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We've waited a long time for spring this year in Wisconsin, but the wait has been worth it. I'm ready to hit the open water in one of my Wilderness Systems kayaks to chase smallmouth and largemouth bass. The great thing about kayaks, and living in Wisconsin, is we have so many great fishing options.
When I give my Door County and River Smallie talks, I make a point of discussing the importance and fun of exploring, whether in a kayak, waders or powered boat. Exploring may be the best part of your day on any body of water, and it's hard to beat exploring in a kayak.
Pull out the Wisconsin Gazetteer or get on-line with Google Maps and begin your exploring adventures, you won't be ... more
Largemouth bass can be found in lots of lakes, rivers, and ponds across the country. In the southern regions of bass country it's already mid-season for bass catching, but in the Midwest the bass action is just starting. In fact, in some states that have an open and closed season for bass fishing, the legal season for catching bass is just starting. Here's how you can take advantage of the outstanding fishing for largemouth bass that can be found across the Midwest.
The first thing to consider is that much of this early bass action will be in shallow water. Whenever you're fishing in shallow water, for any species, you must be quiet. Fish in shallow water are very spooky, so any loud... more
I arrived in Nevis, Minnesota early in the morning to begin a two day marathon fishing outing with guide and fishing expert, Kelley Cirks. Each summer, Cirks and I hit the lakes in the Park Rapids region in what has become an annual event.
As I loaded my gear into his boat, Cirks informed me we were heading to his favorite bass lake to see if we could stick a couple of nice largemouth for photos. He also cautioned me that fishing had been a little off recently, but he was confident we could catch something noteworthy.
Once on the water, I grabbed a rod rigged with a PowerBait Shaky worm on a Lip-Stick jig while Cirks opted for a Salmo Hornet. The fact that we each started with a totall... more
Wisconsin's Lake Michigan tributaries garner plenty of attention from anglers during the steelhead run in spring and again in fall, when more steelhead, along with salmon and browns, make their way up from the lake. In summer, these tribs see a lot less fishing pressure, as anglers turn their focus to inland rivers, lakes throughout the state and, of course, Lake Michigan itself.
Most Lake Michigan tributaries, however, offer some great fishing opportunities, if you know where to go and how to approach them. Let's take a look at some of the larger tribs, from the Milwaukee north to the Menominee, to see what surprises they hold.
Between West Bend and Milwaukee, the Milw... more
This 2013 season looks to be a later spring where everything is behind schedule from a biological perspective. Colder water temperatures can be a double edged sword. Some patterns happen later or don't happen at all. When we have had cool, late springs in the past, good solid patterns for shallow water held on much longer than usual and resulted in overall good fishing conditions. Overall, some of our best open water seasons on Devils Lake, ND have been the years where we had late springs and cool summers. When the water never really does warm up and the patterns don't change much
watch out. Great fishing lies ahead.
If there is one effect from colder than normal water temperature... more
By all accounts from the old timers, Lake Geneva in the 1960's was a walleye factory. Over the course of many years the population of walleyes has been on a steady decline. This may be due to poor natural reproduction or a myriad of environmental changes throughout the decades. You can accept the reality or do something to change the harsh and steady decline. A small group of eight or so in 2011 got together to try to make a difference. They formed the Walworth County Chapter of Walleyes for Tomorrow. The mission statement for Walleyes for Tomorrow is very simple, "Making walleye and sauger fishing better". Led by Brian Simon and John Trossen the group had a definite direction to make... more
Kids typically have a short attention span when it comes to fishing and although my boys are pretty hard core they still lapse off in to la-la land. Heck I fall off into the mist from time to time. It seems as though when you are paying the least amount of attention that you will get yourself a bit on the end of your rod, set the hook too late and cuss yourself long enough to dull yourself back into the mist.
Well get yourself a set of planer boards and line counter rods and reels and you are in a different ball game. The front end costs of setting yourself up are not cheap if you are going to do it right, but once you are set up the fishing is fairly simple and great for kids.
I ... more
Top Bass Pro Reveals Subsurface Secrets
Written in conjunction with Joe Balog
"I'll never forget the first time I got a peek at the underwater world on one of my favorite lakes," recalls Great Lakes bass pro, Joe Balog. It was the summer of 1997, and Balog had just acquired one of the very first underwater viewing systems. "I was so excited to check out this particular spot I could hardly sit still."
