Anglers across southern Wisconsin have trouble accepting the realization that the unofficial back nine of summer begins tomorrow.

This has been a tough year so far on Lake Delavan and the Madison chain. Panfish are the only legal target before the official opener the first Saturday in May, with harvest getting progressively easier as fish move shoreward to spawn around Memorial Day.

Winter’s refusal to let go bumped the usual order of things back at least a month—some folks say six weeks. High-water conditions this year across the state get part of the blame for serving hot dogs at traditional summer fish frys.

Ultra-clear water caused by zebra mussels is another ready excuse, especially on Lake Mendota, where typical summer green on the surface floats on water that is almost Lake Geneva clear underneath.

Fishers quickly migrate toward the easiest bite.

This year, Lake Koshkonong has been a regional magnet. A report that Baraboo was vacant over the 4th with all the retired carnies and circus folk camping at Newville could not be confirmed by press time; however, there was clearly evidence of more plain-clothes clowns out on the water this past weekend than most years.

If the limited water access on “Kosh” banned four-wheel-drive vehicles and elephants towing boat trailers it would have been downright peaceful out there.

DNR statistics indicate 54 percent of those fishing the wide spot in the Rock River are targeting walleyes. Walleye fishing has always been better here during years when water levels remain high.

Not only is this structure-challenged basin lake several feet above “normal” this year, it has grown more than 100 acres in size during the past 20 years—from 10,400 acres listed in the 1995 Wisconsin Lakes book published by the DNR.

When I first started fishing this Rock-Jefferson boundary water back in the mid-1970s, it was a deplorable cesspool where carp were king.

Walleye fishing improved by the mid-80s. The winter of 1987 was a shameful lesson on what can happen when big female walleyes go home in a bucket instead of being released.

Recruitment—the population of young of year fingerlings—varies wildly in lakes that are essentially river systems. Intensive stocking of fingerlings and fry from the Bark River hatchery facility beginning in 2002 provided the foundation that the DNR has continued to build on this century.

We now have a bona fide treasure in Janesville’s backyard lake and the estimated 36 miles of Rock River flowing from above Koshkonong through the City of Parks to the Illinois state line.

The case can be made that our lake is on a par with Lake Winnebago, long touted as a regional “walleye factory” on an acre-by-acre basis.

DNR creel surveys indicate both catch and harvest are above almost all Wisconsin lakes on Koshkonong. Those who have fished here since Richard Nixon was president are still haunted by ghosts from the winter of ’87.

Armchair fish biologists have come up with several strategies to protect from overharvest. Bona fide biologist Travis Motl presented hard facts at informational meetings just prior to the spring hearings.

Since then there has been a strong push to include Koshkonong downstream to the Indianford dam with the other 133 waters statewide where a three-walleye/18-inch minimum is proposed for next year. This proposal is now working its way through the government bureaucracy.

Modeling indicates a 25-percent increase in pounds of fish harvested over current rules if the 3/18 proposal is established. Right now the historic recruitment from 2013 has grown to the 15-inch “keeper” length.

It’s your call. The future of fishing is in your hands. The Fourth of July weekend is a perfect time to reflect on our American freedoms. I would rather keep one 18-incher than a pair of 15-inchers for a meal.

Pass the tartar sauce, please. God bless America!

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Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at tedpeck@acegroup.cc

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