Sunset on the Wisconsin River. / Gary Engberg/For Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com
Itís the second week of July and after a spring that was below normal with cool temperatures and copious amounts of precipitation, summer is finally here in the Lower Wisconsin Riverway.
Last summer was a tough one for most people with agricultural crops and vegetation suffering. Temperatures were in the 90s much of the summer and the rainfall was way below normal causing drought conditions in much of the state and particularly the southern third of Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin River was at the lowest level that Iíve seen it in many years. There were locations where you could even walk across the river. Navigating the Wisconsin River was difficult if you didnít 'know' the river and even then there were spots that made fishing and canoeing difficult. Canoes, kayaks and tubes were about the only means of transportation where you didnít have to get out and pull your vessel over the sand and rock.
Last summer was one of the toughest years that Iíve spent on the Wisconsin River. The lack of rainfall made it difficult on all vegetation: gardens, flowers, trees and shrubs had a tough time unless you watered regularly. This is why Iíll never complain about getting too much rainfall (as many people have said this year when we got more that our share of rain).
You can still drive around the area and see many trees that didnít make through last summerís drought. After receiving inches of rain a few weeks ago, the weather is back to what summertime should be. Believe it or not, after all of the spring and early summer rainfall, we now could use more.
I planted some trees over the weekend and there is dry dirt and sand only inches below the surface. If you drive around Dane, Sauk, Iowa and Columbia Counties youíll see crops, gardens, trees and bushes that look green and lush.
Crops that didnít get flooded early on are looking very good, but as of this writing, we'd gone over a week without any rainfall which we need regularly for vegetation to grow and produce their bounty. Much of the soil around the Wisconsin River is sandy and absorbs moisture quickly. We need to receive at least an inch of rain every week just to maintain water levels and keep our vegetation growing.
This spring, the Wisconsin River was at a high or above normal level for as long a period as I can remember! Iíve seen the River at higher levels, but not at a consistent high level for such a prolonged period of time. The high water prevented people and canoe/kayak businesses from renting because the high water was dangerous and there were not any sand bars and places to camp.
You may call Alliant Energy at 1-(800)-242-1077 to see what the flow on the Wisconsin River is that day you plan to fish or paddle. The flow from the Prairie du Sac dam was above normal for most of May and June with gates open and allowing the water to flow downstream to the Mississippi River.
Since the beginning of July things have changed and are back to normal on the water. The traffic on the river was quiet on the Fourth of July, but that may have been due to the holiday falling during the week. This past weekend the Wisconsin River was full of people using the river for all kinds of outdoor recreation. There were canoes, kayaks, tubes, and boats enjoying the refreshing waters of the river.
Fishermen have been lucky to have deeper water than last summer which has allowed many anglers to get out and enjoy the wonderful fishing that we have in our backyards. The Wisconsin River has receded and the current flow has gone down allowing anglers a slow enough flow to fish and still have access to most if not all of the riverís water.
Normally, flat-bottomed boats with jet engines are the way to go on the river if you want to have access to all of the riverís hot-spots. This year, even V-hull boats have had water high enough to fish and travel. The Wisconsin River is going down now and if you plan an outing or fishing trip, make sure that you check the riverís level and flow.
Iím lucky enough to be able to get out and enjoy the river most days and Iím amazed that on some weekdays I donít even see another boat or canoe. The Lower Wisconsin Riverway is one of the most underutilized rivers in the state. There is so much natural beauty to enjoy and the Wisconsin River is only 30 minutes from the state capital.
Folks can enjoy this magnificent body of water that runs almost 85 miles from the Prairie Dam to the Mississippi River. Last week while fishing, I saw eagles, ospreys, many species of songbirds, beavers, deer, and turtles not to mention the abundant wildflowers. If you like to take photos, this is a place to go and enjoy the beauty. There are now sandbars to camp on and this will most likely continue the rest of the summer. If youíre looking for a great get-away then this is the place to go.
The fishing has been good with walleyes, saugers, smallmouth, catfish, and now a good muskie population providing action. You can fish most any way that you want from fly fishing, jigging, casting, trolling and live bait fishing. All these methods will catch fish and itís not unusual to catch 7 or 8 species in an afternoon. This is a wonderful place to fish, camp, canoe, and at the end of the day cook yourself a shore lunch from the fish youíve caught.
Live bait always catches fish, but artificial bait works too.
The Wisconsin River is a great place to go and itís close enough to many cities and towns where the gas you have to buy wonít break the bank just getting there! Everything you could possibly want is close by and very accessible.
The water level is down, the fishing is good, and the costs are reasonable. Be sure to check the rules and regulations (like no glass containers, styrofoam or fireworks on the river) and if you plan to fish make sure to have a valid fishing license.
Make the Wisconsin River the site of your next outdoor outing and Iím sure that youíll return for more memories!
Gary Engberg is a professional tournament angler, fishing guide, and writer. He began fishing tournaments in the early 1990ís and has fished the In-Fisherman Professional Walleye Trail (PWT), North American Walleye Association (NAWA), Masters Walleye Circuit (MWC), World Walleye Association (WWA), FLW, and Mercury Nationals in the years since. Gary has hosted the Outdoor Horizons radio show weekly for 14 years in Madison on WTDY 1670 AM and WTDY 106.7 FM Saturdays at 8:05 am. and is also a correspondent for the Wisconsin State Journal for the last 12 years. Visit http://www.garyengbergoutdoors.com for more from Gary Engberg.