Having already hauled thousands of dollars worth of tournament winning bass from the location, Balog chose to target the site with his new camera for obvious reasons. "I absolutely couldn't wait to see what it really looked like; what was there that appealed so much to big bass.
That ... more
With temperatures steadily increasing and walleye spawning activities complete, many anglers are making the move from jigging to trolling. Although jigging spring eyes is very productive during pre-spawn and immediately after post spawn, nothing can beat pulling planner boards or long lining lures in the summer months. Many anglers simply throw on a Rapala, let some line out, and call it good. They even catch fish here and there. What better way to cover a large amount of water and pull in fish, right? While this may be true, there are many other factors that can help you become a trolling master.
Let's first discuss post-spawn walleye behavior. After spawning, many large female... more
There are a lot of people that hunt turkeys who do not realize how versatile the bird is when it comes to table fare. When I first started turkey hunting nearly twenty years ago, the first bird I shot was cleaned whole and frozen. We cooked it like a traditional Thanksgiving turkey and complained about how dry and tough it was. There was a weeks worth of leftovers and by the time it was gone, we were sick of it.
I am a huge trial and error person and was not going to stick to that method of cooking. About that time, deep frying turkeys was the in thing to do. Without a lot of guidance from anyone, I decided a wild turkey would be just great in such conditions, because the fryer ... more
There are times, more than we like to think about, when fish get finicky. North, south, east and west, fish sometimes just don't want to get caught. Or maybe it's just that they like to frustrate us every now and then. Whatever the reason, there are things we can do to get the fish to take our bait better when they get fussy. Following are some of those things.
When the bite is light, use a rod that has a lighter tip action. Let's say we're jigging for walleyes and we're getting them to eat the jig, but they're spitting it right back out. What could be happening is they're taking the jig, then feeling resistance from a heavy rod tip. When the fish are aggressive, a little resistance... more
No secret that walleyes use weeds an awful lot and despite the fact that walleyes are known to use weeds so often, many walleye anglers still avoid fishing weeds. Take a quick look around many good walleye fisheries from the opener on through summer and the armada of boats are typically dangling lines over classic structure.
Even on lakes with slot limits where the same fish can be caught several times over the course of a summer, the fish on these classic locations get pressured. Can fish on these classic locations eat a day after getting caught and bend a rod? Absolutely but fish that are getting angling pressure become more difficult to catch. What I love about weed fish is that th... more
During the past 18 years, mostly in May and June, I've spent over 175 days chasing smallmouth bass in Door County. I've been rewarded with catching and releasing over 5,000, with dozens over 4 pounds, many 5 pounders and some over 6 pounds. Many of these big fish have come in the past 5 years due to a change in my presentation.
Over the years I've tried many lures on the waters of Door County. Believing in keeping it simple, I've narrowed my presentations to those that work best, based on my experience, reading articles like this and talking with other bass enthusiasts. One presentation that is usually near the top of most Door County lists, and at the top of mine for the past five-y... more
I love to fish and I love to catch fish of all species. I enjoy scrappy panfish on light tackle. Watching bass squirt out of the water in an effort to throw the hook is always a treat. However, there is no question that there is something special about catching walleye.
When it comes to sticking lip on old marble eyes, there are many different approaches to try. Jig fishing and the ensuing "thunk" as a bait is sucked into the mouth is addicting. So is the aggressive hammer of a walleye hitting a fast moving spinner. Watching a float slid out of sight is definitely memorable.
Even though I fish for walleye in a variety of manners, there is no doubt my favorite presentation is still a ... more
Panfish in Spring can be some of the best of the year, big and plentiful. My favorite lakes in Southern Wisconsin are Delavan Lake and Lake Geneva, both are in Walworth County. Both lakes are very clear and warm more slowly than a murky or shallow lake. Warm sunny days tend to make the panfish more active. I find that the afternoon bite is usually better after the water has had the full effect of the daytime sun. Look for the fish in the shallows of the particular lake you are fishing. Usually I will choose areas with a dark bottom with green weeds. The dark bottom absorbs the heat of the sun raising the water temperature. The green weeds provide cover for the newly hatched microorg... more
The sun is peaking over the orange horizon, a wisp of clouds makes the morning sky seem like a Terry Redlin print with the firey orange sky and calm blue water, the first mate is adjusting a port dipsy line, the captain, well I'm enjoying my first morning cup of coffee
suddenly, "FISH ON, FISH ON !! FAR BIRD! SEE 'EM JUMPING?" Aah, the sounds of spring! It's all music to my ears! I just love early spring fishing. And the most exciting, are those feisty, acrobatic steelhead.
