March 17, 2011
There are an amazing number of fish and fishing locations around our state. Here are some of the ones that deserve your attention this year.
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Timing is a major component of consistent fishing success. With an arctic high-pressure system overhead, fish may only be active for 20 minutes a couple of times a day. During stable weather in the open-water period, fish can be in at least a neutral feeding attitude and predictable pattern for days or even weeks.
Here's our annual look at the best fishing trips in what is arguably the best sportfishing state in the Lower 48. Picking a total of 36 possibilities (see calendar chart) is not easy in a state with two Great Lakes and too many inland waters, rivers and flowages to fish in one lifetime.
Lord knows I've tried! During the past 50 years I've fished in virtually every Wisconsin county in almost every water body where a whisper gets out there might be a bite going on.
According to Psalm 90, I may only have 20 years left. All 36 of these trips are on my calendar for 2011, with the truck always ready to head out on a new angling adventure. You can always make more money, but you can't make more time. Fishing is always time well spent.
Using this fishing calendar as a template and plugging in all other commitments around sacred annual fishing trips won't make you wealthy. But you'll certainly find yourself smiling more. That said, let's go fishin'!
Big Green - Lake Trout
At some time this month our deepest inland lake will surrender to winter. When it does, an anxious population of 5- to 9-pound lake trout is ready to tussle. This is one situation where you don't want to be the first person on the ice. Follow other anglers out there, always keeping a respectable distance, and then try teasing fish with a white Buckshot jig and a sliver of belly meat.
The bite will be subtle. Set the hook hard. Consider hanging a couple of strips of Cheena bait on a No. 8 treble hook 18 inches above the jig. You can catch a big fish on a small hook, but you can't always catch a small fish on a big hook.
Guide Justin Kohn says there are essentially two ways to catch these fish through the ice. The traditional method is essentially dead-sticking just above the bottom. Electronics have revealed a catchable population of lakers swimming much higher in the water column. These fish respond more favorably to aggressive jigging, with more than half the bites coming on the little teaser treble above the main jig.
Don't forget your inland trout stamp.
Oak Creek - Brown Trout
Every winter, thousands of hungry brown trout are drawn to the warmwater discharge at Oak Creek, just a 10 minute boat ride from Milwaukee's Bender Park.
Floating a shiner with a split shot 18 inches up the line along the edge of the discharge plume is the quickest way to take a limit, but there is only room to anchor up a couple of boats to present bait in a fish-catching drift.
If you aren't inclined to arrive before action starts at first light, come prepared to get in line and troll. Capt. Mike Richow can tell you precision trolling and little tricks in presentation spell the difference between five-fish limits and just a couple of trout.
Use planer boards to get small chrome/blue, clown or fire tiger stickbaits away from the boat. If possible, stay away from other boaters. Active fish are in the top 7 feet of the water column. Boat activity makes fish skittish.
READ: Hot Strategies For Cold Weather Trout
Troll at 2 to 2 1/2 mph with the wind. Having at least two nets and several anglers in the boat is a good plan. Sometimes the bite is so hot that you'll catch a limit before all allotted lines are set.
Fox River - Walleyes
The seven miles of Fox River between the DePere dam and confluence with Green Bay hold the shortest odds of hooking a trophy walleye than any other water in Wisconsin during March.
The densest concentration of fish is between Voyageur Park and the DePere dam, with boats almost outnumbering fish when water temperature warms past 43 degrees.
READ: Rigging For River Walleyes
Cast No. 9 Rapalas and ThunderSticks with the front treble removed, or throw a 4-inch chartreuse twister tail on a 1/4-ounce jighead using a slow, steady retrieve with either bait.
Every walleye that makes it to the dam mu
st first negotiate seven miles of river. One or two pilings of every bridge between Green Bay and the dam is a staging area. Use electronics to mark holes that hold fish, and then work bucktail jigs tipped with minnows or blade baits in 12 to 28 feet of water, especially on the upstream edge of these scour holes.
This is the worst-kept secret in the state. But it's still the best time and place to catch a wallhanger walleye.
Sturgeon Bay - Walleyes
Serious 'eye chasers are well versed about timing of the spring run in Wisconsin rivers. A quieter migration occurs in the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal mid-month all along the shoreline and in the backs of bays south of the ship canal on the Green Bay side where small tributaries enter.
Because those waters are exceptionally clear, most of the action comes at night on suspending clown pattern stick baits and 5-inch watermelon K-grubs. Wading anglers have an edge. The key is finding a shoreline anomaly like a point or rockpile where fish stage briefly while migrating.
READ: Top Jig and Minnow Combos For April Walleyes
Savvy anglers scout potential fishing spots by cruising the shoreline with a spotlight looking for reflections of marble-eyes in the shallows, noting locations and returning later to fish.
Petenwell - Muskies
If you've never tangled with a legal muskie, tailwaters of the Petenwell flowage dam are the place to be on opening weekend.
Muskies are drawn there by both food and water, which warms quickly in the slow-moving pool directly below the dam. Every tailwater pool from Petenwell to Lake Wisconsin holds potential for hooking up with a mongo toother the first Saturday in May, but the population of quality fish per surface-acre is off the charts at Petenwell.
