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It’s Time for Walleyes on the Wisconsin River

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Finally, I’ve had a good bite and very good fishing for walleyes on the Wisconsin River from the Highway 12 Bridge at Sauk City and downriver to the old “Nude” Beach area past Ferry Bluff. The spring and early summer fishing on the Wisconsin River has been average mainly because this area has had large amounts of rain leaving the river at an extremely high level with very few if any days for fishing. Spring always brings some periods of high and unfishable water with visibility only a foot or two and much dirtier than the normal stained river color. If the fish can’t see your bait, then the chances are they aren’t going to hit your offering. Flash, vibrations, and sound do help fish (walleyes) hone in on your bait or lures, but not like the fish will when they have better vision of their food.

The flow or current in the Wisconsin River has also been extremely high this spring and summer. The increased current forces most fish out of the high and fast current and closer to shore where the current is much lower. This is also where the baitfish or forage will go during these periods of high water and increased river flow. If you can find the forage, you should then be able to find the game fish which will close to their food.

Besides going shallower, walleyes and other game fish will use any object like rocks, rock piles, wood, fallen trees, and depressions in the river’s bottom

and out of the current to hide and ambush any forage (food) that floats by them. The walleye or other predator fish will then return to their “ambush” location out of the current and wait for more forage to float by.

The problem so far this year has been the extremely high water hasn’t allowed fishers to fish their “normal” way of jigging, rigging, and casting plastic baits. I’ve lived on the Wisconsin River and this year has been one of the most difficult ones for the average angler. Normally, the river flow will peak in the spring with the meltdown of ice and snow from the north and whatever snow and rain we have in the southern third of the state. My many years on the river and the records that I keep have allowed me to see the patterns that the Wisconsin River follows.

This year has been one of the worst one’s for fishing that I can remember. There were few days of good fishing in March, April, and May due to the heavy precipitation and strong river current. Boat control was difficult and fishing with live bait either jigging or rigging was very difficult because having any “feel” or “touch” was impossible. The few days when anglers fishing below the dam in Prairie du Sac caught fish were days of catching nothing, but small and illegal walleyes and saugers. I had friends tell me of days when they would catch 30-40 walleyes and they’d be lucky to catch one legal (18 inches for walleyes and 15 inches for saugers) fish. A few anglers caught legal walleyes, but they were few and far between any keeper legal fish.

Finally, when the walleyes starting biting coincided with the river returning to its normal flow or slightly above normal flow. Today, July 10th, the Wisconsin River flow was over 7,000 cubic feet per second at the Castle Rock Dam, 7,800 c.f.p.s. at the Kilburn Dam at Wisconsin Dells, and over 10,000 c.f.p.s. at Prairie du Sac. This is still slightly above normal, but it’s a good flow for fishing and if you look at the flow at Castle Rock and Wisconsin Dells you’ll see that the current is decreasing and getting close to the normal flow.

The current is close to normal and the water is clearer which has now contributed to much better fishing since the end of June. The tactic that has been producing for me has been trolling at an increased speed. Normally, I’d be trolling at about 1.5 miles per hour. But this year, I’ve increased my speed to 2.0-2.5 miles per hour and this added speed has worked well. I like to use a long rod (7- 7 ½ feet long G. Loomis baitcaster), coupled with a Shimano or Garcia reel), and 10-12 pound monofilament (Stren). The mono allows a little give when you get snagged on rocks or wood vs. using a braided line. Then, I’ll attached 3-4 feet of fluorocarbon line with a barrel swivel followed with a cross lock for the crankbait. The best cranks for me have been Rapala’s, Flicker Shads, and Wally Divers all in size 5 or 7. The jointed crankbaits have been working best lately in the standard colors that match the river’s forage; shad, orange, perch, firetiger, copper, and blue/white. Let out enough line so that the lure is “bumping” the bottom. Most of the Wisconsin River water’s that I fish is 8 to 12 feet deep over hard rock bottom and sand. The walleyes are hanging on the breaks and transition areas from rock to sand. The best boat for river fishing is a wide Jon boat equipped with rod holders and a good anchoring system. Most days we use Off Shore planer boards to get the lines away from the boat and allow you to cover more water.

We had a few inches of rain again last night, but I hope things slow down because this is the best river walleye bite in a few years. Most of the walleyes are between 18 and 21 inches with very few small or short fish.

   www.garyengbergoutdoors.com        gengberg@chorus.net

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