Those silver torpedoes, feed near the surface, well most of the time anyway. When they spy that streaking spoon following behind that small inline planner board, well, they just go nuts! Like a streak of l... more
Statistics indicate this is the coldest spring we've seen in the upper Midwest since 1951. Perspective on this factoid depends on how old you are. When I look in the mirror and see a face that's been around since '51 looking back at me there are more wrinkles than freckles from more than a half-century out in the wind, rain and sun doing what we love to do.
Thousands of days on the water spent with hundreds of buddies, clients and fellow pilgrims have provided a considerable knowledge base. When coupled with average angling ability there are enough building blocks on lower tiers of the Fishing Success Pyramid to ensure confidence that every trip holds potential for a productive day on the... more
Build up some speed and a dog will nearly put its head through the window to catch a breeze. Our canine companions lose sense of place and time, not to mention discipline when the truck starts cooking down the highway. Albeit for different reasons, walleyes will also drop everything when a wind whips up. Instincts take control and nature's programming says the moving air is also heating up the kitchen.
Wind creates what I call a 'food table'; a smorgasbord of consumables. An onshore wind activates the water, spawning an entire food sequence in the shallows. It traps foodstuffs there, too, waves beating against the shore. Walleyes sharpen teeth and tighten their bibs...
Relative to w... more
My first real nice Mississippi River walleye started out as about an eight pounder. She hit one of the original Bombers long-line trolled behind a little aluminum boat above a wingdam on Pool 13 back in 1967.
The old red-and-white Bombers was one of about six or eight lures in a rusty Old Pal tackle box. She really made the rod tip of my fiberglass rod thump. Especially when chunking against the rocks.
We didn't catch and release big female walleyes back then. We didn't have livewells, either. My treasured catch was impaled through the lips on a long cord stringer
And dragged behind the boat as I used Dad's 5 ½ horse green Johnson to maneuver along the upstream face of the wingdam ... more
As I look back on my angling experiences from my youth, there are few memories that grab me like the ones spent fishing for suckers on the banks of a river. Now that I am a few years older and gray is a dominant color in my beard, I still relish opportunities to make withdrawals from meandering water.
It is not an easy task for me to put my finger on the specific appeal I have for this spring and early summer tradition. Maybe it has something to do with the peacefulness of watching the water slide by on a sunny afternoon. Maybe it comes from the patient approach of detecting bites on a pole propped up on a forked stick.
Some of it may have to do with enjoying the power of a good sized ... more
No secret that walleyes move into shallow water come spring but a lesson I have had to relearn a handful of times over the years is simple, don't be afraid to look for fish in a foot or two of water come spring. Many anglers will fish shallow particularly early in the year but often stop at that three foot mark. There are probably many reasons that cause walleyes to position themselves into a foot or two of water but I think most of the time, warmer water temperatures and baitfish are the two biggest motivators for pulling walleyes into such skinny water.
When it comes to finding walleyes in really shallow water, less than three feet
there does seem to be some misconceptions at lea... more
Chasing steelhead is one of my favorite kinds of fishing. One of the reasons I enjoy it so much is because it marks the beginning of spring. The weather is finally warming up and there are lots of animals to observe at the river. I also love steelhead fishing because the fish fight like a smallie on steroids. They make numerous screaming runs and put on a dramatic aerial display. Just writing those words gives me the itch to get out on the river! If you haven't pursued steelhead, you need to give it a try.
Steelhead, also known as "chromers," are just giant rainbow trout. These rainbows are anadromous, or migrating trout - meaning that they spawn in freshwater ... more
There's something about a tom turkey all puffed-up and shiny on a glorious spring morning that makes him seem bigger than life. Turkey hunters love to tell stories of the toms they have shot and the ones that got away.
