Peck: Etiquette needed on Peshtigo River
Most anglers foregathered in waters below the fish refuge on Peshtigo River earlier this week were stellar examples of wader fishing etiquette.
Newcomers to combat fishing learned acceptable behavior quickly or got their ears pinned back—literally—with an errant crankbait.
Wader fishing courtesy is easily learned: Get in line parallel to the current and cast toward mid-river at a 90-degree angle to the flow. When somebody upstream hooks a fish, get out of the way and let them play through.
If everybody follows these simple unwritten rules, 40 fishers in a 200-yard stretch of river can function with the precision of a practiced water ballet.
But if some knob shows up in hippers instead of waders five feet behind the imaginary line and starts casting at an angle beyond 88-91 degrees friendly education is sure to be forthcoming.
Walleye action on the Peshtigo will be peaking over the next few days, with zenith of the run a few miles upstream on the Menominee River about a week from now.
White bass are providing most of the action now on the Wisconsin River at Nekoosa and points downstream, on the Rock River system and over on the Mississippi.
My good friend Ron Barefield and I were hooked up to a fish about every 10th cast on the Peshtigo last Tuesday. Most walleyes were males up to 25 inches. About 60 percent of the action was provided by suckers, which are also migrating upstream to spawn right now in Wisconsin’s northern rivers.
There are so many fish swimming in the Peshtigo tailwaters right now that foul hooking is inevitable. When a hook finds a gamefish anywhere but inside the mouth the fish must be immediately and carefully released.
Over two days Barefield and I caught and released probably 15 legally hooked walleyes. We figured about one in 10 fish wrestled with was legally hooked.
During the spring walleye run, a 15-inch, one-fish-per-day limit is in effect on this river. Fishing is prohibited after dark during this period as well. Anyone with marginal casting skills can catch their limit here in less than 20 minutes.
Those folks who practice catch-and-release can catch walleyes until their arms ache for the next few days.
Lure selection is simple: firetiger pattern #13 husky jerk Rapalas and ¼-ounce Rat-L-Trap lipless vibrating crankbaits. Removing the front treble hook is a good idea to minimize snagging, both with fish and plentiful bottom structure.
Losing a $6 crankbait is never a joyful experience. Look for a kid downstream in a blaze orange float coat in an orange kayak. The kid’s name is Hunter Behringer. He’ll sell recently washed crankbaits back to you at the reasonable price of three for $10.
The next week holds serious potential for hooking the biggest walleye of your life on the Peshtigo River. The week after that it will be on the Menominee River.
These waters are less than a four-hour drive north of the City of Parks.
A tour of the Peshtigo Fire Museum in this sleepy little town is a worthwhile experience at a reasonable price. You can gaze into slightly stained waters of Peshtigo River at the dam for free, but the experience may cause mental anguish.
Barefield has been guiding the Madison chain for more 25 years. Last summer he guided in Alaska. He has seen more fish than most fish biologists in the course of a lifetime.
But the spectacle in the fish refuge below the Peshtigo dam left a lasting impression. Fanning in the shallow waters was a huge sturgeon with roughly the dimensions of the fabled German pocket battleship Graf Spee, surrounded by more 30-inch walleyes than he could count.
If it weren’t for restrictive walleye harvest guidelines during the spawning period, the Peshtigo Fire Museum would be the only show in town. Certainly something to think about if you’re heading out for white bass on Lake Koshkonong this weekend.
Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at email@example.com.
Last updated: 11:50 pm Saturday, April 15, 2017