Wisconsin may be on a “Stay at Home mandate” from the Governor for Covid-19, but area waterways are jammed packed with anglers maintaining social distancing measures.
Both the Fox River and Wolf rivers have seen overflowing parking lots at the launch and strong walleye catch rates in the rivers.
Fox River – Green Bay area
The Fox River has been jammed packed with anglers on the water around the clock. At times, there have been more boats on the water in the evening than during the day.
Currently, water conditions are variable, with rainfall impacting the water clarity. My most recent trip (3.27.20) had clarity at about 8”, with some pockets of clearer water. Over the last ten days, water clarity has ranged from 2 inches to 2 feet.
The rain occurring over the weekend will have a further impact on clarity. With some rainfall earlier in the week, the water current has also picked up in the river but is near normal for this time of the year. Water temps have slowly risen but are hovering in the 40-41-degree range.
Walleyes have been filtering into the river in anticipation of the spawn, with more female walleyes starting to show up in the final mile of the river before the De Pere Dam.
Males have been in the river for many weeks and have had substantial numbers. While we are still not at the peak of the season, there is a good mix of males and females. All the fish we caught are pre-spawn.
Boat traffic and sunlight have been critical components to the location of the walleyes. While there is always walleye in the main river channel, at times, the bigger walleyes have moved up to the feeding flats in reduced boat traffic periods. In intense sunlight periods, they will also move into the shallow sandy flats, looking for warmer water or the following of bait. In heavy boat traffic or cloudy days, the walleyes have tended to move to the deeper holes.
Whitefish, carp, musky are also in the mix. Carp have been very shallow, while the whitefish have been associated with deeper water, especially near the deep hole at the dam. Catfish have also been common, notably near the Hwy. 172 bridge.
Tactics – Come prepared. There can be hourly shifts in tactics and preferences. The plastics bite has been healthy, generally in natural colors, purple or chartreuse.
General size preference is about 3-4 inches. Paddle tails, split tails, and curly-tailed plastics have had great success. Slow the presentations down on horizontal retrieves. 3/8 oz or ¼ oz jigs are the most used sizes this week.
Blade baits have been excellent, cast onto the shallow flats, or jigged vertically. Live bait is out producing plastics slightly. In dirty water, try anchoring and pumping the bait back to the boat very slowly or eliminate the pump and slowly drag back to the boat.
Trolling has been steady at night. Trolling into the river current at .8 mph has been the best presentation we have found. Larger stick baits have had much more success at night than shad shaped lures. I can’t say any pattern emerged on color to date, but darker shades in the evening seem to be outproducing bright colors. Ultimately, these are reaction bites, and colors don’t seem to be relevant right now.
The dam has been busy with anglers casting cranks, but the number of walleyes at the dam has been down to date. Next week could be outstanding if water temps come up a few degrees.
Just a note: Game wardens have been policing this area very heavily. Make sure your boat registrations are up to date, and you are compliant with fishing regulations!
Lake Winnebago, Fox River, and Wolf River.
My focus has been and will remain in the Green Bay area for the next several weeks (pending the Coronavirus situation). However, the Winnebago system has been busy, especially on the Fox River in Oshkosh, and I am passing along some information from reliable sources on the Winnebago system.
The final days of the five-walleye bag limit have drawn anglers to fill the freezer before the WI-DNR change (down to 3 walleyes per day on the Winnebago System starting on April 1, 2020).
Since March 23, the water temperatures have jumped from 32 degrees to just over 41 degrees.
Both rivers continue to rise, and the Wolf River is above flood stage. The Wolf River is no wake currently, with Outagamie, Waupaca, Winnebago Counties under flood warnings. The flood stage is 9.0 feet. The river is expected to crest at 10.1 feet or higher in New London, WI, before the weekend rain.
Lake Winnebago is about 30-50% ice-covered yet, with the ice sheet getting pushed around by the wind. By next weekend, most of the ice will likely be gone.
Overall, the bite has been very good for small to average-sized walleyes all the way through the system. Minnows and jigs are dominant. A ¼ oz jig seemed to be the right choice for anglers, but 3/8 oz. were required in some locations. Many of the walleyes being caught are about 12-15”, with a few females mixed in reaching the mid-20” range. Pulling flies is also having success.
The perch run has not started to date.
Did you get a new fishing license? They expire on March 31!
Covid-19 update: Outdoor activities are still being encouraged by the State of Wisconsin if social distance standards can be maintained (3.29.20). Guides have been shut down in Wisconsin as a non-essential business.
Be safe! Just a note: This report is not a statement of if you should/(not) be fishing in the state of Wisconsin. It merely reflects conditions. Every individual must decide what is right for them and their communities, and their actions and consequences are their own. Government regulations may change at a moment’s notice, so please be aware of changing conditions due to Covid-19.