Gary Engberg/For Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com
As the summer warms, so does the water in the lakes. Weeds are now constantly growing and many area lakes have algae blooms that smell and make fishing no fun because you constantly have to clean vegetation off your line and equipment.
There comes a time during the summer when the fishing gets difficult on most inland lakes around Sauk Prairie and much of Wisconsin. Sometimes, I wonder if fish getting 'lock-jaw' is more than just a myth! Once we get into June and July, anglers have a couple of choices: fish early in the day and get off the water before the sun rises in the sky, fish at night for fish that feed nocturnally (bass, walleyes, muskies, and crappies to name a few) or fish rivers where fish arenít affected as much with the day to day weather. Fronts and barometric changes donít seem to affect river fish nearly as much as lake fish. River fish have to feed every day just to maintain their body weight in the riverís constant flowing current.
I would recommend a fishing and float trip down the Lower Wisconsin River this summer and especially during hot weather because if you get warm you can motor up to a sand bar and jump in the river for an instant cooling. The Lower Wisconsin River starts below the last dam on the river at the twin cities of Prairie du Sac and Sauk City. The Wisconsin River flows dam free from these Sauk County towns to its confluence with the Mississippi River 90 miles downriver. Thereís some great fishing and wonderful scenery in this stretch of river with little if any competition and few people fishing or even canoeing.
There is little water in this stretch of the river that is deeper than 10 feet deep. Thereís a deep scour hole below the Prairie du Sac Dam with water close to 40 feet deep, but this is a rarity and is near the dam where high spring water has caused the deep ďscourĒ hole. Depth is a relative thing on the Wisconsin River. The stained water and current flow allow fish to live comfortably in this shallow and well oxygenated water. The water temperature can get close to 80 degrees, but it still is refreshing during the sunny days of summer.
The water in the Lower Wisconsin Riverway isnít made for big V hull walleye boats or even bass boats. The Lower Wisconsin River is made for canoes, small fishing boats, and flat-bottomed Jon boats. A twenty horsepower Mercury outboard is more than sufficient for navigating this wide and shallow river. Mercury Marine makes a four-stroke jet engine that is the ďticketĒ when combined with a Sea Ark, Alumacraft, or Tracker Jon boat. The jet engine allows you to travel at full speed in only a foot of water. The Mercury four-stroke jet engine is a dream for river anglers coming in 40 and 60 horsepower models!
My ideal river boat would be a 17 foot wide Jon boat made by Sea Ark and others with a wide beam, a Mercury 40 horsepower jet engine, a Minn Kota bow or transom trolling motor with at least 70-80 ponds thrust, two Anchormate anchors for the front and rear, and Lowrance electronics. You need plenty of power in your trolling motors because running against the current can quickly use up your battery power. The anchors are for holding your boat in any position that you may need for fishing. Two anchors prevent you from swinging. The Lowrance LCD electronics come in handy in the deeper water, but when you are less than 4 or 5 feet your view is limited by the riverís flow and clutter from your boats motor.
The Lower Wisconsin River is full of fish, but being able to get at them is half the battle. The fish species that are present and in good numbers include walleye, sauger, northern pike, muskie, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, channel catfish, flathead catfish, sturgeon, perch, white bass, bluegills, crappies and many species of rough fish. On any given day, you may catch 8 to 10 different species of fish. This is what makes a fishing outing on the Wisconsin River so much fun! You never know what is pulling on the end of your line! Iíve had days when itís possible to fish for hours and not catch the same species of fish twice when the fishing is good.
The best methods for fishing in the warmer months are trolling, casting crankbaits, and fishing live bait close and near any structure such as; downed timber, islands, rock bars, and anything that breaks the current and gives the river fish something to hide behind. These current breaks allow the fish to conserve their energy in the river and not be constantly eating just to maintain their weight.
When trolling, I find that a speed from one to two mph is best. But, sometimes fish want something faster, so trolling at and above two mph will often trigger reaction bites. For gear, I use a 7- to 7 1/2-foot G. Loomis casting rod with an Ambassador 6500 c-3 bait casting reel spooled with 12 pound Berkley Trilene monofilament. I let out enough line to allow my crank baits to bump the bottom and bounce off the rocks or other structure. Some of the best crankbaits are; Shad Raps, Wally Divers, Flicker Shads, and Mannís Minus 5ís. Hot colors include; black/chrome, blue/chrome, shad, firetiger, and orange.
Trolling both up and down the river will catch fish. The important thing to remember is to have your crankbait running straight or true and regularly bumping the bottom and any structure. Test your crankbait along side the boat to make sure that itís running straight and if it isnít, tune it by turning the eyelet on the bill of the bait. As I said before, increasing your speed will sometimes trigger fish to bite and also try to troll in an S pattern, so that your crankbaits will pick up speed and slow down as you turn.
Live bait will always catch fish in the Wisconsin River, so you should have an assortment of bait and keep them cool and fresh in the summer. Drifting a three-way rig with a nightcrawler will catch most fish species. Try anchoring above snags and log jams for big catfish and possibly a trophy walleye. The hardest thing is finding some deeper water and keeping your boat off the sand bars. The fish are there and waiting!
There are good boat landings in Sauk City and the Wilderness Fish and Game store has about everything an angler could want including great live bait and quality fishing information from their experienced staff. There is a nice boat landing on Highway Y just west of Sauk City and a few miles out of town. Next to the boat landing is a canoe rental operation, Black Hawk River Runs at 608-643-6724.
Sauk City has everything else that you good want; good food, gas, bait, and motels. If you donít have a small boat, a canoe can be rented from Black Hawk River Runs or one of the other rental operations. One can rent a canoe, float the river, fish, and camp for a day or two while enjoying the fishing and beautiful scenery that the Lower Wisconsin River offers.
One last thing to remember, besides a valid fishing license, is that walleyes must be 18 inches to be legal and saugers need to be 15 inches and the daily bag limit is three fish of any combination. I suggest picking up a Wisconsin Rules and Regulations booklet when you buy your bait. If you make your outing during the week, there is little if any boat traffic and you can have the river to yourself. Have fun, catch some fish, and enjoy the beauty that this region of Wisconsin has to offer!
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.