Throw Bull Dawgs, Boobie Trap bucktails or 6-inch Grandmas with a "throwback" bait like a big tube jig ready to go. Ten fish in a day? It can happen!
Eagle River - Muskies
Guide George Langley says more muskies are hooked by folks who are not fishing for muskies than by those who actually are fishing for them. Of course, panfish or even heavy bass gear usually won't deter a big Esox bent on gaining freedom.
This veteran guide likes to throw smaller bucktails and topwater baits early in the season on this chain of natural Northcountry lakes, focusing on narrows between lakes, boat docks and similar structures.
Many lakes in this natural chain have at least one weedbed near entry and exit points. These are muskie magnets, especially that greenery that tops out 12 to 18 inches below the surface.
Menominee River - Smallmouths
Target rocks and fallen trees in the first half-mile below White Rapids and Chalk Hills dams with No. 4 Mepps Black Fury spinners and clear Heddon Tiny Torpedos on this Michigan-Wisconsin boundary river.
Weedbeds downstream in more flowage-oriented habitat aren't classic smallie habitat, but somebody forgot to tell the fish on this deeply stained river system. Conventional wisdom does not apply to active feeding times either. You may find the best action at noon on a very sunny day.
The Menominee is a series of cookie-cutter pools punctuated by power dams with swift water below dams and flowage habitat above them. There is no better place in Wisconsin for primitive camping and a canoe/kayak fishing adventure.
Big rocks in midstream often attract muskies, especially below the White Rapids dam.
Mississippi River - Smallmouths
Old Man River typically runs at low pool levels by late summer, exposing rocky wing dams and closing dams on and along the main river channel. Smallmouth bass are drawn by plentiful baitfish, crawfish and other prey.
Crankbaits, topwater lures, spinnerbaits, and plastics like the Senko will all catch fish, with 20-inch trophies always a possibility. Bluegill, crawfish and shad pattern baits are most productive.
These structures also attract big northern pike and white bass, with incredible action on actively feeding white bass at dawn and dusk.
Smallmouths are drawn to backwater and running slough areas with considerable current. The upstream edge of a point where a backwater splits into two channels can be spectacular, especially if there are crawfish holes just above the waterline.
Mississippi River - Flathead Catfish
These carnivorous catfish congregate along main channel edges and in deep backwater holes in early September where they feed heavily in preparation for winter.
Bluegills, frogs and chunks from mooneye -- an oily baitfish -- are effective baits for these predators, which can grow to more than 50 pounds.
READ: How To Rig For Your Summer Cats
Anchoring up above the upstream edge of a deeper hole is a tradition
al method for tangling with big whiskerfish here.
Vertical jigging in a controlled drift downstream is a great way to hook up with a big cat.
Baitfishing tackle that includes a bait-clicker feature on the reel, and an electric trolling motor to enable a vertical presentation are valuable tools. Set the hook hard — twice! You know it's a good one when the reciprocal pull is harder than the hookset!
Pewaukee - Muskies
Once leaves begin to turn from green to gold, many anglers who have been flailing this state's waters to a froth focus on those who wear the Green and Gold at Lambeau Field. Muskies don't strap on the feedbag in Wisconsin until the second major cold front of fall, about the middle of October.
This southeastern Wisconsin lake may not have the pristine beauty of the Northwoods but it remains one of the best spots to get your string stretched by a trophy muskie in the Land of Cheese.
Many who fish there employ the traditional autumn philosophy of throwing big wood and dragging meat. You can throw a smaller Suick Nightwalker all night long on this Waukesha County lake.
If you find one out there that used to be black and looks like a refugee from a pliers testing demonstration, please return it to me in care of this magazine.
Big Round Lake - Muskies
Electronics play a major role in finding fish when this aptly named Northcountry lake is almost ready to freeze. Cruise along the second depth contour out from shore looking for schools of suspended baitfish.
Plug several baitfish waypoints into your GPS and return, using the trolling motor for a stealthy approach on this clear Hayward area lake. Stay out a long cast from shore and throw large black or natural-colored jerkbaits while dragging the biggest sucker you can find behind the boat on a quick-strike rig.
If you see a big fish but she isn't ready to eat, come back and try again an hour later. And again an hour after that if necessary, tweaking your presentation with a different lure.
Mississippi River - Panfish
Backwaters with little current hold panfish all winter long. Action starts this month in shallow sheltered waters, which may be less than waist deep. Poke multiple holes and then try a Lil Cecil or Bro Bug with plastic on a 48-inch pole with a sensitive spring bobber at the tip.
Gold, pink, orange and Kelly green usually are the most productive jig colors, with black or red very effective when it comes to plastic tails.
Big panfish in water this shallow are wary. Don't be surprised to find slab crappies just an inch under 2 inches of ice. Stealth is the key. Snow cover is good, but new ice under snow may not be as thick as adjacent clear ice with no snow cover.
Productive backwaters quickly attract crowds. Stay as far away as possible and don't scream "fish on" every time you hook up.