Anglers set out across Wisconsin in search of walleye
Dozens of anglers soaked in the glory of fisherman's heaven last week on the Peshtigo River.
It had been years since all the scaly stars lined up in harmonic convergence for me in the frenetic hours of the spring walleye run on this Green Bay tributary. If you spend enough time on the water, eventually you hit the mother lode.
There are few places in the Midwest where so many walleyes concentrate in such a small area at the peak of spawning. The Fox River at De Pere is certainly one such mecca. Walleye nuts camp here by the hundreds waiting for the blessed event.
The Peshtigo run is much harder to predict. Word spreads like the Peshtigo fire through the angling community when the run begins. If your response time isn't comparable to the Janesville Fire Department, the experience will be mostly stories and smoke.
On Monday, the water temperature here warmed to 46 degrees. Those foregathered hooked up on about every fifth cast until fishing hours ended at sunset. There were about two dozen of us standing thigh deep in chilly water a few hours later waiting for the show to begin at dawn.
Catching a fish on the first cast is seldom a good omen. This time, a feisty walleye on the line nine out of the first 10 tosses whispered it was going to be a very good day. I caught at least 90 fish—maybe 100—before numb extremities and agonizing back spasms forced retreat from the water to a large stone on the river bank.
Nobody reads this column to discover where you should have been fishing last week. The Peshtigo run is a reliable harbinger of action yet to come. Grab your waders and a good supply of firetiger Thundersticks and head northeast the minute you finish this column.
I fished the Menominee River four times last week for you. I was in a prime spot, but the action was only one fish in every 25 casts at best.
Only about 20 percent of male walleyes that slurped in the Thunderstick were milting. All the females here still had hard bellies in the 41-degree water.
No trophy fish found my hooks on either river in four hard days of fishing. On both the Peshtigo and the Menominee, the biggest females, which agreed to tussle, were just shy of 28 inches.
A 30-inch walleye is considered a trophy fish among walleye anglers. A fish this long will weigh just north of 10 pounds just prior to spawning, losing up to a third of her body weight after dropping her eggs.
When you catch such a fish, you truly hold the future of the resource in your hands. Unfortunately, human nature has forced the DNR to establish a one-fish bag limit on the Peshtigo and Menominee until spawning is completed.
A 25-inch female probably carries more viable eggs than a 30-inch female that is probably 12-14 years old. On last week's fishin' mission, I caught and carefully released a couple dozen fish from 25-28 inches. No trophies—but plenty of thrills.
Last Wednesday, I fished with Capt. Josh Berken of Fishin' Addiction guide service. Berken and I started on the Peshtigo. Every female walleye that ate an Echotail or Kalin grub had a slack belly, indicating the most demanding drive in her life had been realized.
Our biggest fish that morning was just longer than 27 inches. We put Berken's Lund Tyee on the trailer just before noon and headed for the Menominee in search of a trophy.
Conventional wisdom says such a fish should be staged in Green Bay near the river's mouth waiting for a taste of warming water to move inland. On Wednesday, Green Bay was still iced over from Marinette to the Door County shoreline across the bay.
We went back up into the river where water temperatures were 41-42 degrees and wrestled with male walleyes near Stephenson Island.
If you get up there soon and fish upstream from the Highway 41 bridge between the marginal boat ramp and big riffle, standing under the power lines and casting a Thunderstick toward the church door across the river in Menominee, Mich., you should hook up.
Those with misguided priorities who don't get on the water until opening weekend will have to settle for postspawn female walleyes sliding back down toward Green Bay a little higher in the water column.
The smallmouth run will just be getting started then on the Oconto, Pensaukee, Suamico and Peshtigo rivers.
Willie Nelson will be blaring from my truck's CD player: “On the Road Again.”
Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at email@example.com.