Navigation on Lake Koshkonong and Rock River lately has been challenging bordering on dangerous.
Koshkonong is averaging less than four feet deep right now. On a very windy day, the lower unit of a large outboard motor comes perilously close to the bottom between swells.
The person who named Rock River didn’t have an outboard. Maybe the Native American name means “busted paddle.” Our hometown river has seen quantum changes since the Indianford dam was placed in the 1890s.
Many of these changes were egregious assaults on Mother Nature. Fortunately, our communal attitude for natural resources is evolving in a healthier trend than society in general.
Over the past half-century, our river has morphed from a linear sewer into the premier walleye fishery of southern Wisconsin. The Bark River hatchery is a monument to this evolution.
Catching river walleyes in less than five feet of 73 degree water is never easy. Fancy boats with amazing electronics are of little value. Success is all about knowing how to “read” the river and think like a fish.
Primal urges tell walleyes to move to habitat where they can feed easily with minimal effort without becoming lunch for the next link up the food chain.
With prevailing hydrological and environmental conditions, this means locating on the quiet side of current breaks and the downstream edge of depth contours. When the water column is just five feet, a one-foot depth change is significant!
Basic electronics might help locate sharp changes in depth. But the ability to “read” a river is of substantially greater value—and the only way to achieve this requisite for success is time on the water.
So far this month, folks I have fished with have boated in excess of 100 walleyes. A few have come from rocky current breaks. Most have come over a generally featureless hard bottom, just a long cast downstream from where a foot of water drops into about five feet.
The fish are cruising there for one reason: easy food. But when the water’s surface is dead-flat calm under a cloudless blue sky, food doesn’t come so easy. A natural presentation of a Lindy rigged jumbo leech on a floating jighead is hard for a walleye to resist, even under these tough conditions.
But with a little wind to defuse light and/or clouds overhead, bigger walleyes will feed aggressively on suspending stickbaits and Rat-L-Traps. My go-to is a ‘Trap in oxbow pattern.
Walleyes don’t get big by being stupid. They will follow lures for great distances without striking—often right up to the boat—producing a jaw-dropping response from the fisher when the lure is pulled out of the water to make another cast.
The key to hooking up is changing cadence and direction with your retrieve. When casting, get in the habit of making a “figure L” at the end of the cast, changing lure direction 90 degrees. There will be a jaw dropping response caused by a nice walleye with just three feet of line between its jaws and the rod tip.
In a trolling presentation on Koshkonong, you might try dropping down from three planer boards per angler to just one. Getting lines away from the boat is critical. But “pulsing” the lure by pulling on the rod and making rapid directional change is the way to get bit.
Using a lure that runs erratically by design (when trolling) like Rapala’s Scatter Rap is a good idea.
When casting and a big ‘ol summer cumulus cloud cover the sun, it’s time to pick up the rod with the Rat-L-Trap. Chances are the next word out of your mouth will be “net.”