A typical week of spring like weather engulfed the area, causing some major changes to the local water ways. Lake Winnebago is essentially open water, with some ice still floating on the surface especially along the north shore of the lake. Extreme caution is advised if venturing on the main lake with a boat, as residue ice and debris is common. This is a very early ice out for this lake. On the Winnebago system, all of the main rivers (Fox and Wolf) are essentially ice free, and starting to see a lot of boat traffic.
Water flow in all NE Wisconsin Rivers is meager this season. Low snowfall during the winter, and the extremely dry spring have contributed to this condition. As a result, the prespawn and spawning activities of area fish has been altered, creating inconsistency from typical yearly spawning runs. Anglers need to step out of the traditional angling methods and locations to capitalize on the unique situation in 2015.
Area feeder creeks, usually full of bluegills and crappies, remain vacant of fishermen as the low water levels have hinder migration of fish into these areas.
The Wolf River, especially near Fremont, has been extremely active for male walleyes. Females have been less common to date. The abundant year class of 2013 walleyes is showing off, with many fish in the 13-15 inch range being caught. Jig and minnows are the preferred bait presentations in this region.
On Friday, the water temps reached 48 degrees in New London on the Wolf River. This indicates that the spawn is likely occurring now, and it is evident by reports of spawned out females being caught in this area. With the low water conditions, traditional marsh spawning locations may be out of play this year.
The main focal point of area anglers remains in DePere and Green Bay, WI on the Upper Fox River.
The Upper Fox River has no gates open at the dam, and water flow here is also extremely low. As a result, walleyes have not been staged near the dam in huge numbers, as in years past. There are definitely some fish near the Dam and island especially at night; but I suspect many of the larger females have been laying on the flats spawning, rather than the traditional location at the dam in the turbulent water.
Anglers have focused on the deep holes in the rivers. The holes continue to produce male walleyes and an occasional female. Jig and minnows are great for those locations; Additionally, Echotails (Vibration Baits) and hair jigs have been extremely productive. (SwampDonkey Bait sells Echotails right at the Voyageur Park Launch).
News Flash (Sarcasm): Anglers can fish past the HWY 172 overpass. We have found the best walleyes of the year between the HWY 172 Bridge and the mouth of the River. It appears the females are spawning well before reaching the 172 bridge (or spending very little time at the dam), and then resting in the shallows post spawn. Examining many of the females caught, they have few “bruises” on them from spawning.
On Friday we netted 25 walleyes over 25” in less than five hours. Only one of these was caught near the dam. Just about every fish came from the 6-12 foot ranges. White based crank baits were the key to success. Approximately 60% of the females caught were spawned out.
University Bay (Bay of Green Bay) has had reports of some bigger walleyes being caught also.
Overall, I would not expect a big “intense run” of fish in 2015, but rather a drawn out spawning process on the Winnebago system. The other side of the equation is that the walleyes don’t have the “Jet Stream” (heavy current) to push them back home. I would expect a slow trickle of fish (and late arriving fish) to Lake Winnebago, unless we have some heavy rain. Many may remain in the upper lakes for an extended period, assuming there is enough forage.
In the Milwaukee Harbor, the salmon and trout runs have been hindered by clear water, another side effect of the dry spring.
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