Most Wisconsin anglers have "their lake" for walleyes on opening weekend, but if you want to actually catch fish, try these waters. (April 2006)
It has been a couple months since walleyes in inland lakes have seen a hook, and more than twice that long for a hook at the business end of a long rod. Walleyes may not have forgotten entirely about open-water anglers and their ways, but their survival instincts won't kick into high gear until after the 2006 opener has come and gone.
Imagine a school of walleyes in a darkened theater, intently watching "Finding Nemo" while munching away on popcorn. Wally reaches in the bag, finds a jig attached and is jerked out of his seat. Moments later, Wanda goes through the same experience.
On the first Saturday in May we'll be heading out looking for some walleyes to catch-and-release -- and maybe keep a couple for the frying pan. It's been a long winter, ya know! Months of boat payments, with nothing going into the livewell. Don't even think about the cost of each filet. It would be cheaper to treat an entire supper club full of people on a Friday night.
It's time for these wannabe predators to see who the Big Dog is, savoring the sweet sensation of a walleye picking up a jig. Like life's other greatest pleasures, the realization that you're hooked up lasts only a couple of seconds. The combat lasts only a minute or two before somebody reaches for the net. Walleyes aren't known for their pugilistic talents. It's all about fooling a critter known for guile, but maybe about dinner, maybe about a big Wanda for the wall. But walleye fishing is something you can do all day long if you put 'em back in the water.
The following is a look at some of Wisconsin's top lakes for walleyes to snap your rod back on May 6.
This 3,300-acre Washburn County lake has been a favorite walleye spot for years, offering textbook habitat that practically screams "Walleye!"
Huge walleyes swim in Long's nether reaches, relating to a cisco forage base that translates quickly into hefty dimensions. Your shortest open-water odds for a whopper come between now and June, before a developing weed edge and warming waters give these dreadnaughts more cruising options.
Weeds are few right now, making any patches of green weeds veritable fish magnets. Ditto rocky rubble areas around Kunz and Holy islands, which are primary walleye spawning areas. Big walleyes haven't moved all that far since dropping their eggs. They should be recovering from the spawning ordeal by the time opening day rolls around, and ready to feed.
The deep, narrow nature of this lake and the fact that a large component of the walleye biomass is relating to shallow water make it easy to come up with a strategy for hooking up. If you're looking for a trophy, break out the big suspending stickbaits in chrome/blue colors and get on the water just about dusk. Stay out a long cast away from the island or rocky shoreline and make a steady retrieve. Fish will move shallower with darkness. Don't be surprised if you think you've snagged the shoreline and it suddenly starts swimming away!
Contact Washburn County Tourism at 1-800-367-3306.
DELAVAN & GENEVA LAKES
These two Walworth County waters are truly amazing fisheries.
Delavan continues to maintain a standard of excellence in spite of considerable pressure and the fact that walleyes of the 18-inch-minimum keeper size can be almost too easy to catch. Eighteen- to 20-inch walleyes aren't supposed to eat 7-inch purple plastic worms or spinnerbaits tossed near docks in search of bass, but they do on Delavan. If you try established walleye tactics like jigs or slip-bobbering off of developing weed edges and steep breaks during periods of low light, the fishing is even easier.
A few years ago you could go catch and release 50 walleyes a day. But every one of them was a "cookie-cutter" 13-incher. In a bold move, Department of Natural Resources biologist Doug Welch "weeded" a number of walleyes out of Delavan and stocked them in a couple of other waters, most notably Lake Geneva. The result has been nearly optimum performance and growth rate of walleyes in Delavan, and better fishing on Geneva than anybody can remember.
Geneva is a tough lake to fish because it's deep and ultra-clear. It is one of just a few inland lakes in the Badger State that hold a good population of lake trout. But it also has warmwater species like bluegills and bass. Walleyes used to be little more than a "bonus" species before the big transplant. Now they're present in good numbers, occupying a niche in the ecosystem that only a few anglers have figured out.
Consensus among the chosen few is that fishing here during daylight hours is a waste of time. At night, long-line trolling at places like The Narrows can be effective. Stickbaits are the weapon of choice now. By July, spinner rigs and crawlers are the way to go.
A relic walleye population swims here that is well into double digits. But most of the fish you'll tangle with on a warm spring night will be 16- to 20-inchers. Don't expect to fish Geneva and do well your first time out. Time on the water when most folks are sleeping is the key to success here.
