The spring river run
By Ben Gruber
Snow is melting, and rain is in the forecast, which for fishermen signal a change in seasons. Ice fishing is done.
While there may still be ice on local waters that looks good, it is not. Especially on any flowages, increased flow in means increased current, and the ice deteriorates from the bottom up, leaving very dangerous ice that looks good. Open water is still a ways away though, so what are we to do?
Good news: That increase in runoff does not just erode the ice. It also signals to many fish that it is time to spawn. Those same flowages that are covered in unsafe ice have a river or stream that feeds into them. Fish, like walleyes, are beginning their spring “run,” where they swim upstream to spawn.
If there is a dam upstream of a flowage, this is a spot where fish obviously stack up. Deep pools and cover below these dams can be productive as well once the ice opens up farther downstream. The smaller male fish will show up first, and some have been below the dams for a few weeks already. Soon the big females will follow. If you do go and target these spawning walleyes, please consider releasing those big females so they may keep spawning.
A fancy boat is not required for this fishing. These fish are often accessible from shore. My favorite technique is to wear my waders and use my kayak to reach places where I can wade that would be otherwise inaccessible by walking from public access.
My favorite baits for the spring walleye run are the old standby of a jig head with a plastic tail sometimes tipped with live bait or a Rapala. Either of these baits will entice a walleye. I tend to use the jig more simply because they are cheap, and I tend to lose a lot of them.
When wading, I will cast out into deep water upstream. If possible, I would prefer to pull the jig back down with the current towards me. Often that is not possible this time of year with the heavy currents, and I end up getting snagged a lot.
The other culprit of lost baits is the muskies that tend to hang out in the same areas right now. The season is closed, but they do not know that. If you catch one, make sure to handle it gently, and return it to the water as soon as possible. Two years ago, I went out early in a snowstorm hoping to catch a few walleyes, and the only four fish I caught were muskies.
The Wisconsin River has many dams nearby that will hold fish. Stevens Point, Wausau, Wisconsin Rapids, and Nekoosa are all likely spots. The Eau Pleine River has a few potentials as well, and often even smaller rivers and streams will get some spring run fish coming up them. I was out Sunday to my local favorite, and the water was running high, fast, and cold. Fishing should pick up significantly over the next few weeks.
Good luck, and get out there. You do not need to sit around waiting for summer to fish.
Ben Gruber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.