Northern lakes should see an ice-free opener
Madison – Anglers heading out for opening day of the 2008
fishing season on Saturday, May 3 could see survey nets, tribal
spearers, some new rules, and maybe even some floating ice.
A cold winter and a mostly cold – and sometimes snowy – spring
has things a little behind schedule, but that shouldn’t stop plenty
of fish from ending up in the frying pan by day’s end.
“If you happen to hit a lake that’s post-spawn (for walleyes),
you might do real well,” DNR Fisheries Director Mike Staggs said.
“We might still have some ice on a few lakes, though.”
Staggs said DNR, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Great Lakes
Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission personnel have been busy doing
spring fyke net and electrofishing surveys on many waters, and it’s
possible anglers will still see nets in the water.
“I’m guessing there will be nets and shocking all over the
state,” Staggs said. “We try to stay away from shocking (lakes) the
night before the opener, but sometimes we have to.”
Staggs said anglers are not allowed to disturb fyke nets, but
it’s not illegal to fish near them.
Walleyes should also be spawning on some lakes in the ceded
territory, which means the possibility of tribal spearing.
Staggs said he isn’t aware of any major conflicts between
anglers and tribal fishermen in recent years.
“It seems to have calmed down,” he said. “I’m sure there are
still people who don’t like it – and spearers who don’t like their
ways regulated – but they both seem to have figured out where and
when to fish or not to fish.”
VHS and stocking update
Rules designed to reduce the risk of spreading VHS are now
finalized and are statewide in nature. New exceptions do allow
anglers to re-use minnows purchased at a Wisconsin bait dealer on
the same water trip-to-trip, or even use them anywhere if no water
The DNR has received reports of fish die-offs and is
investigating each one.
“It’s probably winterkill,” Staggs said. “As far as I know, we
haven’t seen any that look VHS-like.”
Staggs said stocking has been affected some by VHS-related
revisions in hatcheries, but most of the catchable-size trout
stocking will be done well before the opener.
“We don’t see any shortfalls there,” he said. “There will be a
few less wild trout (stocked), but we’re trying to make up for that
with some more domestic trout. There will be no Great Lakes spotted
muskies stocked, and no fry stocking (of any species) due to our
inability to test them (for VHS).”
Staggs said anyone not committed to fishing a specific area on
opening day may want to check locally for an update on ice-out, and
Bill Sherer, of We Tie It Fly Shop in Boulder Junction, said
lakes went from about 20 inches of ice two weeks ago to 6 to 10
inches and “black” last week.
“I think the ice will be out, but we’re going to be behind by a
week to 10 days from traditional ice-out, and I don’t mean March,
like recent years,” he said. “The water’s going to be cold, still
high, and I think some walleyes are already spawning under the ice.
It’s happened before.”
Sherer said one decent year of snow is not going to solve what
five years of drought or near-drought conditions did to some lakes
and streams, but the slow melt likely helped replenish
“That’s a big deal as we get into the summer,” Sherer said.
He’s anticipating that perch and crappies should be active near
wood or weed structure in the shallows of Little St. Germain,
Kentuck, High, and Palmer lakes, among others, with pike ganging up
around river mouths as they enter lakes. Trout stream fishing
should also be good, he said.
Todd Tyler, of Eagle Sports in Eagle River, said the ice was
going fast last week, but was still locked in wherever there was no
“Action should be relatively good,” Tyler said. “Ice-out perch
and crappie fishing should be very good, and you’ll probably see
some pre-spawn walleyes and spawning northerns.”
Roger LaPenter, of Angler’s All in Ashland, said perch will be
spawning in the Sand Cut areas, and trout and salmon will be
chasing leftover smelt in Chequamegon Bay. Inland, the walleyes
should be in full spawn mode.
“There are some guys dodging ice (in Chequamegon Bay) that have
been catching cohos and rainbows,” LaPenter said. “Hopefully the
ice will be long gone (by the opener).”
Leon Schroeder, at North Bay Sport and Liquor in Green Lake,
said there’s been tremendous bluegill action just off shore in the
canals and ditches. He anticipates that panfish will be the primary
focus this weekend, with a few anglers trying for walleyes, bass,
and lake trout.
“Lake trout should be all right,” Schroeder said. “They could be
anywhere from shallow water to more than 100 feet this time of
Tim Landwehr, of Tight Lines Fly Fishing Company in De Pere,
said it was a tremendous spring for steelhead fishing, but now most
of his customers want to switch gears.
“The streams should be in good shape,” he said. “We should have
a great opener.”
He anticipates that Hendricksons and tan caddis flies will work
well on some waters, while leech patterns like Wooly Buggers and
Muddler Minnows may produce better in higher, colder water.
John Laimon, of Smokey’s Muskie Shop in Pewaukee, thinks fishing
is going to be good on Pewaukee and Okauchee lakes on opening day,
with bass, walleyes, muskies, pike, and panfish all available.
“The water’s clear, and the crappies and bluegills are in,” he
said. “Surface temperatures are 54 to 60, but go down 6 inches or a
foot and it’s cold.”
Gene Dellinger, of D & S Bait, Tackle and Archery in
Madison, said many walleye anglers will be out at midnight to take
advantage of every minute of opening morning.
“It’s a fair walleye bite, but it’s mostly all at night on
Mendota,” Dellinger said. “They’ll cast or troll crankbaits.”
Dellinger said there should be decent bluegill and crappie
action by day, with smallmouths taking crankbaits off points,
northerns in the dirtier water near inlets, and muskies cruising
Waubesa or Wingra.
Mississippi River-area anglers should have plenty of
“Most of the guys are fishing waters already open, but there are
some spots that don’t open (until Saturday),” said Todd Bina, of
Bob’s Bait and Tackle in La Crosse. “Fishing is excellent.
Everything is starting to go.”
Bina said crappies have been biting well, the bass and catfish
“woke up” last week, and northerns and walleyes were finishing up
On Green Bay, the smallmouth bass opener is expected to produce
some of the heavy, pre-spawn females that top out between 5 and 6
Bay and Lake Michigan trollers have had an excellent spring
trolling for brown trout, with the top 60 browns in a weekend
tournament in Door County ranging from just under 10 pounds to
The walleye runs on the Fox, Wolf, Wisconsin, and Menominee
rivers were excellent, but peak spawning took place last week and
the action quickly slowed. Size and bag limits on some of those
waters change this weekend, so be sure to check the 2008-09 fishing
Meanwhile, the muskie season remains closed until later this
month on Green Bay. Some huge trophies were hooked and released by
walleye fishermen at both Green Bay and Marinette last month.
Bass barbless hook rule
Anglers fishing for bass in the northern zone or on any other
water that has release bass fishing can’t use live bait and must
have barbless hooks – or the barbs pinched down or filed off – on
The Legislature mandated the regulation change in the 2007-09
budget bill adopted last fall.
The rule takes place from opening day through June 20, and
includes boundary waters and outlying waters, and a few lakes in
the southern zone.
For more information on catch-and-release bass waters, read
through the special regulations listed regulations pamphlet.