Fishing, Life, Love & The Great Outdoors
Dick Ellis' On Wisconsin Outdoors - Submitted December 2010

Last Ditch Efforts
By Joel “Doc” Kunz

Although winters icy grip takes away most open water fishing opportunities, there are a few places where anglers such as myself can get the boat in and catch a few walleye and sauger all year long. As a younger man all I needed was some sunshine, a partner, some minnows and a properly prepared boat. Now in to my 50’s, I need all those things and temperatures at least in the mid 30’s. New clothing specifically designed for cold weather fishing and small, “safer”, portable heaters have made it easier to “brave” the weather and spend some quality time in the boat catching fish. But, going when temperatures are around the freezing point is something I leave for the younger generation. I remember the days when cotton long underwear, a hooded sweatshirt and wool jacket were what kept me warm. Now, $150 worth of man made fibers provide the bottom layer while a Frabil Ice Suit, made for ice fishermen, is the outer layer that keeps me warm and dry. Another improvement is in the heater. The old “sunflower” style unit and 20 pound propane tank has been replaced by a smaller, self igniting heater that operates off of the little green one pound tanks. My favorite spots remain the same, as does the 1973 Mirro Craft I’ve fished in during the winter months so many times. Now, thanks to the efforts of a few hardy souls, I can continue to enjoy a day on the river catching walleye and sauger.

So, what are my favorite spots? Here they are, all December, January and February tested in previous years. And, if Mother Nature is good to us, fishable for diehard Wisconsin walleye anglers this year. The Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers provide a number of spots where I’ve been able to fish during all but the coldest or snowiest years. Access is the main factor. In mild years, opportunities increase as many boat launches in proximity to a dam can be open. In colder years, boat launches directly adjacent to the dam and private launches maintained to provide access are the only choice. Snow is a factor also as some public facilities are not plowed or maintained to allow access. These would be a “use at your own risk” situation unless posted or marked as closed. Good local information is always important. Nothing is more frustrating then showing up at a spot and not being able to access the water. Good local information also gives you the best chance of finding out what bait, product or tactic is producing the most fish.

I’ll start with the stretch of river where I spent my honeymoon. That is Pool 4, below lock and dam #3 near Red Wing Minnesota. Hagar City is the Wisconsin counterpart, home to Everts Resort and possibly the king of the “last ditch effort” for open water fishing. Here owner Dean Marshall does what is necessary to keep his launch open. His location on an outside bend in direct line of the Mississippi current makes this pretty much a year-round open water fishing destination. He has a complete bait & tackle shop that includes an extensive display of the “plastics” known to catch fish in the area. Known for good walleye fishing, the area also boasts some DANDY sauger with 3 pound fish a common occurrence. Everts is about 2 miles downstream of the dam where large numbers of fish congregate during the winter. Wisconsin anglers can fish with their Wisconsin Resident License in these noted “boundary waters” and are allowed to keep SIX fish in any combination of walleye and sauger. Walleyes must be at least 15 inches in length. Cabins are available but was told to expect a nice clean “hunting shack” and friendly service, not the Tashmahal. You can bet, I’ll be dippin the boat this year at Everts.

Farther down stream the Genoa area, at lock and dam #8, is a well known late season fishery. There is a boat launch located just below the power plant which is plowed by the local township and stays open late in to the season. At times shore ice can make the launch un-usable for trailers so local anglers push small Jon boats out to open water. You don’t need to go far to catch fish. Bait is available at Captain Hooks in Genoa and the area is known for BIG walleye. Downstream of that point lock and dam #8 provides another opportunity albiet, mitigated by access. I’ve fished out of “Falling Rock” in January a few times and done quite well. Although current will keep the boat ramp open well in to the year, the area is capable of freezing so check ahead before heading out.

On the Wisconsin River the “Dells” is my first choice. The crew at River’s Edge Resort does a good job of keeping the boat ramp open as long as they can. Bait, tackle, food and lodging is available on site and if you can get on the water, fishing is usually pretty good. Even after a freeze up, a few days of warm weather and sunshine can be enough to open this section of river. There are a few other places along the Wisconsin River that I try to hit like Nekoosa, but the boat ramp located below the Petenwell dam is the one that will stay open the longest. That is, if someone plows the parking lot. Located on 18th avenue just north of highway 21 on the west side of the river, this ramp is directly below the dam. You don’t need to go far either. Just get on the edge of the current or find the big mid river hump and you are sure to get a tug on the line.

So there’s a few of my favorite spots and the locations that have allowed me to fish open water in Wisconsin during every month of the year. To me there is no more fun then watching eagles soar while catching walleye and sauger from the boat, especially during this time of the year. Make sure to take proper precautions and check out everything on your boat and trailer before making the trip. Wear a life jacket, plug all intakes in your boat and think about putting some RV antifreeze in the bilge of your boat to keep pumps from freezing and cracking which can allow water in your boat. Put your fish on a stringer or in a cooler instead of using your live well to again, limit bringing any water in to the boat. Call ahead to check conditions and try to limit your time on the water to the warmest part of the day. When pulling your trailer out after launching and retrieving your boat please make sure to allow it to drain while over the water to limit how much gets on the boat ramp. Make sure to bring salt and sand and don’t even try it without a 4 wheel drive vehicle. Getting off the water BEFORE temperatures fall below freezing at dusk will also save you some potential problems. Dress warm and have a type of fun most people don’t get to experience.

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 or his new project for information on fishing in the lower Wolf River area of Wisconsin.


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