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Stories from the River

Spring Wading Can Be Hot

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After a winter with little snow and above normal temperatures, this weeks cooling off reminded me that we do have four seasons in Wisconsin. There is maple syrup production which the warmer weather has affected and many people including myself who probable won’t tap their trees this spring. You need the temperature to fall below freezing at night or the tap turns sour and spoils. Many trees like the apple trees have budded and normal air temperatures have cooled off at night below freezing which may hinder apple production. It’s kind of a contradiction where you need temperatures below freezing at night for maple syrup, but one doesn’t need below freezing temperatures after the fruit trees have budded.

I take some of my best video and best pictures this time of year. I love to watch the migrating ducks, geese, and songbirds as they move north and travel past my river home. Turkeys are out in the fields and woods after winter getting ready for the mating season. If you take a walk in the woods early and late in the day you can hear the toms gobbling. There is also one spring activity that as my legs get older and arthritis sets in, I’ve been doing less. What I’m talking about is some of the best fishing of the year which occurs from now to the month of May. To do this fishing you don’t have to launch or even own a boat. Spring wading; be on the shores of Lake Mendota or the banks of the Wisconsin River can produce some of the year’s hottest action as walleye and many other fish species begin to get ready for the spawn and they start eating more after their low metabolism of winter.

To get in on this great fishing there are not that many things you need except a good quality pair of 4ML thick insulated waders for water temperatures that will be in the 30’s and 40’s F.. If you dress properly with the numerous quality cold weather gear one can now purchase you’ll be comfortable. Dress in layers using cotton, silk, wool, down, and some of the new polypropenes that wick moisture away from your body you should be fine in the chilly weather. Remember, that you can always take off a layer if you get too warm. I like thin gloves or gloves with the fingers cut off for better feel. Buy a couple of air activated hand warmers to keep in your pockets for warming cold hands. Lastly, wear a hat to keep your heat from escaping and a life jacket for safety.

Now, that you’ve dressed properly here’s a couple of good locations to try and some techniques that work from late winter through the spring. Though you can wade anytime of the day, I’ve found that the best time is the hour before and after dark. If you’re a night owl, try fishing later at night because big fish, particularly big walleyes, cruise the shallows of Madison’s Lake Mendota off Tenney Park, Warner Park, University Bay, Lake Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin River every night during the early open water season. Rarely, will you ever run into anyone else and if you do they’re always friendly and helpful. Any of the locations where you fish in the fall is usually worth trying now. Fish and particularly big, females’ walleyes know winter is almost over and they’ll go on feeding binges as their metabolism  speeds up and spawning time nears. All of the Madison Chain’s lakes; Mendota, Monona, Wabesa, Kegonsa, and Wingra can all be waded in the spring for big fish.

The Wisconsin River also is another spring wading hot spot. Though, wading can be done anywhere, I would recommend the area below the Prairie Du Sac Dam in Sauk Prairie or below most dams with a walleye population. The area a mile or less below any dam is worth trying whether it’s day or night. Again, be sure and wear a life jacket that fits because you have current in the river despite the water level. One rarely has to stand in any water deeper than your thighs to catch fish and especially at night.

The equipment to use are a 6 ‘1/2 to 7 foot quality rod (like a G. Loomis) that has some strength in the rod yet long enough to make the long casts you should be making to shallow and spooky water fish. Long casts are what is necessary when going after big fish in shallow water. Spool a good spinning reel (Daiwa); with a top-notch monofilament like Stren’s Easy Cast in 8 to 10 pound test. Next, get some long (4 to 6 inch) crank baits like Rapala Husky Jerk baits or Mann’s Loudmouth Jerk bait in natural colors that match the available forage in the river. Make long cast and vary your retrieves. A headlamp helps you see and don’t forget a good net (Beckman) for landing those 10 pound walleyes.

Other techniques to try include; casting jigs and minnows up river and let them bounce back toward you. Be sure to have an assortment of jigs in all colors and weights from 1/8th ounce to 5/16th depending on the flow and current in the river that you’re fishing. More and more anglers are finding out the plastics in all colors and sizes work fell. Twister tails, paddle tails, and ringworms all catch walleyes and saugers early in the fishing season. I was checking out fishing conditions the other day and the people wading were catching nice fish on a plain gold hook, a split shot 2 to 3 feet above the hook, and baited with a 3 to 4 incher chub or fathead. You can add a bead above the hook for added attraction. Blade baits like Sonar’s and Zips also work well alone or tipped with a whole or piece of minnow.

I like to use monofilament because I like some stretch in my line and hopefully pull out some snags. But, some other good anglers like to use a braided line for a better feel of the walleye “tick”. Use whatever feels best for you.

Remember to slow down your presentation in all of these techniques because the walleye is not going to chase a bait very far in cold water. Vary your cadence in retrieves and sometimes let your baits just sit while twitching now and then.

Try not to fish alone and if you do tell a friend where you’re at and leave a note of your location in your vehicle. A cell phone and a landing net are also things to bring with you. Make sure you have a valid license and remember that the walleye season is open year round. You may use three rods and check you size and bag limits. The Wisconsin River has an 18 inch minimum for walleyes and the bag limit is three fish.


   Wilderness Fish and Game, Sauk City, Wisconsin. (608)-643-5229

    McFarland’s True Value, Sauk City, Wisconsin. (608)-643-3321.

    Guides; Wally Banfi, (608)-644-9823. Ron Barefield (608)-b38-8756.

    Lee Tauchen, Madison, Wi. (608)-444-2180.

    Gary Engberg Mazomanie, Wi. (608)-795-4208.



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