Delavan is 2,072 acres, with Geneva checking in at about twice that size. Both lakes have adequate boat launch facilities, but bring your wallet, especially when launching at most sites on Geneva.
Contact Geneva Lake Bait & Tackle at (262) 245-6150.
By far the best multi-species lake in northeast Wisconsin, 6,032-acre Shawano is home to both size and numbers of adult walleyes of various year-classes. But like Geneva far to the south, this lake becomes a haven for clueless pleasure boaters and jet-skis once Memorial Day rolls around. However, on opening weekend and for a couple of weeks thereafter, this is the best lake within 100 miles to find the critical ingredient for a walleye fish fry.
Schumacher Island is the focal point of walleye angling activity early in the season, with both spawning walleyes and walleye anglers drawn to natural structure and a number of man-placed rockpiles that are easy to locate.
The adage about fishing being best when wind is from the west holds true on Shawano's east end. Before weeds provide a favorite hiding place from boat traffic, a large percentage of the lake's walleyes relate to several shallow reefs on the east end. Once the sun goes down, these are great places to target by anchoring upwind and pitching lighted slip-bobbers baited with jumbo leeches or fathead minnows. Get there before dark and locate breaklines with marker buoys, t
hen move around until you find the reef's "sweet spot."
Contact the Shawano Chamber of Commerce at (715) 524-2139.
EAGLE RIVER CHAIN
Touted as the world's largest contiguous chain of lakes, this popular vacation area offers some of its best walleye fishing during the first couple of weeks of the open-water season.
Check the first deep-water weed edges at entry and exit points between lakes and the channels running between them -- especially channels between Cranberry, Catfish, Scattering Rice and Eagle lakes. Fish holding in the channels typically relate close to cover, with any deadfall, fish crib or dock holding the potential to fill a quick limit.
Weeds are just beginning to grow now on the Eagle River Chain, and are below the surface. You'll find a very distinct weed edge on most of the chain. The key lies in anchoring up near points and inside turns in the weed edge and fishing minnows 4 to 7 feet below a slip-bobber within inches of the greenery.
You'll go through a lot of bait once the pattern is dialed in, with most of your catch falling in the 14- to 18-inch protected slot limit, thus requiring release. The chain has incredible numbers of 13-inch walleyes and a solid population of 18- to 22-inch fish. The bag allows three fish per angler.
Contact Eagle Sports Center at (715) 479-8804.
BIG CEDAR LAKE
Washington County isn't known as a walleye destination, even though Big Cedar Lake near West Bend holds a solid population of double-digit walleyes. DNR surveys have cranked up walleyes in excess of 15 pounds in recent years, with 12-pound 'eyes present in good numbers.
Fish don't grow to these dimensions by making silly dietary choices. A solid forage base of smelt and ciscoes inhabiting this deep, clear 932-acre lake can be seen on electronics -- with large arches that are probably walleyes suspended nearby.
Big Cedar has classic walleye structure with plenty of deep humps, steep breaklines and transition zones holding fish all summer long when the lake's thermocline can be down 30 to 35 feet. Action is best at night by targeting offshore structure that tops out in less than 15 feet of water. Once waters warm up, trolling large chrome/black or chrome/blue stickbaits about 40 feet behind downriggers at the same depth as suspended baitfish schools could produce a fish of your dreams.
Contact: (920) 892-8756.
This chain of natural lakes around our capital city is generally seen as panfish water that holds a walleye population. This opinion can change instantly if you shine a spotlight in the water near the Tenney Park locks on Lake Mendota on an early May evening.
Mendota has more natural structure and is larger than other lakes in the chain. It also has an 18-inch size limit in place, while the statewide 15-inch limit is found on other lakes in the chain.
Sharp breaklines and subtle humps off the end of Picnic Point and Second Point are probably your best bets for tangling with a whopper walleye on opening night. By the end of May, a good weed-edge bite develops. Pitch half-crawlers on 1/16-ounce jigs and watch for line movement to indicate a strike.
It's not a very long swim for the night-staging walleyes at Tenney Park to head through the cut into Lake Monona where a long sandbar holds plenty of fish until at least early June. When fishing at night, target the area within a long cast of where these two lakes join. During daylight hours, use electronics to find where fish are holding in a little deeper water off the edge of the bar.
