Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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Bill Schroeders big catch

Former Green Bay Packers wide receiver Bill Schroeder’s arms
cradled the brown, oblong object. Sweat formed above his brow
despite the bite of a cold Wisconsin wind.

The great catch he’d just made wasn’t in the end zone. He made
this splendid grab on Sturgeon Bay, and the 19-inch, 4-pound object
in his hands didn’t have “Wilson” written on it and certainly
wasn’t of pigskin composition.

Two weeks ago Schroeder, now with the Detroit Lions, his fishing
partner Tom Wauters, Capt. Doug Schreiber, and this author decided
to meet up for a couple days of smallmouth fishing on Green Bay and
Sturgeon Bay. It wasn’t going to be easy. As often times happens in
spring, Mother Nature threw a curve ball at us the week before our
outing. The area received several inches of snow and rain, which
lowered the water temperature more than eight degrees.

“That kind of temperature drop can affect the smallies,”
Schreiber said. “A lot of the fish moved out of the shallows.”

We motored out of Marinette from the county launch in search of
some shallow flats. Rain appeared certain, as gray clouds, pushed
by 15 to 20 mph winds, shoved moisture in all four directions.

“Put your rain gear on boys, and button it up tight,” Schreiber
said. “You don’t go out on the bay when it’s this windy and not get
wet.”

The 20-foot boat bounced back and forth on an angry bay.
Conditions couldn’t have been much worse.

“The plan is to cover water,” he said. “And a lot of it. We’ve
been getting smallmouths, walleyes, splake, and browns in one
trolling pattern since the water temp dropped. It’s a mixed
bag.”

When the trolling rods bent, we never knew what we were going to
get.

“We’re fishing a big, shallow sandy flat,” Schreiber said. “What
I’m looking for are little fingers that protrude from longer sand
bars. Fish tend to lay on the fingers waiting for bait. All we have
to do is find one of the fingers with warmer water in it and we’re
in business.”

It took about an hour before we eventually found one of those
fingers.

“Fish on!” Wauters yelled.

Schroeder, using his NFL speed, was the first one to the bending
rod and quickly began reeling, landing the fish with ease.

“I grew up fishing Lake Michigan,” he said. “When I was a kid,
our house was literally a few yards from the lake. I used to wade
out to a sand bar and cast for salmon. The outdoors has been a part
of my life ever since I can remember.”

The brown trout Schroeder landed had a buddy named splake which
quickly attacked the Rapala that teased it at about 1.5 miles per
hour. Wauters handled it equally well.

“The next fish we get could be a 10-pound walleye or a 6-pound
smallmouth,” Schreiber said. “That’s the beauty about spring
fishing here. I really believe that the next state record muskie
will come from these waters, too.”

The next fish would be one of the biggest of that species
Schreiber had seen in his years of guiding. Schroeder was on the
hot seat again.

Struggling at the end of the leader was a splake that weighed
more than 8.25 pounds and measured more than 29 inches certainly a
trophy.

Fish were biting, and a few more found their way back in the
water, or into the livewell, but Schreiber had other plans for the
afternoon. Even though the conditions didn’t spell smallmouths, he
wanted to give them a go.

We drove to the Oconto launch, with Schreiber searching his GPS
for rock piles.

We began drifting, with small northerns willing to oblige. Then
Wauters’ rod doubled.

“I think it’s a big walleye,” he said.

The walleye surged against Wauters’ stick bait, trying its best
to throw the treble hooks. When the fish finally found itself
engulfed in a landing net, Wauters was smiling ear to ear; the
Green Bay native had just landed his largest walleye on the bay.
After photos, the 26-inch beauty was released.

The the

rains came, adding to the discomfort of the stiff winds and 45
degree temperatures

It took some smallie action to heat things up.

“Got one. It’s a smallmouth,” Schreiber said. Several more fish
hit the tube bait.

“They’re biting softly,” he said.

The trick was to move the bait almost as if it were a dead
minnow floating in the current. The presentation was slow, but the
bites came rapidly. Once we slowed down, each of us landed
bass.

The next day Schroeder, Wauters and I, based on Schreiber’s
recommendations, headed up to the Sturgeon Bay shipping lanes in
search of pike. He also recommended using white jigs, another
productive suggestion. Though the bite continued, the talk soon
turned to the good ol’ days.

Schroeder said football interferes with fishing but he gets out
a bit, and thanks his dad, Robert, for his appreciation of the
outdoors.

“My dad was a big outdoorsman,” he said. “He used to always tell
me to treat the outdoors like everything out there was your
own.”

Of all Schroeder’s outdoor experiences, one trip stands alone as
his favorite.

“My dad, my brother Rob, and I used to hunt a lot together,” he
said. “My most cherished moment was back in 1988, the same year Dad
passed away. My brother and I were having an average year in the
woods, but my dad shot a 10-pointer. It was a really nice buck and
I was thrilled for him. He was so excited. That was the last time
he ever pulled a trigger.”

Schroeder is a family man, and in between bites, he made sure to
call his wife Shelly to check in and to wish his 2-year-old
daughter, Mara, a good afternoon nap.

We continued fishing our jig pattern, when suddenly Wauters’ rod
dropped, his 6-pound test strained, and the drag on his reel gave
all it could as a 38-inch pike nailed his lure. After pictures, the
beast was let go into the clear water.

The cold day sent us into a local diner for lunch, where we
recharged our batteries, as well as those on the boat, and decided
to go after smallmouth. We hit every rock edge that Wauters knew.
Finally, we hit the right stone.

Schroeder was the first one to score. His line peeled, and his
drag wheezed, but soon enough, a trophy bronzeback was flopping on
the bottom of the boat. Schroeder contemplated whether or not the
fish would be above his fireplace. After a few minutes, he put the
egg-carrying female back into the water.

Though now a Lion, the Wisconsin native said he’ll continue
residence in the state.

“This is where my friends and family live,” he said. “I could
never leave here for good. The state is part of me.”

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