Sac Dam on the Wisconsin River at Sauk Prairie is a very popular location for spring anglers. There can be as many as 100 boats directly below the dam in the tailrace area fishing for ‘eyes on a nice spring day. A vast majority of the boats will be within a hundred yards of the main dam. Fish are regularly caught here, but a majority will be the smaller males that were earlier mentioned in this article. There are almost 90 miles of river from the Prairie du Sac Dam to its confluence with the Mississippi River at Prairie du Chien. The point is this, there are countless places below the dam and many miles downriver where female walleyes will stage and eventually spawn when they find suitable water and structure. Some of these locations never get ANY fishing pressure! Access can be a problem in some locations, but it’s possible to fish many miles below most of the dams in the Midwest and find quality walleyes and saugers. Though, many nice fish are caught close to dams, there are some larger and less-pressured fish many miles downriver. An angler may not catch as many walleyes or saugers, but the quality will be much better. Many anglers have problems with river fishing because they are fishing in water that is moving with current. If you remember a few of the things mentioned here, your river fishing will dramatically improve. River fish constantly have to fight the river’s current. A considerable amount of energy is used up fighting this current, so river walleyes will use any type of structure to try and break the river’s flow. This is how river walleyes conserve their energy. The current-blocking structures can change from river to river, but things to look for include; wing dams, wood, fallen trees, boulders, rock piles, islands, bridges, river bends, humps, and depressions in the river’s bottom. All of these “structures” break the river’s flow and allow the walleyes to wait and ambush any food that passes or floats by them while still conserving their energy for the rigors of spawning. A river walleye or sauger must eat everyday just to maintain their body weight. These locations are located up and down all rivers, so the wise angler should try heading downriver when looking for these holding and staging areas instead of motoring to the dam and its tailrace locations. It may take some experimentation, but if you take your time and remember some of the walleye behavior mentioned earlier, you should be able to find fish. Once you learn to “read” the river, finding fish in the spring becomes much easier and you’ll never fish in a fleet or pack of boats again! Finding fish is the hard part, while catching them is much easier. The best tackle for spring walleyes is the basic jig and minnow, a jig and plastic, or any combination of the two. Try using 8 # monofilament, like Berkley Trilene XT in green, to match the color of the stained water that you’ll encounter in most rivers. Monofilament is more forgiving and a little line stretch is needed for the many snags that you’ll find in most rivers. I used to use 6 # mono, but through the years I’ve found that the 8 # mono is just as good and allows you to lose fewer jigs and pull out of many more snags. Have a good assortment of jigs in different sizes, colors, and shapes to experiment with and see what the walleyes prefer the day that you’re on the water. There are many jigs now made for river fishing that have a flatter head and cut the current better allowing you to use a lighter jig while still maintaining bottom contact. Colors can change regularly, so keep trying different hues till you find what the fish want that day. Plastics (try Berkley Gulp, Power Bait, or the plastics made by Kalins and Walleye Assassin’s) can be deadly during the spring, when used alone or dressed with a medium or large fathead minnow. If the fish are biting lightly, you may want to try adding a stinger hook to your jig.
Another rig that works early in the year is the basic “plain Jane” rig which consists of a good quality hook, a bead above the hook for attraction, a split shot, and a lively fathead minnow. You can cast this rig and slowly retrieve it along the bottom or put it in a rod holder and let it sit on the bottom of the river. There are days when this simple rig will catch a majority of the walleyes or saugers. So, always have a rod rigged this way especially if you’re fishing a state like Wisconsin, which allows multiple rods. Wading this time of year can also be very effective as can slipping the current in a boat while vertical jigging. Try to fish the low light periods of the day (early AM or just before and after sunset) when fish move shallow to feed. Big female walleyes will often move shallow to feed after dark or during the night depending on the moon phase. Fan casting shallow water with a crankbait (Mann’s Jerkbait or Rapala Husky Jerk) in natural colors (black/white, perch, or blue/white) is also worth trying in the spring. Use a stop-n-go retrieve while twitching the bait now and then. What ever presentation you use, be sure to use a VERY SLOW retrieve because the fish are not going to chase your bait when the water is cold. By cold, I mean water temperatures in the upper 30’s and into the 40’s. If fishing from a boat, slip the current or slowly drift downriver while vertical jigging. Keep your line as vertical as possible, so that you can feel the light tap or tick of a walleye and the river’s bottom. The walleyes are always close to the bottom, so tap it gently as you move downriver. If you’re jig isn’t fished vertically, then you have little chance of “feeling” the walleye and catching them! Also, vary your jigging cadence till you find what the walleyes like and want. Some days, walleyes like a little rhythmic cadence in your jigging while other days they prefer a minnow on a “dead” rod without you giving any motion. Remember, that the natural current in any river will give your bait motion without you doing a thing. Besides the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers, there’s also the Wolf, Fox, Rock, Crayfish, Baraboo, Black, and Pecatonica Rivers in Wisconsin that contain walleyes and or saugers that are very catchable during this early spring spawning period. Rivers in Wisconsin are open to fishing for walleyes and saugers year-round. All of the techniques, tactics, and methods mentioned in this article can be applied to all rivers throughout the Upper Midwest. Now’s the time to get on a river and experience this great spring ritual. Gary’s “plain Jane” jig & minnow rig...it works E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org Web site: http://www.garyengbergoutdoors. com