Lakes Kegonsa and Waubesa at the south end of this fishery are shallower and more fertile, with less structure. Both of these lakes have solid populations of almost- to barely-legal walleyes. Weeds come on quickly on these two lakes. Right now, the weeds are submergent enough to allow presentation of a No. 9 Rapala after the sun goes down. Rockford Heights is a great place to be at 12:01 on opening night. You can catch a five-fish limit in less than an hour when using stickbaits -- once fish are located.
Contact guide Ron Barefield at (608) 838-8756.
The movie-watching walleyes alluded to at the beginning of this article were likely hangin' out at the cinema in some Waukesha County mall, probably on a field trip from Lac La Belle. It's been a couple of months since walleyes in this 1,100-acre fishery have seen an intentional hook. By the end of June, it's almost a certainty that any walleye over 12 inches will have felt at least one allegorical jig in the popcorn.
Lac La Belle is managed as essentially a catch-and-release fishery, with a 20-inch, one-walleye daily bag limit in place. Not many walleyes make it to 21 inches, but swimming here is a legion of 'eyes in the 12- to 19-inch range that are willing to stretch your string off of points, rocky shorelines and developing weed edges. There is much to be said on following the 8-foot contour and casting crankbaits and suspending stickbaits at the shoreline for the first couple weeks of the season, especially at dawn and dusk. Tie into more than one fish and you can have a ball by switching to a 1/8-ounce black jighead tipped with a fathead minnow or one of those new Lindy Munchie fliptails in moonglow/chartreuse or fire-tiger patterns.
Similar tactics will work on Pine and Oconomowoc lakes, which are not far away.
Oconomowoc has restrictive harvest guidelines as well, with a daily bag of three and minimum keeper length of 18 inches. Oconomowoc is about half the size of Lac La Belle, but there is still plenty of water to fish. DNR biologist Sue Beyler said this lake is one of two spots where you have a reasonable shot at catching an honest trophy walleye.
Pine Lake in northwestern Waukesha County is one of several worthwhile waters, with the statewide 15-inch, five-fish bag limit in place. DNR surveys indicate several adult year-classes of fish swimming here, with "surprising numbers of walleyes over 25 inches."
Nagawicka and Fowler lakes have state regulations in place regarding harvest, but "both of these lakes show both size and numbers of adult walleyes in recent surveys," according to biologist Beyler. The fact that these heavily pressured waters continue to produce year after year with the help of supplemental stocking is proof that fisheries management is truly a science.
Although there's good access at all Waukesha County lakes mentioned here, you'll seldom be alone at the boat ramp. Courteous boaters have their rigs ready to launch before approaching the ramp. It shouldn't take more than two minutes to launch or recover a watercraft if you're fishing with a partner. Five minutes is adequate if you're by yourself. "Ramp rage" could certainly be justified while watching some candidate fine-tune his village-idiot presentation. But an offer of assistance is a better course to follow. The Waukesha County lakes are a great plac
e to hone your diplomatic skills.
Contact Dick Smith's Live Bait at (262) 646-2218.
UPPER POST LAKE
The waters of Langlade County are one of the best-kept secrets in Wisconsin's north country. On many waters here, a "serious walleye boat" is a cartopper or canoe, rather than a deep-V craft.
Boat access and amenities like bait shops and accommodations are just inconvenient enough to keep tourist types away in droves. Upper Post Lake is a great illustration of this kind of water. There is a good public boat ramp on Post Lake Road just a short hop off of County K. Waters of this 758-acre lake are slightly stained because the famous Wolf River flows through Upper Post, miles before this river becomes famous.
By opening day, walleyes here should be post-spawn and chasing minnows near the Wolf entry point on the north end. If they aren't active here, chances are the fish have slid back into northside bays and are cruising the transition between hard and soft bottoms.
Near midlake there are two humps that aren't found on any map. They just could be marked by a guy in a Lund with a yellow Lab aboard, if there is a red GMC truck in the parking lot with multiple stump dents on the driver's side. Target the edges of these humps beyond a long cast away. Position-fishing a leech or fathead on a Lindy Rig with a 30-inch leader is the way to go -- while staying upwind from the mean guy's Lund if you want to avoid the bird flu or a bite from a rabid Lab.
Contact . . . Are you kidding? Nobody up here wants to be found!