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Winter’s Open Water Walleyes and Saugers

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Hard-core anglers have always known that there are walleyes and saugers to catch in the open water below most rivers during the winter in the Midwest. The Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers have hydro dams on them and if the temperature is above freezing, an angler can have some very good fishing in February and March. The last decade has seen the winter weather in the Midwest moderate and this means open water and good fishing opportunities for those who venture to rivers in Wisconsin and bordering states.

 You must first realize that the walleyes and saugers in rivers start their migration in the late fall and winter. River walleyes spawn when the water temperature reaches 42 to 45 degrees, which is usually sometime in March. But, these roaming fish start working their way up-river to deep water holding areas throughout fall and winter. Below most of the dams in the Upper Midwest, you’ll find a deep hole and often the river’s deepest water, located in the first hundred yards from the dam’s face. This deep spot or scour hole is created by the water that rushes through the dam’s gates during the spring’s high water. Often, walleyes and saugers will winter in this deep water hole close to the dam. The waters near dams can provide good fishing on most days that you can launch your boat. Most landings like those at Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin Dells, and Nekoosa on the Wisconsin River and Genoa, Lansing, and Dubuque on the Mississippi River all try to keep their landings open and usually have sand close by for added traction.

 I’ve been checking out the areas boat landings and many of the anglers that I’ve talked to said the recent warmer weather has had them out fishing below the dams on the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers. The anglers that I talked with said that they were catching fish before sunrise and the hour before and after sunset. Many fishermen said the best bait  was fathead minnows 3 to 4 inches long and some anglers suggested using a stinger hook for the light-biters. The water level on the Wisconsin River is back to normal, so you have to be careful in the short ride from the VFW landing to the dam at the Prairie du Sac.

When fishing below dams do some scouting and try to get a good map (Mapping Specialists or Fishing Hot Spots have good ones.). Find the deepest water close to the dam and either anchor or work off your Minn Kota bow mount trolling motor. Though, the sauger is a close cousin of the walleye, I find some differences when fishing for them. River saugers are more aggressive than walleyes and seem to thrive in the river’s dark and stained water. Saugers are also often found in deeper water than walleyes and when winter fishing it is not unusual for saugers to be in water over 30 feet deep. Try using glow colored jigs when fishing this deeper water for saugers. To get a jig down 30 feet, you need a ¼ ounce or 5/16 ounce jig for a vertical presentation.

In Wisconsin, you can legally use three rods, so try to have something different on each rod till you find the right combination for that day. Try a jig and minnow on one rod, a plain hook, colored bead, and a split shot on another rod, and a jig and plastic tail on the third rod. Keep changing jig colors and plastic colors till you find what the fish want the day you’re fishing. I’ve caught fish this past week on bright colored jigs and also black and purple, so you figure! Some days your “dead” rod will catch fish and other days it can be a jig/plastic combo. So, keep trying different rigs and presentations till you find the one the fish prefer.

Most fish are caught within a mile or so of the dam or closer this time of the year. Work your bait and jig extremely slow and always be on the bottom or a foot above. These fish are hungry, but their metabolism is slow and they won’t chase your bait very far. You literally have to put your minnow on the fish’s nose and leave it there for action. During low-light periods before sunrise and at sun-set, walleyes will often move shallower to feed. Try to be on the water during these peak feeding periods. Anglers also wade in the many rivers open waters late in the winter and through the spring. I good pair of 4 ML waders is needed for the cold water. Casting jigs and plastics, shallow running stickbaits, and live bait rigs also work well this time of the year. Low light conditions are good for the wader because walleyes will move shallow at night and early and late in the day to feed. Remember to work your baits whatever they may be, very slowly much like if you were boat fishing.

The VFW Launch in Prairie du Sac is a good launching location and inexpensive. If you’re planning on fishing the Wisconsin Dells, launch at the River’s Edge Resort off Highway A. Ask for Botch at the River’s Edge Resort because he knows the Dells area better than most guides!

Dress warm and be sure to bring plenty of bait, jigs, ringworms, and plastic twister tails. Experiment with colors, depths, cadence, and techniques till you find what the fish want.

Both the Prairie du Sac Dam and the Wisconsin Dells Dam are locations where you can catch fish with the chance of a large trophy. What else could one want on a sunny winter day then to be sitting in your boat walleye fishing? I’ve provided some numbers to call before heading to the rivers to fish because conditions can change from day to day.

 

   Contacts; Wilderness Fish and Game, Sauk City, Wi. (608) 643-5229 and ask for Wally or Chuck.

    McFarland’s True Value Hardware, Sauk City, Wi. (608)-643-3321 and ask for Wayne.

                                      

Wisconsin Dells Contacts; River’s Edge Resort, (608) 254-7707.

 Schleef’s Bait, Wisconsin Dells, Wi. (608) 254-2034.

Guides; Wally Banfi (608) 644-9823. Terry Frey (608)-220-6366. Ron Barefield (608)-235-7685.

 www.garyengbergoutdoors.com

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