Regardless of your thoughts on climate change, our recent brutal winter and roller coaster weather ride towards meteorological spring had little impact—if any—on the walleye spawning run in the Rock River.
My fishing diary says there have only been a handful of times over the past 40 years that marble eyes didn’t make their annual procreation push on the Rock within three days of April 1st. In a column which ran a few weeks back, the possibility that 45-degree water temperature, moon phase and a couple of other factors might push peak spawn back 10 days was addressed.
Peak spawn might have been a couple days beyond the 72-hour traditional window, but the band was at least warming up within this time frame. Exceptionally high water made the fish a little harder to locate in places beyond the obvious spots: areas within 300 yards below dams.
With water temperatures near or at least tickling 50 degrees now, walleyes are sliding back down river from whence they came at a more leisurely pace and are generally higher in the water column.
Many anglers are so hard-wired into a pattern of catching walleyes with bottom dragging presentations like jigs and rigs that they don’t put hooks in the water several feet higher in the water column where many of these fish are holding.
Crankbaits like 300 series Bandits, Salmo Hornets, No. 5 Flicker Shads, shad Raps and the new Bill Lewis MR-6 trolled at slow speed against the current work well when these fish go post spawn. Don’t be surprised if your lures find white bass which are just beginning to move upstream as walleyes slide down.
Koshkonong is the most productive area for trolling the Rock, but necked-down spots like the area just upstream also give up fish, especially with a noisy search bait like the Rat-L-Trap. A ½ oz. ‘Trap tracks about 3 to 5 feet beneath the surface with a long cast and slow retrieve presentation.
Water clarity in the river is still roily. Throwing a lure with a rattle chamber helps fish find your hooks. The Rock has also dropped substantially in the last week. A lure which tracks 5-6 feet down is right in the ball park.
Water levels have been goofy on the Wisconsin River system recently, especially in tailwaters of the Castle Rock Dam, where water was held back in anticipation of high water coming downstream in a bigger push.
Walleyes are done spawning on the lower Wisconsin and over on the Mississippi where water levels remain outrageously high and will remain so through April, as many waters in the northern part of our state and Minnesota are still covered with a couple feet of ice. Yellow perch are now spawning on the Mississippi, but persistent flood conditions make it difficult to launch a boat and get after ‘em.
The big walleye push hasn’t started yet on the Peshtigo and Menominee rivers in northeast Wisconsin. Data I’ve collected over the years says April 20 is a good time to be on the Peshtigo, with a hot bite coming on the Menominee, seven miles north, 3-4 days later.
A No. 9 firetiger pattern Thunderstick is deadly on walleyes for wading anglers on both these fisheries. You’ll probably snag more suckers than legally hook walleyes. Foul-hooked gamefish must be released immediately.
Removing the front and even the middle treble hook cuts down on snagging both fish and lure-stealing bottom structure.
The Pestigo run falls right in the middle of Wisconsin’s first turkey hunting period which kicks off this Wednesday. Gobblers have been in full and glorious strut over the past week on those sunny days which felt a lot like late May.
We’ve also seen a couple of days which feel more like December in this time frame. Is this climate change or just Spring weather? Rock River walleyes did their thing real close to April Fool’s day again this year.
This is all that matters to a walleye chaser.