Fishing, Life, Love & The Great Outdoors
Dick Ellis' On Wisconsin Outdoors - Submitted March, 2009

Spring In To Summer With Wolf River Smallies
By Joel “Doc” Kunz

Often over looked by visiting anglers this time of year, the Wolf River and its tributaries offer some exceptional fishing for smallmouth. Traditionally, most anglers who visit here in May and early June are here for the fantastic white bass fishing. Walleye are also prime targets on the list of area anglers as post spawn fish filter throughout the system. But there is another inhabitant of the river that provides a level of action, fight and legendary acrobatic ability that few freshwater fish can muster, the smallmouth bass. While most anglers are looking for a “friday night date”, guys like Terry Hilbert of New London are playing catch and release with Wolf River bronze backs. Sure Terry may spend a bit of time catching a few walleye or white bass, destined for that friday night fish fry, but his love of bass fishing and position in the states Bass Federation Nation, keeps him looking for a certain tug on the line. That tug belongs to the areas smallmouth and largemouth bass population. Contrary to popular belief, the Wolf River Country area has good numbers and some quality fish.

A lover of the big, brown, hard fighting fish myself I often try to find a few small mouth to wrestle with this time of year. One thing I’d like to pass along is the fact that I never keep any of these fish, always practicing catch and release when fishing for smallies. This is because it is my belief that there are fish available here on any day that are much better table fare and, that let grow, the Wolf River system could provide some trophy smallmouth potential. Sure, we may never see the 7 pound fish caught in the bay of Green Bay, but a five or six pounder would not be too much to ask for. River fish are usually built different then their often larger great lakes cousins but have one thing in common, that is, they put up a great fight. Their hard tugging, often acrobatic aerial jumps make catching even a smaller fish a lot of fun. Put a hook to a 3 pounder and you’ll feel what I’m talking about. Catch a four or five pounder and you’ll have your hands full for sure. But that’s what makes smallmouth bass fishing fun, the fight.

The Wolf River Country area provides a large number of opportunities for those who like to fish for smallmouth bass. From the mouth at Lake Poygan to the far reaches of its tributaries, the Wolf River system has most every type of river smallmouth habitat you can think of. Rocky points and rip-rap walls provide countless opportunities throughout the system. There’s plenty of it with 32 miles of river between lake Poygan and New London. Wood, sand bars, points, tributaries, weeds and deep water abound in every stretch of the river. That adds up to a lot of smallmouth habitat. That’s one reason the lower Wolf River’s smallmouth territory, is a place where you will see quite a few high powered “tournament style” bass boats. Good fishing and room to run. But it’s also a place where you could see a rental boat from one of the local resorts drifting along working a tube bait, or a pontoon boat anchored in prime position to work a point.

The tributaries are the key to May and June smallmouth movement in the Wolf River system. As water levels drop each fall, most smallmouth move out of these rivers and back to the lakes. As other species of fish move back in to the system, the smallmouth follow, driven by warming water temperatures. Some, smallmouth in the system prefer the rocky, shallow areas such as those found in the Waupaca, Little Wolf and Embarrass rivers, tributaries to the Wolf found between Fremont and New London. Others find the smaller river habitat preferable in the Wolf itself and will venture far past my campsite at Rivers Edge in Leeman, finding plenty of smallie habitat in the miles below the dam at Shawano. These are perfect areas for those who like to find their fishing spot in a kayak or canoe. I’ve got a float trip planned from Rivers Edge where the river, oars and an electric trolling motor are the only mode of propulsion for the small Jon boat. Walleye and smallmouth bass will be the target, golden rewards from the tea stained waters of the Wolf. Small crank baits, tubes, plastic worms and other typical smallmouth tactics apply. The plan is to put in up stream from Rivers Edge and float back to the campgrounds, working the shoreline areas of the river along with the deeper holes and other fish holding structure. I like surface baits and shallow divers for this type of fishing and am looking forward to trying out some hand carved “gems” I received from a friend recently. They look like they are the right size, and based on the description, have the action to make a day on the river a lifetime memory. What could be better then a trophy smallmouth on a hand carved bait?

With world class fishing available right here in Wolf River Country, make the most of your angling opportunities in the “up north, so close to home”. With 85 miles of navigable water way between Lake Poygan and the dam at Shawano, there are boat ramps and places here on the river to suit your desires from big boats to canoes. There are MILES of uninhabited shorelines where waterfowl, eagle and osprey share the land with herons, bluebirds, deer, turkey and the ever present red-winged blackbird. Plus, the fishing’s good. For more information on the area, outdoor information, links to area business and an up to date fishing report visit Doc’s web site at

Joel “Doc” Kunz is a 2005 “Readers Choice” Award winner, member of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW) and a member of the Wisconsin Outdoor Communicators Association (WOCA).


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