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Wisconsin and Baraboo River Catfish

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The Baraboo River has seen a huge resurgence in its fishery since the last dam was removed from the river in the early 2000’s. The removal of the last dam, the Linen Mill Dam, downstream and east of Baraboo, Wisconsin helped restore and rejuvenate 120 miles of the Baraboo River. The removal of the dams has now allowed a fish migration and a river with free-flowing water for the first time in well over 100 years. Now, that the river is free-flowing, fish such as lake sturgeon, catfish, walleye, sauger, smallmouth, freshwater drum, and forage minnows can migrate and now reach the upper reaches of the Baraboo River for spring spawning.

The Baraboo is a major tributary of the Wisconsin River and many fish that reside in the Wisconsin can now travel freely up the Baraboo River also. Since the removal of the dams, the Baraboo River has returned to a faster moving river instead of the fragmented, slow, and sluggish waters that the numerous dam’s had created. Silted in and warm water areas have now opened up and the fishery has improved dramatically in the last fifteen years. The Baraboo River contains a varied fishery with most warm water species present. Since the river is narrow in most locations, most fishing is done from shore or from a small boat, kayak, or canoe. The two most abundant species for anglers are catfish and smallmouth bass.

I talked to Tim Larson, the retired DNR fish manager for the area, and Dan Fuller, another retired DNR fish technician, who shocked the Baraboo River regularly for DNR fish surveys in previous years. Both had high marks for the catfishing on the Baraboo and Wisconsin Rivers and they both suggested a few areas for your catfishing. One good location for catfish that was recommended by Larson is south of Portage, where the Baraboo River enters and meets the Wisconsin River. The other prime catfish area is the stretch of the Baraboo River that runs right through downtown Baraboo. Highway 12 crosses the river just south of town and there is good catfishing below the bridge. DNR shocking from Baraboo to the Wisconsin River has shown excellent catfish populations that just seem to get better since the river has been opened up and is now free of all dams.

I suggest that you go fishing for catfish toward sunset and plan on staying into the night. As it gets dark, catfish move up on the feeding shelves, rock bars, and into shallow water and remain there much of the night feeding. The areas you should be fishing are; near wood and downed timber, deep holes, river bends, rock bars, and the mouth of bays and backwaters off the main river channel. Shore fishing for catfish is common on Wisconsin rivers and the Wisconsin and Baraboo Rivers offers a chance of catching many eating size ‘cats and the opportunity of catching a 40 # plus flathead catfish. Most of the catfish you catch will be channel catfish, but there’s always the chance for a big flathead. Fish an area for 30 minutes or so and keep moving till you contact fish.

For equipment, use a sturdy 7 foot rod with a Garcia Ambassador 6500 reel spooled with 20 to 30 # Berkley Trilene XT or some of the new braided lines like Power Pro. The XT line is necessary in the snag-filled areas where you will be catching fish. On the end of the mono, put on an egg sinker from ¾ ounce to 1 1/2 ounce, next tie on a barrel swivel, and finally tie on a two to four foot leader of fluorocarbon line to a No. 2/0 red catfish hook or a circle hook to complete the rig.

Bait varies from nightcrawlers, to cut-bait, and stink baits. Talk to some locals and watch what they are fishing with to learn the bait of choice. I’ve talked to some “old-timers” that swear by bluegills and chubs for catfish bait. There are many local concoctions of stink bait that work and many of them contain cheese, chicken livers, fish, and shrimp that are cured a few days for odor and consistency.

This past weekend, I ran into catfish expert, Mike Booth, on the Wisconsin River catfishing. Mike knows the Wisconsin River from Sauk City to Spring Green as well as anyone. Their father the late Jerry Booth knew the Wisconsin River as well as any “river rat” in the area and passed on this information to sons, Junior, Mike, Dan, and Brad. The sons are all excellent anglers and have been fishing the Wisconsin River there entire lives.

Mike Booth and son Craig were out this past weekend and got into some great fishing for catfish. If they can catch some roughfish like skip jacks or mooneyes then this is their bait of choice. The Booth’s will go out before starting to fish and catch some skip jacks on red worms for bait. The skip jacks should be kept alive or cut into strips and pieces of the fish and put on ice, so that they don’t become mushy. The equipment should be much like what I mentioned earlier with a sturdy, muskie type rod, a baitcasting reel spooled with 30# or 40# monofilament or braided line. Use enough weight to keep your rig on the bottom of the river and use a fluorocarbon leader and a 2/o catfish hook. The hook is then baited with strips and pieces of the mooneyes and skips jacks to complete the catfish rig. Cast the rig out, put it in a rod holder, and wait for a catfish to bite. Fish a location for a half an hour or so and if you don’t get any action move to another good looking location. Hopefully, you’ll have a nice catfish start pulling on your reel’s drag and then you’ll be in for a good fight. Fish the same type areas that I mentioned earlier and you should find some good action. The warmer the water the more catfish seem to bite.

Give the Baraboo and Wisconsin Rivers a try as the summer warms up and during the “dog days” of August and September. You won’t be disappointed in either the Wisconsin or Baraboo Rivers for catfish!

        Information;. McFarlane’s True Value, (608)-643-3321. Guides; Ron Barefield, (608)-838-8756, Lee Tauchen, (608)-444-2180, Gary Engberg, (608)-795-4208.

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