Anglers warm up to cold waters
DELAVAN--Fish stories don't necessarily require catching fish. But many anglers across the Stateline will begin pursuit of the latter in order to tell the former as Wisconsin's inland fishing season starts Saturday, May 6.
Veteran guide Dave Duwe said opening weekend is like Christmas for fishing enthusiasts. And as a gift, he and other experts offer their best tips and locations for filling a live well or stringer while creating more memories.
Ted Peck is an outdoor columnist for the Janesville Gazette. He said that early in the season he recommends heavily working docks, wood pilings, logs and weed beds — anywhere in less than 5 feet of water.
“On opening weekend and early in the season, you want to be where the warmest water is, and the northern shores of lakes get the sun longer,” Peck said.
As for baits, Peck said two stand out for panfish, regardless of whether your prey is perch in Williams Bay or crappies in Delavan Lake — the black 1/80th ounce jig-fly called the Bimbo Skunk and the orange with chartreuse stripe 1/32nd ounce Perchanator, which he designed about a year ago.
“They've been tearing 'em up on Lake Geneva and everywhere else,” Peck said about the Perchanator. “You want to use a pencil float and put the bait 2 to 3 feet under the bobber and just pitch it near a dock or some wood … it just waffles down. I've never seen a better search bait.”
Peck also is a huge fan of the chrome blue Rat-L-Trap, a lure that can tease multiple species into biting, which could include Lake Koshkonong, a body of water that features largemouth and smallmouth bass, northern pike, walleye, catfish and muskie.
Peck said the warm spring has the fishing cycle about two weeks ahead of the usual schedule, and that includes the Rock River, an extremely busy waterway that is higher because of frequent spring rains this year.
“Catfish are an obvious draw,” Peck said. “So, Sonny's Dip Bait is always a good choice. But the main thing is that fish don't want to fight the faster current, so they'll also be concentrated tight up against the bank, especially where there's a harder bottom.”
Duwe has been a fishing guide for 25 years, specializing in Walworth County's top producers.
Geneva Lake is the county's largest and deepest lake, facts that sometimes don't help early in the season.
“The water is still cold and the fish are not very active,” he said. “Most of the smallmouth bass are caught suspended, not associating with structure. They are actively chasing baitfish pods near their spawning flats. The best presentation is Rapala's Husky Jerks or Kalins grubs fished on a darter head. Most of the largemouth bass activity is related to shallow water, with areas like Trinke's and Abbey Harbor being good choices. I like using All-Terrain Stiks in green pumpkin color or a plastic worm Texas-rigged.
“Panfish should be biting in 4 to 6 feet of water,” Duwe added. “Yellow perch will be the most active and biting on small minnows or wax worms. The larger bluegills will be in the warmer shallows around emerging weeds and shallow structure. The best presentation is Thill slip bobbers with Lindy's Toad ice jigs. I prefer using wax or leaf worms. My favorite bluegill spots are Abbey Harbor, Geneva Bay near the library or by the South Shore Club.”
Anglers also could find the going tough on Delavan Lake because of its popularity. However, he offered advice should area residents take their chances.
“Walleye will be hard to catch,” he said. “In early May, they are in shallow water in the thick weeds … in clear water they are easily spooked. I really only try them using slip bobbers and flathead minnows. I suggest working the 10- to 12-foot depth range. Night or low-light conditions produce the most fish. Trolling shallow-diving crankbaits typically produces the most fish.”
In contrast, Duwe said panfish hauls have been frequent.
“Crappie fishing this spring has been fantastic,” Duwe said. “People have been catching a lot of fish in the 8- to 12-inch range. The best location is in front of Lake Lawn Resort in 5 to 12 feet of water. I prefer using plastics, mini-mites or small Twister tails. A lot of fish can be caught using small minnows fished off slip bobbers. Look for the fish by Brown's Channel or by the island on the west end of the lake.
“Largemouth bass are cruising the shallows,” he said. “Fish are in 2 to 4 feet of water. I like fishing the outlet area of the channels. I use floating worms or All-Terrain Stiks. With the water temperature at 55 degrees, they aren't spawning yet.”
Duwe emphasizes that Walworth County features many more hot fishing spots that shouldn't be ignored, especially on such a big weekend.
“There are many smaller lakes that offer great opportunities and most of them receive a lot less pressure than the two highly publicized lakes,” Duwe said. “Lake Como, Whitewater Lake, Turtle Lake and Lake Beulah have great fishing. All four have good largemouth bass and northern fishing. I like these lakes because they warm up faster in the spring, which makes fish more active. I prefer working shallow, emerging weeds in 3 to 5 feet of water with a white spinner bait and an All-Terrain Stik tied on.
“But to really get away from the crowd, check out some of the creeks in the area,” Duwe added. “Turtle Creek has smallmouth and panfish along with a lot of rough fish, which can be just as fun to catch, and you don't need a boat. Shore anglers are welcome to fish in the town of Delavan's Community Park for a small fee. The Kettle Moraine State Forest also has great shore opportunities on and near Whitewater Lake.”
Rock County doesn't possess the quantity and diversity of waterways, but it offers plenty of quality fishing nonetheless.
Shawn McCarten, 56, is a lifetime fisherman who competed on the professional bass tour for three years and has worked at dozens of sportsman's shows across the Midwest as an instructor.
He and his wife, Marci, are starting their fifth summer as owners of It's A Keeper Bait & Tackle near the Monterey Dam in Janesville.
“Many people love going to northern Wisconsin, which has great fishing and is gorgeous, but I believe one of the best fishing systems in the state is the Madison chain, especially for panfish,” said McCarten, who has guided on Delavan Lake and the Lauderdale lakes for panfish, bass and northern. “We're blessed with great fishing within an hour's drive of here.”
Naturally, he has an affinity for the Rock River as a topnotch fish producer.
“Perch fishing has been incredible in Janesville,” McCarten said. “The Rock River is an incredible fishery, from near the dam and this whole stretch, really all the way into Illinois, whether it's walleye, northern, bluegills, perch or crappies. The main thing is fishing the current breaks or eddies, anywhere that you have structure such as a tree or piles of boulders, and off small points.”
He said his shop has been busy all spring, and he doesn't see business slowing down.
“We've had a lot of people from Milwaukee and Illinois,” he said. “Catfishing has been busy, and it's a great family activity because they're easy to catch. Me and Marci always are encouraging people to get out, especially the kids, who are our next generation, involved with fishing.”