Some of these stories lead to myths that we've heard and shared so often, we take them as gospel. Here's a look at four popular myths about spring turkey hunting and a thought or two about how you can turn myth into method.
Turkeys are smart?
Foxes and coyotes are clever. Deer are cagey at best. Turkeys, for all the hype that has been written about them and all the lore that turkey pros preach, are dumb as rocks.
With a brain the size of a cherry, there is not a lot ... more
Anyone who goes fishing wants to catch more fish and bigger fish. The anglers who catch the most big fish are versatile anglers. If you want to be more versatile, you need to learn more fishing techniques. Following are some fishing techniques that I am going to learn more about this year in an attempt to catch more big fish.
I'm going to use plastic baits for all species of fish more this year. I've been using plastics for bass for as long as I've been chasing bass, and that's been quite awhile. In the past several years we've been experimenting with different rigging techniques. For instance, Wacky Rigging plastic worms has become very popular because it's very effective. Traditi... more
There is an old analogy that 10 percent of the fishermen catch 90 percent of the fish. Catching fish to most is considered luck, however the diehard anglers know that there are tricks and subtle patterns that will help you put more fish in the boat on a given trip to the water. This has never been so true than during my recent trip to Naples, Florida. I have been going to Florida the past five or six years and always have had some success with catching fish each time we went to the water. Sometimes the success was limited other times it was fantastic.
This year, early in our vacation, I hired Captain Joe Smirnov of Captain Eric's Inc. fishing charters out of Naples harbor. The tri... more
There is no silver bullet with late ice perch regarding location but make no mistake, some of the most impressive catches and fishing for the whole calendar year take place in march. Late ice is prime time for jumbo but the tactics and patterns can run the gamut.
On so many lakes, perch move relatively shallow and become more aggressive as the ice rots. Large sand flats or gently sloping flats that have chara and sand grass often hold fish during late ice particularly if these locations are near the mouths of bays and other shallow water that where these fish will eventually spawn.
These shallow flat patterns are classic on lakes like Leech Lake or Winnie in Northern Minnesota... more
Flooded cornfields usually don't top the list of productive locations for chasing walleyes. But when a river is running belly-full from runoff and rain this refuge from raging current can provide your best odds for hooking up.
Professional walleye angling legend Keith Kavajecz and I found fish holding in this bizarre location one spring about 20 years ago on the Illinois River. Keith was pre-fishing for an MWC event back in the days before the more prestigious Professional Walleye Trail came into being.
The River had swelled to beyond flood stage. We were dodging massive trees at unsafe speeds when underway looking for fish. Although saugers which we caught prefer several times the c... more
Precise GPS Mapping and Three Call System Yields More Mid-Winter To Ice-Out Jumbos
From mid-winter through ice-out, Devils Lake guide Jason Feldner "hunts" perch with a system he says can't be beat. Relying on highly detailed GPS mapping and electronics, signs from Mother Nature and a 'three call' system, Feldner quickly locates and ices big perch, day-in-day-out.
"When it comes to finding fish, you've gotta key in on slight 1-foot depth contours-especially for perch. In mid- and late-winter, a good place to start is that 8- to 15-foot range," says Feldner.
Like birds following a migration path, perch slowly travel specific depth contours from mid-winter through late ice to rea... more
By the time March rolls around in the Midwest, many anglers have left the ice to pursue open water fishing opportunities, but for some diehard panfishermen, late ice is what they have been waiting for all season. During this relatively short and uncrowded window of opportunity, bluegills, crappies, and even perch are not only easy to find, but they are equally easy to pull through the ice.
There are numerous approaches to catching late ice panfish but my strategy is to target areas with the warmest water. Snow is gone from the lakes by this point in the game and the sun pierces through the ice warming the water and below. Shallow bays (under 10 fow) with a dark bottom absorb t... more
It happens every year. The winter show season keeps me so busy that I barely have time to think about getting outdoors. I might sneak away for a rabbit hunt or two or perhaps an afternoon on the ice, but that's about it.
Then, along comes the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Sports Show, the biggest gig of a long, long winter. This year's Sports Show runs March 6-10, at State Fair Park.
