Spring Walleye Fishing In Wisconsin
by Michael “LOBY” Lobenstein
Along with spring comes the annual ritual of searching out river walleyes that make their annual “migration” up our Wisconsin area rivers in search of suitable spawning grounds to lay their eggs.
With that ritual an attraction from walleye fishers young and old follows them in hopes of latching on to a fine meal of “eater size” walleye and the allure of catching that walleye of a lifetime. At no other time of the year is the possibility of doing just that greater.
Wisconsin River Fishing
Walleyes have some predictable traits that can aide in the pursuit of them. Rivers are the focus for this highly sought after fish and along with that areas near dams up and down the Wisconsin River as well as the Mississippi become fishers prime targets. Dams along the Wisconsin river tend to be areas of heavy concentrations of anglers who realize these man-made obstructions stop upstream migration and can and do hold concentrations of walleyes for a period of time every spring. Sounds like a simple plan to bag your dinner or in the case of “catch and release fishers”, a sure fire way to land that trophy walleye.
Spring Walleye Fishing Tips
Along with the predictable movements of this species also comes the necessity by anglers to be prepared for some quickly changing weather conditions and some possibly very dangerous conditions while pursuing the walleye and its family member the “sauger” which is identified by the absence of the telltale white undertip of the walleye’s tail.
In my opinion, at no other time of the year is it as important to be prepared and educated on risks that inherently come along with the pursuit of these fish while fishing the Wisconsin rivers. Rivers are known for dangerous current and all sorts of obstructions that can cause boaters to have concern for safety and justifiably so. Additionally many walleye fishers also have areas that they access the river in search of walleye on foot and by “wading” out along the rivers banks to gain proper casting angles and to access “secret” honey holes. This can be extremely dangerous especially for those fishers who are unfamiliar with an area. Dams upstream may be “closed” when a fisher enters the water, either by boat or by foot and it can appear to be a tranquil situation though not the safest.
With that said, when the flooding waters of springtime necessitate that the dam gates are opened to release water downstream all along the rivers we have mentioned , the rivers can and do quickly become a very unpredictable and dangerous place and being with an experienced angler can pay big dividends to those new to the pursuit of spring walleye.
Key Walleye Fishing Tips
“Current” which is the key to finding the walleyes holding areas is a study all it’s own. Raging current can be “intimidating” for anglers and should be for both boaters and waders alike as danger is not far away when dealing with a powerful Wisconsin river current.
It also can be your friend and key to your success on your outings, once understood and interpreted properly. Underwater obstructions, be they brush and fallen trees or natural underwater rock outcrops, all create “eddies” or “slack pools” which are identified by smooth looking areas of water on the surface.
Watching for debris in the water can also help identify areas to target as you will notice “collection areas” of debris that appear to be swirling in a particular area or as mentioned above “slack areas” where the water may appear motionless. These are prime target areas for walleyes that will move into these areas as they migrate upstream to get out of the never ending current and seek resting and spawning areas. Identification of these areas can be rewarding once found and may hold huge concentrations of walleyes of all sizes.
Identifying and reading the river is not something that is learned in one outing and many other factors play a role in walleye fishing. Factors such as time of day, water temperature, clarity, turbidity and others are learned from years on the river. Hooking up with experienced fishers and utilizing their knowledge and “river savvy” will eliminate many of your safety concerns and also up your odds in finding and catching river walleyes.
Tactics for Spring Walleye Fishing
Tactics for fishing spring time river walleyes are pretty basic. Though mastering certain walleye fishing techniques can be a big bonus in realizing consistent success. Most any angler familiar with using a ball head jig and tipping it with a twister tail, shad body, or a live minnow can realize success when fishing in the right areas and understanding that the weight of your offering is critical. You want to use the current as your friend, assisting your presentation to sweep with the current and end up sweeping into areas of slack water and the eagerly waiting feeding walleyes.
Be careful not to use too heavy of a jig which can result in frustrating, endless snags that will have you spending more time retrieving jigs or retying jigs than actually spent fishing for walleyes and it also can get expensive. By finding the right weight of jig such as a 1/8 ounce jig as opposed to a 3/8 ounce jig can be the difference between success or frustration.
Wisconsin Fishing Guide
Techniques such as “vertical jigging” from a boat keep your presentation in the strike zone for long periods of time and may up your odds of success by that factor alone, other areas may necessitate casting and utilizing specific retrieves to realize consistent success.
Fishers that you meet along or on the river are generally very happy to offer you tips on succeeding and also the bait shops along the river are great sources for information on what is working. A very good indicator is by looking for tackle “bins” in the Wisconsin tackle shops that are nearly empty or watching what fishers are buying and their conversation can reveal some great Walleye fishing tips and save you time and money.
Wisconsin River Fishing Safety
Safety is always paramount and wearing a vest at all times when on or near the river is absolutely a critical piece of advice and will save your life should you accidentally fall in. The cold temperature of the water and its incredible power will overtake you in a flash.
Do not underestimate what you are dealing with when fishing the raging cold spring waters of our Wisconsin rivers which can and will turn an enjoyable outing into a tragedy that easily could have been avoided by respecting its power and accompanying yourself with an experienced river fisher.
Safeguard the Spring Walleye for Future Fishing Success
It is critical that the large fish you catch are released to complete their spawning ritual and to ensure that future populations of fish are present for the next generations of fishers to enjoy.
Walleyes are a delicious food source and when selectively harvested can not be beaten for a delicious meal, however over harvesting Walleye fish can and is a problem when the wrong folks can’t resist the temptation to exploit the resource. “Slot” limits can vary on certain areas of the Wisconsin rivers and it is your responsibility to “know the laws” and the size and bag limits.
By doing the right thing and letting the large premier “spawning females” go and by practicing “catch and release” of these beautiful fish, you will begin to appreciate that what you are doing to ensure good fishing for years to come and protecting the very Walleye fish you enjoy.
Should you see anglers who are over harvesting or violating bag limits, do not hesitate to call the D.N.R. Tip HOT Lines and report violations to them. We are blessed in Wisconsin with some outstanding Game Wardens who do a fine job but rely heavily on folks reporting violators to them which aide them in apprehending the few bad apples who can spoil the whole bunch and have little or no regard for the resource they are exploiting.
Take a digital camera with you to record your catch and to capture the rivers beauty, as well for the trophy fish that you catch and release. The picture will serve as proof of your trophy catch and also as the years go by a testament to catching and releasing the premier spawning fish that are critical to ensuring great fishing for years and generations to come.
Good Fishin’ to ya! LOBY