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

Wisconsin’s River Whitetails
By Joel “Doc” Kunz

Fall is whitetail time of year. Bow hunters are already in the woods and thoughts of that big buck are dancing in the minds of hunters across the state. Countless trail cams have given hunters plenty of reason to be excited about each and every chance to get in to the woods. They are like a fisherman’s depth finder, giving you a “view” of your eventual target. I think, having the chance to see what’s been visiting the area around your stand is a big advantage to days gone by. Much like in todays fishing marketplace, technology is growing in the hunting industry. New bow designs, arrows, broad heads and releases are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the difference between Grandpa’s hunting closet and today’s hunter. Scent blocking clothing that is warm and lightweight may be one of the best innovations but the list of new products that can help the average hunter is endless. That’s good, because better technology means better success rates for the average hunter and more people out looking to enjoy their time in the woods. Perfect situation for a guy who doesn’t hunt at all and looks forward to the best whitetail FISHING of the year, me.

From falls first land signs right through the deer gun season, Wisconsin’s river walleye and sauger fishing is usually the most predictable fishing of the year. Factors in the walleyes realm promote migratory responses to cooling water and shorter days that pushes walleye from their summer haunts towards the rivers. Once in the rivers they use deep areas and adjacent drop offs, gravel bars and other structure to wait and ambush food. The bait fish come from feeder creeks, bayous and backwaters that are cooling down and where weeds are dying, limiting oxygen. That brings them to the main river where walleye and sauger are waiting, bulking up for the long winter. For those simple reasons, I’ve had more 100 fish days during the fall then at any other time of year. Although the schools can spread out over a long flat or the top of a drop off, they are often stacked up like cord wood in deep water.

The Wisconsin River provides numerous opportunities that I have fished from Prairie du sac to Lake Du Bay near Steven’s Point. There are numerous shore fishing locations where anglers can expect to catch fish and boat ramps to allow access to every pool. I like the Petenwell Flowage because it’s my closest access to the big Wisconsin, about an hour from my house. Early in the fall season I fish the river channel and wood on the north end of the lake and the first few miles above the mouth of the river. There’s lots of good fishing between the lake and the dam, and schools of hungry fish could be using any of it. Some will go upstream until they reach the dam then slide back and hold in deep water or a prime ambush spot. Some will stay near the dam, others within the first few miles. Water conditions including level, flow and temperature combine with cold fronts, storms and other factors to change their location. But as the water cools, deep water within the first mile or two of the dam will be among the best places to fish. I also visit the Dells area each year, making my yearly pilgrimage to River’s Edge Resort. I’ve got a few tried and true spots away from the “community holes” that seem to always hold fish. A jig and minnow is all I need to catch them.

The Rock River in southern Wisconsin is another fall fishing potential hot spot. From Blackhawk Island at the mouth of the Rock and Lake Koshkinong to Jefferson, walleye and sauger can be found using the river system. The Fort Atkinson area is popular and there is plenty of shore fishing opportunity along with a choice of boat ramps between there and the lake. There are a few well known “holes” but just about any depression in the river can hold fish. Some very subtle drop offs and washed out banks we fish can hold incredible numbers of walleye. High water and muddy conditions have made for difficult spring fishing on the Rock in the last couple of years, a factor that could lead to some fantastic fall fishing. There are also some very good year classes of fish in the lower Rock River system to provide anglers with keeper size targets.

The Fox River from the dam at Montello to the dam at De Pere, is a potential walleye factory on any given day. Daryl Christensen showed me how to work a hair jig below the dam at Montello from the nice shore fishing area below the dam that creates Buffalo Lake. It’s a great place to chase a few whitetails as the water cools, leaves turn colors and the air fills with migrating waterfowl. Well known places such as Eureka and the Fox River in Oshkosh also see a fair amount of fall fishing pressure but the destination on most anglers mind is the Fox River at De Pere. Here, fish that spend time fattening up on the bay of Green Bay, come to the river for its bountiful food. Held back from further migration by the De Pere dam, fish can be found using the deep water some days, the flats another and in the shallow tail race water and rocky runs below the dam the next. There are also a few warm water discharges that will hold fish, especially as the water cools. I’ve caught fish jigging in the deep water, along bridge pilings and also in the shallow fast water when anchored. Casting crank baits is also a great way to catch a bunch of fish, a potential trophy or the next state record. Sometimes the fish key on surprisingly small baits, but I usually do best on Rouges, Husky Jerks and the such. The area directly below the dam, flooded timber, warm water discharges and bridge pilings are all great places to cast cranks for big walleye.

Now to my home waters of the Wolf River. Here walleye migration is harder to pin down due to the size of the Winnebago system and sumer location of the schools of fish. This year large numbers of walleye have stayed in Lake Poygan well in to July. That could mean good numbers of walleye in the river early in the fall season. Those fish could end up well in to the system, even up stream of New London if early fall rains are abundant. The fall walleye fishing is best once water temperatures have cooled in to the 30’s and 40’s, but September and October can be very good if you find the fish. Problem is, they could be anywhere in the first 40 miles above Lake Poygan. It all depends on water levels influenced by the fall rains that typically bring water to the river after the summer low period.

Like anywhere, a jig and minnow or leech worked along gradual drop offs in to deep water, outside bends and eddie currents should produce fish. September and October walleye will also use some of the deeper flats to feed. Here they can sit in the bottom of the sand “ripples” or “whoop-de-do’s” as I call them, and easily ambush a passing by piece of food. Fish will also work the shallows at night looking for food. I’ve caught fish at night sitting on an inside bend in 3 or 4 feet of water, much like in the spring. Lantern lights will often attract LOTS of minnows and walleye will feed on the edge of the school. Lightweight jigs worked off the bottom and Wolf River rigs will both catch fish.

So get out and chase the whitetails of your choice. I’ll be looking for a quite piece of river where I know the fish will bite.

Joel “Doc” Kunz is a 2005 “Readers Choice” Award winner and member of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW). Visit his web site at


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