Wisconsin River guide knows where to bag big bluegills
Revealing more than the vaguest details on fishing hotspots close to home is always a source of personal angst. Most Wisconsin fishers have high standards of outdoor ethics.
Unfortunately, a few resource pigs lurk in the shadows for the slightest scent of a fishery or hunting resource to exploit until only the bones—and probably a pile of trash—remains.
These are the guys who wear their “I got mine” T-shirts under camo vests, taking but never giving, usually with a skill set that makes them extremely efficient predators. Too bad they all can’t be blinded like Saul until they see the light.
The DNR doesn’t help matters, allowing a panfish limit far too liberal as the default setting that guides us all.
That said, let me tell you about a spot just up the road that now holds an incredible population of bluegills. These fish are not dinks. Nobody wants to monkey with dinks. I’m talking “Bluegill-a Gorilla” and his broad-shouldered older brothers.
There are several reasons why these fish have grown to humongous dimensions and prospered. First, they live right where you would expect gorillas to live: in the jungle.
These fish are extremely tight on woody structure in a stretch of the Wisconsin River that holds more wood than water.
Second, their haunt is literally between the cracks, hiding at the juncture of pages 42 and 43 and 51 and 52 of DeLorme’s Wisconsin Atlas & Gazetteer, the most valuable map reference for outdoors types available today.
Third, a bumper bluegill-year class in the Wisconsin River that entered the ecosystem three years ago is dominating water where they can quickly duck into cover after slurping in a quick meal to grow even bigger.
Outstanding guide Jesse Quale knows this water better than just about anybody. Quale has a well-deserved reputation for consistently putting a variety of fish species in the boat or on the ice from both Castle Rock and Petenwell flowages.
The jungle that “Bluegill-a Gorilla” and his 10-inch big brothers call home isn’t on either of these flowages. It is in between them: the neck of the Wisconsin River between the boat launch off Highway 21 and trestle at the north end of Castle Rock flowage about two miles downstream.
The channel through this flowing jungle is somewhat marked with a buoy line augmented with milk jugs tied to defiant snags at places in the channel. Don’t trust your outboard’s lower unit to these navigational aids.
Catching giant fish sandwiches means leaving the dubious safety of the channel behind and easing toward the tangle of timber on the leading edge of small islands and inside river bends.
Fish are hiding here, where quiet waters meld with current, holding in 2 to 10 feet of water. The best way to get after them is dipping and flipping a 1/16 oz. Northland Weed Weasel jig with a redworm within inches of the woody structure.
Don’t be surprised if your offering triggers a smallmouth bass, walleye or northern pike. They are hiding in these structures, too.
Bright colored jigs work best in these stained Wisconsin River waters. Bright orange and two-tone chartreuse are Quale’s weapons of choice.
If Wisconsin ever wises up and makes a 10-bluegill limit the law of the land, you could expect to come away from the water here with a sack of fish weighing 8 to 9 pounds.
Finding ground zero in a copse of mostly unseen trees is a run-and-gun operation. If time is of the essence and money isn’t an issue, you might want to hire Quale, using his boat and expertise to cleave the jungle and capture “Bluegill-a Gorilla,” the orange-breasted beast.
Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.