Inevitably, somebody stops at our booth to mention that the Root River is open and the steelhead are running. Chris Beeksma, who guides up on Lake Superior, and Darrell Warren, of Green Bay, used to show up every year, wearing big grins and smelling of spawn. They made the annual trek to the Root to get a f... more
Success rates look up when anglers recognize that the crappies are feeding up
Winter's grip will soon relax. As the season's thick grey clouds thin, elevating rays of sun will slash through the bitter air and warm it to a more comfortable tone. The snowpack's about to melt; the warming environment is a trigger for once-lethargic crappie to roam towards shallow water from their dead-of-winter deepwater haunts.
But a departure from the depths doesn't always mean that fish head shoreward - they often go vertical. Unbeknownst to many is that crappies often elevate high in the water column to feast on tiny tidbits anywhere from only a few feet to mere inches under the decaying ice.
We are now living in an era where mechanization and technology continue to escalate at an amazing pace and it seems nearly impossible to keep up with everything being presented to us. As gritty and quite accurately down to earth as the outdoor world is for those of us who choose to enjoy it, every bit of slick new techno wonder has managed to find its way into our formerly somewhat small and confined world.
GPS, advances in Sonar and the combination thereof with the advent of background mapping quickly come to mind. Video is not a game anymore as is evidenced by its increasing use above and below water. It's more than just a little exciting to get an up close and personal look at our ... more
It wasn't many years ago, my fishing buddies and I were planning our annual late ice fishing excursion. Each and every year we get together in February or early March and plan to chase walleyes, perch, and panfish on many of our favorite lakes. As the anticipation grew, the weather forecast began to dampen our excitement. Finally when we all got together at the cabin, we were greeted with a massive cold front that had temperatures well below zero and winds blowing 15-25 mph all weekend long. Now, no one likes to be cold, and to be cold sitting on a huge sheet of ice is even worse. Ice fishing used to be a sport, for the hardcore folk but, that isn't necessarily so anymore. With the adv... more
Cottontail rabbits are among the most adaptable of all wild critters. In their effort to avoid predators and find enough to nibble on, they make themselves at home in some strange places.
I returned from a recent airline trip to find rabbit tracks in the snow that had blown all around my vehicle inside the parking garage at Milwaukee's Mitchell Airport. And who hasn't seen a bunny dash across a suburban backyard or hightail it into the landscaped shrubbery of their local bank?
Those places are a bit too civilized to hunt, but if you look carefully, you'll find patches of huntable rabbit cover on the outskirts of small towns, around farms and generally on the fringes of civilization. Ra... more
I have been a small water fisherman for many years in the summer months. It wasn't until the mild winters of the past several years that I have had to go to smaller bodies of water to find safe ice. I consider small water fishing farm ponds, detention basins and public park bodies of water. Fishing these smaller bodies is really quite relaxing as the crowds are almost non- existent.
Most of the waters contain panfish, largemouth bass and even a few northern pike. With very little fishing pressure the fish in smaller waters tend to bite more aggressively.
When I arrive at a pond or small lake, after checking for safe ice, I always head to the deepest water available. On lakes I w... more
If there is a general rule of thumb, water with decent to excellent visibility often has good weed growth that can remain through the course of a winter. Granted, snow cover can eliminate light penetration which in turn can knock down vegetation but if there are weeds, typically there are bluegills.
Most lakes have a variety of weed types and we have found bluegills around just about anything that resembles cover especially at first and late ice. Some weeds like the cabbage variety typically die and break down fast during the winter but at times will still hold fish. Other plants like Chara or even bulrushes can hold fish. My favorite winter weed however is coontail. Coontail grow... more
Ice fishing in late February and even later into March (where legal) is one of the best opportunities to catch giant northern pike. Northerns are one of the first gamefish to spawn and they begin to concentrate during late ice which greatly increases the odds of catching a wall hanger. Targeting a body of water known for big pike will improve your chances even further if catching a true behemoth is your goal. A couple of Wisconsin's larger destination lakes that produce huge fish year after year include Green Bay, Castle Rock Lake and Lake Poygan. You don't have to travel far if you live in southeast Wisconsin to get at big pike though - Delevan, Geneva, Big Muskego, and the Madison Chai... more
With Wisconsins inaugural gray wolf season in the books, now is a time for reflection and a look at the hypothetical numbers. Hypothetical numbers is really all we know about the wolf in Wisconsin. The number may be much higher than the DNR is willing to admit. My hypothesis is that the DNR is reluctant to tell the true story for fear of a real uproar among sportsmen, especially in the north and central parts of the state.
