Pike and Root River Bonanza

By Judy Nugent - November 1, 2006
Two of Wisconsin southeastern rivers are home to a flurry of salmon as they return to spawn each fall. Other species come to gorge themselves on the egg feast. The Pike River in Kenosha County and the Root River near Racine play host to this urge to procreate and are poised for one of the best fall runs ever.

The Pike River is located north of the city of Kenosha. The mouth of the river is located off of Hwy 32 about one and a half miles from downtown Kenosha. There is a convenient parking lot on the east side of the highway just downstream from the bridge. At the beginning of the salmon run, head for the beach and cast into the lake. Here fish are at their freshest and can be caught on spoon, spinners, and some times crawlers.

As the season progresses and fish get further up the river, go to Highway A and fish upstream. There are various roadside pull offs. However, be aware that above A the river flows through a golf course. As the current law stands, you must stay in the water to be legal. Do it, because the fishing is worth the extra effort.

As you proceed up the river, you'll find riffles interspersed with deep holes where salmon will rest or stack up on their way upstream. Fishermen camp out on these holes all day watching more and more fish come. Be careful wadding if you don't know where these holes are. If the water is muddy, you won't be able to see the river bed dropping from 3 feet to 6 feet.

Fishing really picks up near the dam on the golf course. This structure greatly deters the fish from going any further up stream. This dam has a bridge over it allowing fishermen to cross to the other side. Be ready to find the whole place crawling with fishermen. If you don't like crowds, go back to one of the deep holes you saw on the walk up. Otherwise, take your hook off the keeper and hunker in. Most fishermen understand the fall run can mean combat fishing and you shouldn't have much of a problem getting a spot. The trouble comes when you try to land a fish. With so many lines in the water, be prepared to get tangled up more than once, and possible even lose a fish. If you hook up you might cross 6 lines before you even say "fish on." Don't despair. There are probably another 30 fish where that came from.

Occasionally fishermen throw fish above the dam, so a few can move upstream into Petrifying Springs Park, but such fish are rare. Next year fishing on this stretch will be much different. Pending permit approval, this dam will be removed in November. Next year there will be many new miles of fishable stream. This park has bends, pools, and rifles in a wooded setting. There are plenty of places to park, swing sets for the kids, picnic tables, and has the potential for a very enjoyable fishing experience.

The Root River is in central Racine County and flows right through the north side of the city. Once again, you can start at the mouth of the river and in the harbor, but as the season gets hot, move inland.

A good place to start your outing is Island Park and nearby Lincoln Park. To get there from Kenosha go north on Highway 31 until you reach Highway C (Spring Street). Turn right on Spring Street to Domanik Drive. Spring Street goes over the river. Island Park is to the south where Lincoln Park is to the north. Turn left on Domanik Drive and go to Lincoln Park. This area's most notable feature is the egg taking station. Here a large weir forces the fish through the station so that the DNR can collect the eggs for their hatcheries. This station focuses primarily on Steelhead eggs. In the fall, when Steelhead migration can be low, the weir will stay open allowing the salmon to swim directly upstream. The salmon can be temporarily stopped just below this weir, but don't plan on fishing. This area is a fish refuge and fishing is prohibited. The good news is that the DNR has a fish count board that they regularly update. This gives you a good indication on how many fish are up stream.

Continue upstream to the next access point at Colonial Park on Highway 38. This has parking and looks more like a forest preserve than a park. There are riffles and pools along the whole stretch. You can walk downstream or up towards the country club. This is private lands and the rule of keeping one foot in the water applies.

Located further upstream is Quarry Park also on Hwy. 38. This park is a traditional park with swing sets for the kids, Quarry Lake with a beach, and a mowed lawn. In the SE corner is a parking lot with access to the stream. At the low end of the park are the falls and then the country club. The fish can navigate the falls most of the time. Try the plunge pool for the best results. From here you can walk upstream towards the dam. The best spot is known as the "Picket Fence." Look for this fence and you'll find a nice hole full of fish. The end of the fishing is a horlik dam. This is a solid high dam and the fish are not able to migrate any further. The fish who have made it this far stack up providing an excellent fishing spot if you can handle the crowds. In low water you can wade downstream and fish the riffles, but in high water it is too dangerous.

Before wetting a line, be sure you have the necessary fishing license and Great Lakes stamp. A legal fish is one that you have caught in the mouth. If hooked in any other part, the fish is considered "snagged" and must be returned to the water. Trust me, there are thousands of fish in the river. There is no need to risk a fine over a snagged fish. Put it back. At least you got a good fight and maybe even a picture. Also, you are not allowed to fish at night. The regulations state you can start a half an hour before sunrise and stay until a half an hour after sun set. There have been serious violations in the past and in cooperation with fishermen, the DNR wardens will be patrolling regularly. Stay legal and you'll avoid a lot of hassle.

I usually go after these fish with an 8 weight fly rod and an egg fly. The key is to get down to the fish. This often means I'm casting sinkers as well as my fly. Other successful techniques include streamers, egg sucking leeches, and yarn flies. I recommend bright colors like hot pink, orange, red, and chartreuse. For leeches and streamers try purple and black.

If fly fishing isn't your thing, use an 8 - 10 foot medium action spinning or baitcasting rod with 6 - 10 pound monofilament. You can still use the same flies because the sinkers give you enough weight to cast. Or you can try spawn bags, spinners, crawlers, or wax worms. Often these fish are in shallow water and can be beached on the bank, but a good net is handy if you don't mind carrying it.

With all the salmon heading for the rivers, its time to dig out your favorite recipe, fire up the grill, or break out the smoker. These two rivers are well worth the trip and won't leave you disappointed.

Author Judy Nugent
Judy Nugent
Judy Nugent has been writing for several years. Her work can be found in Wisconsin Outdoor News, Wisconsin Outdoor Journal, Wisconsin Sportsman, Midwest Outdoors, Fly Fisherman Magazine and Snowshoe Magazine among others. She is also on the TV show OUTDOOR WISCONSIN. Judy has experience in radio with the show Great American Outdoor Trails where she does a weekly segment called Women on the Trail.