Walleyes to be had at Wisconsin Governor’s Fishing Opener despite delayed ice-out
Chetek, Wis. — All anglers have done it; fishing partners launching boats and then traveling to the other side of the lake when some of the best action can be found within a couple of cast lengths of the landing.
That was the case during the 53rd annual Wisconsin Governor’s Fishing Opener sponsored by Wisconsin Indian Head Country, Inc., on Saturday, May 5, for one boat captained by Kyle Tyree, of Spooner.
Tyree, a volunteer guide for the event, took his two assigned fishermen to the Chetek chain in Barron County. With Tyree were Mike Eisele of Westmont, Ill., and this writer.
Tyree started from Gilligan’s Resort on Pokegama Lake, where Mike Eisele said that a narrows under a nearby bridge looked like it might be a good spot to fish for walleyes.
But what does he know?
Tyree motored north through several narrows in the eastern finger of the lake into Ojaski Lake where he set up for walleyes and crappies, using jig and minnow combinations. When that didn’t yield any hits, he trolled Rapalas.
While the fish didn’t bite, the visitors were stunned to see the evidence of a tornado that went across the northern edge of the lake May 16, 2017. The storm was on the ground for more than 80 miles and besides devastating mobile homes and cottages, tore down many trees.
Tyree motored back southward where the reporter boated the first fish, a small perch that hit a jig and minnow. Tyree continued backtracking, working back toward where he first began, thinking the mid-morning warmth and sunlight might make the bridge near a public launch worth a try.
That was the secret to the day’s success, as the rest of the morning walleye after walleye came out of that spot.
The end result. Tyree and Mike Eisele ended up each keeping a walleye just longer than the 15-inch size limit, and another walleye just more than 19 inches, but under the 20-inch slot limit. Because the lake is in the ceded territory, DNR regulations allow anglers to keep three walleyes per day. Those fish must be 15 inches or longer, but no walleyes from 20 to 24 inches may be kept. Only one fish longer than 24 inches may be kept.
The afternoon turned into a real scorcher, as temperatures reached 76 degrees. The water temperature hit 56 degrees, even though ice had only left the lake the Tuesday before the opener.
DNR fish biologist Aaron Cole said the Chetek chain (Ojaski, Pokegama, Chetek, Moose Ear, and Prairie lakes) has some of the best fishing in the area.
“The bluegill and crappie fishery is the main attraction here. They are nice – 7- to 9-inch bluegills and 8- to 12-inch crappies and perch,” Cole said.
The walleye fishery does depend on stocked fish. The local DNR fisheries crew is surveying the Chetek chain this spring. They set fyke nets at ice-out and in two days captured, marked, and released 775 adult walleyes in Prairie and Pokegama. Cole estimated that the walleye spawn peaked the Thursday before the fishing opener.
The DNR backs up fyke netting efforts with electro-fishing shoreline surveys. That catch rate – and the comparison of fin-clipped fish to unmarked fish – is folded into the fyke netting data to reach a walleye population estimate.
Cole said that bass up to 18 and 20 inches are in the chain, along with pike surpassing 40 inches.
Tyree works in sales for John Deere but fishes as often as he can and has turned his fishing into an adventure that he shares with the public through posts on YouTube under “Wisconsin Fisherman.”
“My dream is of having my own fishing and hunting TV show,” he said. “I don’t guide for money, but I like to take people fishing and share with people who can’t fish.”
He loves crappie fishing, and he usually uses a slip bobber or a small jig tipped with a crappie minnow in about 8 to 10 feet of water in the spring, especially off points of land or around trees that have fallen into the water.
His largest crappie measured 16 inches.
“I love to get out and fish,” Tyree said.
Other fishermen reported good catches, unlike recent years when cold weather and wind slowed the opening day bite.
The event’s contest winners included: Scott Richert, of Kiel, with a 191⁄2-inch walleye of 3 pounds, 51⁄2 ounces; Steve Kaner, of Hayward, with at 191⁄4-inch largemouth of 5 pounds, 21⁄2 ounces; and Bruce Schuelke, of Stone Lake, with a 263⁄4-inch pike at 6 pounds, 41⁄2 ounces.
State officials who attended the Wisconsin Governor’s Fishing Opener included Department of Tourism Secretary Stepahnie Klett, DNR Secretary Dan Meyer, and Gov. Scott Walker.
Klett said the state will introducing two new TV tourism commercials this year.
Meyer said he mostly enjoys fishing for crappies. He usually spends opening day with his son back in Eagle River, where Meyer lives. Meyer said that with the opening of fishing season “cash registers will be ringing and there will be a big influx of people into the north.”
Meyer said the DNR plans to stock about 882,000 walleyes in lakes this year as a continuation of Walker’s Wisconsin Walleye Initiative program.
Walker said the state has topped the $20.6 million mark for tourism. Last year Wisconsin had an estimated 110 million visits from tourists.
Walker estimated this accounts for more than 195,000 jobs, some of which are seasonal.
Speaking of Meyer, Walker said, “This is a guy who takes hunting and fishing seriously. Our previous secretary was great, very supportive, but Dan’s got it in his DNA,” Walker said, referring to previous DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp.
He said fishing isn’t something that Meyer “just talks about,” but he actually does it.
Walker said that his Wisconsin Walleye Initiative was the only thing he has ever introduced that got support from every lawmaker, whether Republican or Democrat.
He said that the DNR put together a great plan that got important buy-in from the private sector of hatcheries and tribal representative that will result in improved walleye fishing down the road.
Walker fished on Saturday, May 5, until noon, but didn’t catch any walleyes.