Back in the 80's, the DNR collared as many wolves as they could and once the population grew they made sure every pack had at least one member collared. Once the population exploded, they were unable to keep up with that plan. In addition to keeping track of wolve... more
Ice fishing has become just as technical as open water fishing over the past decade, and the equipment that we choose is no different. High tech flashers, super sensitive lines, and various styles of tip-ups all play a part in whether you have a successful day or just another "I guess they aren't biting" day.
Styles of Tip-Ups
Tip-ups have evolved a long way since the first willow stick was stuck into the snow with a line wrapped over the tip. By the way, this method is still used in Canada by lots of locals.
I often get asked what my favorite style of tip-up is. My reply is Beaver Dam first off, but with two models available, I choose my weapon according to the weather and c... more
Wisconsin winters can be brutal. Freezing temperatures, constant snow shoveling, and treacherous roads are a real nuisance. Remain optimistic, when the area lakes freeze up, fishing in southeastern Wisconsin really heats up. Early ice provides some of the best action of the winter fishing season. It is during this time that one can easily catch multiple species of fish in one outing.
Targeting shallow weed beds produces walleyes, northern pike, bluegills, crappies, and even perch. We live in the age of technology and there are many ways to locate weeds. One way is to go back to areas where you found them during the open water season. Hopefully you were thinking ahead and marked these sp... more
Teach a kid to read, and they will have a tool that just about anyone could have taught them. Do you remember who taught you to read? Now close your eyes and reflect on who taught you to fish. I bet it is a strong vivid memory that embeds itself on more than one level. Being a high school ice fishing team coach provides students these memories and offers the coaches the ability to make a huge impact on another persons life that will last a lifetime. Wendy Dallman, a physical education teacher at Prairie Farms, remembers going fishing as a young girl on Lake Holcombe.
Many states across the country have high school open water fishing teams, fully sponsored and part of the extra-curricular... more
When we look at catching jumbo perch through the ice, I dare say that we typically catch ninety percent of the fish in a ten percent window. Perch fishing on most bodies of water consists of drilling holes to get on fish and getting that one or two flurries that fills the pail. You can go from zero to hero in about twenty minutes when you finally strike pay dirt.
The key to putting the smack down on fish is maximizing the opportunities. Being efficient, getting fish up the hole, getting the fish unhooked and getting that lure back down to the fish is paramount. What kind of bite, how the fish respond, how far you have to pull fish and how deep of water can all be considered when c... more
Even though I had my back to the approaching vehicle, I could hear it coming while it was still a quarter mile away. It wasn't that the muffler was bad or the engine was revved, it was the ice moaning and groaning from the weight that was the clue.
I watched the fish on my Vexilar, hoping I could get one more on the ice before the inevitable was going to happen. Unfortunately, I didn't get it done before my screen went blank. The fish I had going vanished as the vehicle approached.
This had been the third time in an hour I had lost contact with the suspended crappie. Even though I was working more than 20 feet of water, the fish spooked every time a vehicle came my way. They simply wo... more
The depths of the Great Lakes and the many pristine clear water lakes of Minnesota and Canada harbor a fish that definitely rule the roost when we ice heads start talking about epic battles staged on frozen water, the Lake Trout. These denizens of the deep are known to push above the 40 pound mark and hit lures mimicking their favorite prey like no other of its finned cousins. They are the proverbial freight trains of the icy underworld where many of times they have only left their pursuer with the heartache of another broken rod or straightened hook. But even with this reputation of hard hitting attitudes and relentless strength to spool you to the bottom of the lake time and time again, mo... more
Most anglers know that trolling is an effective way to present a bait to fish in the summer. Trolling on the ice may sound like a strange thing, but once you understand what "trolling on ice" is all about, you'll understand why it's an effective way to present a bait to walleyes, perch, crappies, and anything else that you might want to catch. Here is how and why you troll on ice.
I was first introduced to trolling on ice by Tony Roach several years ago on Lake Mille Lacs in central Minnesota. Tony is an outstanding ice-angler and guide who works hard to get his clients on fish. Mille Lacs is a huge body of water with lots of places to catch walleyes and perch through the ice, but you... more