Wisconsin’s winter landscape is beginning to bleed running water, with rivers great and small shaking off their icy blankets to expose veins rich with walleyes and saugers. Word spreads like wildfire in cafes, taverns and across the internet – all about opportunities to head down to the water with boats.
Although walleye season never closes on fisheries like Green Bay, Lake Winnebago and Wisconsin River flowages, it will be a solid month before ’eye chasers can feel a dual dorsaled devil slurp in a jig at the other end of a long rod again.
Tailwaters below flowage dams begin to open up in mid-February, with limited and often difficult access. If there is enough open water to float a boat, you will almost certainly see at least a couple of camo-clad or blaze orange hulks wearing Packer headgear out there jigging, even if conditions are sleet, snowy or even in the dark of night.
Within days, angler numbers will be legion. The first place to host the Cheeseland Armada will be the upper end of Mississippi River Pool No. 4 at Red Wing, Minn., where boats have been gathered almost every day that temperatures have eased above freezing since before Christmas.
This Minnesota boundary water is essentially the only walleye fishery in the state where you can find open water the year ’round. The reason for this phenomenon is a clearcut case of manmade global warming: The nuclear power plant that operates just above the Red Wing dam.
The upper end of Pool 4 is a premier Wisconsin riverine fishery for trophy walleyes thanks to sprawling Lake Pepin at the lower end of this river pool, which ends downstream at lock and dam No. 4.
The Fluekiger family has been teaching big walleyes about hooks there for three generations, with Lee and his son Jarrad the driving force behind www.riverguiding.com, hands down the best fishing guides on Pepin and the more riverine habitat of Pool 4 upstream.
Three years ago, Jarrad Fluekiger put an impressive 40 fish over 28 inches into the boat for himself and clients on this water. Many of those fish fell to a technique perfected by the Fluekigers — dragging plastic baits behind light jigheads.
“This is truly a finesse presentation,” Lee Fluekiger said. “We use the B-Fish-N Tackle Precision jigheads because they are available in odd sizes and designed explicitly for fishing plastics like the ringworm and moxie, a shad body with a paddle tail.
“Jig weight is absolutely critical in this presentation,” he continued, “with color another important consideration. We never go heavier than 1/8 ounce. Sometimes the key is an oddball weight like 3/32-ounce Purple ringworms with a white tail, and the ‘firecracker’ color pattern in both ringworms and moxies are our favorite weapons.
“I’m forever amazed at how many anglers think you need to fish deep for river walleyes in cold water. Fish are cold-blooded. They will seek out the warmest water available this time of year. Most of our biggest fish come from less than 4 feet of water on bright, sunny days.”
Mussel beds are a great place to find Mississippi River walleyes throughout much of the calendar year. The Fluekigers attack these subtle habitats by dragging lures upstream against the current.