Fishing, Life, Love & The Great Outdoors
Midwest Outdoors April 2010

April Fools Follow The Rules
By Joel “Doc” Kunz

When it comes to spring fishing, I’ve learned that there are a few general rules that define the yearly migration to the spawning grounds. Those rules are simple and can help you know what to do based on the conditions you are presented with. Here is what I have learned.

The migration is much like any movement of animals. It starts with the early birds and finishes with those who wait until the last minute to get going. Length of day combines with water temperature and flow rate to move the fish. The walleyes location relevant to these factors also plays a role. If large schools of fish are out in Lake Winnebago when temps get right, they will spawn in the lake. Weedy bays and rocky reefs will see spawning activity. If schools of bait fish and strong current draw those fish to the mouth of the Fox at Oshkosh pre-spawn, then the Wolf and Fox will see large numbers of fish. Current plays a role here too. Although generally the Wolf may see the larger number of fish, some years stronger flow from the Fox draws the bulk of the spawners. That is the beauty of the Winnebago system and the large nursery provided by the Wolf, Fox and large shallow lakes they encompass.

So what does that mean to you? Well simply, fish where the fish are and keep on the lookout for information. I have spots that I target based on CREDIBLE FIRST HAND reports I get from friends on different parts of the system. For instance. If I know they are catching good numbers of fish off the Winneconne Bridge, and conditions are right for them to head up the Wolf, then I can pick my spots and be successful. I also know that fish move in waves AND often in “year-class dominated” schools. So, if I catch a bunch of great fish pre-spawn and conditions dictate that they should keep moving, I will try and follow them up stream. If it’s getting close to spawning time, I will try to locate that school near the closest spawning areas. Being mobile and knowing good fishing locations throughout the area will help you catch fish. I also try to fish smaller and more subtle locations away from the crowds, or concentrate entirely on night fishing to enhance my enjoyment of the river. I concentrate on inside bends for pre-spawn fish. During the day I like 6 - 7 feet of water near the apex of the current line and at night I fish in 2 - 3 feet. I use a jig and minnow or a “Painted Guppy” with a short, 3 inch, single hook snel.

Mid April is usually the time for walleye spawning. A gradual transition toward the appropriate temperature is best for up run walleye fishing, but if it warms up quickly, expect things to be much different. If water levels cooperate the fish will start entering the marsh in large groups. Males first followed by females who spend a short time warming up, then drop their eggs and leave. Males will hang around the marsh as long there are females showing up and water levels allow. A gradual warm up means most of the fish go up stream. Low water means they may go all the way to Shawano to look for a flooded marsh. High water means they will check out just about every flooded area with current as they meander up stream. A fast warm up means fish can be anywhere with late arriving fish spawning in Lake Poygan, Rat River and lower Wolf. Knowing these general rules and getting good fishing reports should help you decide your fishing location.

Once spawning activity starts, it generally continues until complete. A cold snap and fluctuating water levels can interrupt this activity and put fish back on the move. That can create a situation where some fish are post spawn and returning to the lakes to recuperate and feed, and some fish are still pre-spawn. I call that an “Up Down Run”. Larry Martochko from Larry & Jan’s Resort was the first person I heard say those words and the guy who helped me target fish at those times. Like always, water level plays a role because the best place during an “Up Down Run” is along flooded woods that separate flooded grass from the river. Males will probe these areas looking for new females while pre-spawn fish hold waiting for temperatures to rebound. That can take days and stretch the spawning activity out over a long period of time. That affects down run fishing as it spreads the walleye throughout the system. Sometimes the lower lakes can be the best place to find active walleye. Historically the Fort Fremont Walleye Classic winner catches their fish on Lake Poygan at a time when the bulk of the anglers are fishing the river. Factors discussed here make that a good strategy, especially if there are some post spawn or migrating fish to encounter.

Once the down run has started the rules change. Now outside bends and the “whoop-de-do’s” on long sandy flats can be prime areas as well as deep water and eddie currents. After spawning, walleye will generally use the top of the current to glide down stream. Boat traffic during the day can drive them in to holding areas where they will wait for food to be washed past. That’s when the flats and long outside bends can be good. Add an eddie current and you’ve got something even better. Eddie currents are prime because they gather young of the year minnows and other food. They also set up a specific current line where walleye can sit easily and dart out to grab food as it washes by. Again a jig and minnow or new “Painted Guppy” is my go to presentation.

The fishing in the lower lakes starts heating up too. Post spawn walleye can be caught on Lake Poygan by trolling with small crank baits and crawler harnesses. Look for the groups of boats and get in line for some good action. White bass, northern pike, drum, catfish and crappie can also provide the tug on the line provided by a day of fishing lakes Poygan, Winneconne and Butte des Morts. Pitching small jigs tipped with crawlers and leeches at pockets and edges of the cane beds can be a great way to catch fish. Rig it with a small bobber and let the wind drift it towards the edge and you’ll catch fish too.

I still prefer night fishing, even for down run fish. Letting the river work a crank bait while fishing from a raft or anchored boat is a great way to fish. Long telescopic rods work well but there is an advantage to bamboo at times. Boat anglers can do well in “neck down” areas. These are places where the current pushes the fish as they glide back. That’s why the rafts are concentrated on the outside bends. Find an area above or below a bend and anchor your boat. Use telescopic rods out both sides rigged with “Painted Guppies” and a 2 foot snel to your crank bait. The “Painted Guppy” replaces a Wolf River rig and provides a way to get the bait to the desired depth and 90 degree rigging angle. Adjust the amount of line from the tip of your rod and get ready for some rod slamming action. I also use planer boards to spread lines to either side of the boat which can be quite effective. A pontoon boat with plenty of rod holders is a great way to target this bite.

Although April is prime walleye time, white bass will also become active as the month wanes. By Aprils end a mixed bag of walleye, white bass and crappie can make for a great fishing vacation. Keep up with my web site for more fishing and outdoor information. Joel “Doc” Kunz is a field editor for Midwest Outdoors and 2005 Readers Choice Award Winner. He is also a member of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers.


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