. However, many lures in fire-tiger color patterns have always been productive at the south end of Green Bay. Try a fire-tiger pattern stick bait, such as the clown color pattern of the suspending Smithwick Rogue, an especially killer pattern when fishing at night.

Green Bay, the home of the greatest football team in the universe -- OK, in the world -- was not named after a heavy rain or runoff-driven wind in the spring ran its water brown. And your mind might wander when trolling through this seasonal soup over one of the new reefs here. But a cry of "fish on!" will jolt you back to reality from contemplating what "Brown Bay Packer" uniforms might look like.

For more information about walleye fishing opportunities, fishing guides, accommodations and bait-and-tackle shops, contact:

  • '‚Greater Green Bay Convention and Visitor's Bureau, phone: (800) 867-3342 or online at www.packercountry.com.
  • '‚Door County Visitor's Bureau, phone: (920) 742-4456 or online at www.doorcounty.com.
  • '‚Capt. Bret Alexander of Alexander's Sport Fishing Guide Service in New Franklin, phone: (920) 851-4214 or at www.alexandersportfishing. com.
  • '‚Beach Harbor Resort in Sturgeon Bay, phone: (800) 388-8055 or online at www.beachharborresort.com.

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