Wisconsin Opening Day Walleye Alternatives
Published April 10, 2007
Pam Yunker with a typical river sauger
I'm starting out this article as a risk taker. I could tell you about the conventional spring spots that include Pewaukee Lake, Lake Delavan, the Wolf River and Okauchee Lake but I'm not. I could tell you how I do very well during opening day fishing the channels and back bays of Lake Delavan for bass using plastic jerk baits. Or I could go on to tell you about the excellent success that I have had while using small lures and live bait for muskies on Pewaukee. I could even go into detail how I do well catching walleyes in and around the Wolf River. But for this article I want to share an alternative that gets you away from the masses.
One of the drawbacks of fishing the opener on popular destinations is the crowds. It's not uncommon to see over 200 boats on famous spring locations like the Wolf River when the walleyes are running. The same can be said for famous early spots like the Wisconsin Dells area on a weekend. I will guarantee you that if you are a muskie nut and plan on fishing Pewaukee Lake; you will have to get to the landing long before sunrise and will stand in line to fish some of the more popular areas of the lake. Don't get me wrong, these areas are crowded for a reason, they produce nice fish. But if you are like me, you'd prefer fishing locations that have less pressure but are still capable of producing nice fish. What I'd like to do is share one of my "secret" fishing locations with you that gets me away from the crowds. This area fits my criteria of being close enough to my Waukesha home so I can do a day trip. It also has minimal boat traffic and it produces good fish. In fact, the last time that I was there doing background surveillance for this article, a sauger was brought in that just missed being a state record. The location is Praire Du Sac in Columbia County. I can get to Praire Du Sac in a little over 1 hours from Waukesha County. I take I-94 West toward Madison and then head towards Wisconsin Dells on I-94/I-39 North. I exit on Hwy 60 and take it all the way into Praire Du Sac. Turn right after crossing the Wisconsin River Bridge on Water Street until you get to VFW Drive. Turn right and it'll take you right to the VFW landing. The landing has plenty of room for the boat traffic on this stretch of the Wisconsin River but be a little careful when launching here because the water can be a little shallow.
Some of you may be wondering why I'm telling you about a spring spot now when the walleye and sauger are done spawning. That's a good question! In my opinion, too many people abandon the river locations when our lakes open for the regular fishing season. The Praire Du Sac area has resident fish that stay in this area all season. Besides walleye and sauger, it's a great location for other species like smallmouth bass, muskie and sturgeon. Smallmouth bass up to 6 pounds can be taken from this area while catching over 30 a day. There were over 100 legal sturgeon caught during the short season last year. And reports of muskie over 50" are told in whispers by those in the know. Speaking of muskies, I had a great conversation with two conservation wardens during my last visit. These very professional and courteous gentlemen were checking fishermen for their new licenses. Warden John Buss and Travis Hilliard were a wealth of information. You could sense their pride and enthusiasm about the Praire Du Sac area. Warden John Buss reports that this area is a fragile fishery for the muskie. He acknowledged that several muskies in the 46" to 49" range were caught last year but he has concerns with the handling of fish that are released. We both hope that those in pursuit of the elusive muskie take a quick picture and release the fish unharmed. This area can turn into a great muskie fishery if we all care for the resource now. The resident fish can be large with a shocked fish measuring in at 54" but the population is small. This area has never had a stocking program and they are not a native fish. The population has developed by fish coming over the dam from Lake Wisconsin stocking program.
The Praire Du Sac area is a location where you will only see six to ten boats a day. The same walleye tactics that you use in other locations work here. Most people that I observe use a jig and minnow or cast stickbaits towards shore. It's also a great place for the shore fisherman who does not have access to a boat. Most shore fishermen use a jig and minnow, Lindy Rigs or cast shallow crankbaits. I have had good success pulling three way rigs with flies for walleye. This technique is new to this area and it's always fun to see the looks from the locals. I also catch plenty of fish trolling lures like Dave's KABOOM shiner. The minimum length limit on walleye is 18"and 15" on sauger or hybrids with a daily bag limit of 3 in total.
The fishing is outstanding and if you are looking for an area to fish later in the season when our lakes start to freeze I encourage you to head there. Eagle watching is a favorite winter pastime for many visitors to the Prairie du Sac area. The churning action at the base of the dam keeps ice from forming on the surface of the water during winter, and this exposes the fish to hungry eagles. One of the places the eagles congregate is on "Eagle Island" Many come to this area just to see the eagles.
There are a few drawbacks when fishing this area that I would like to make you aware of before heading out. This Wisconsin River location is not as large as other areas that you may fish. You will not have numerous miles of river to fish by boat. The area down river from the dam past the HWY 60 bridge becomes very shallow and is navigated by canoe or other small watercrafts. Make sure that you take your time and watch out for shallow rocks and sand bars while heading up to the dam from the boat launch. It's not treacherous but do yourself a favor and slow down and be observant especially around the sand island near the dam. The area is starting to attract tourists in the summer especially during the sturgeon season. Many fish are caught from shore where people set up tents and enjoy the pristine beauty of the area as they wait for the sturgeons to hit. Sturgeons require special regulations because they are long-lived and don't reach sexual maturity until much later in life. (13-15 years in males, 22-24 years for females), The male only spawns every two years, the female every 4 to 5 years. If you come during the sturgeon season consider practicing catch and release.
If you are looking for fishing information for this area or need live bait I would suggest stopping at Wilderness Fish and Game. They are located at 500 Water Street in Sauk City. You can reach them by phone to check on the current fishing conditions at 608-643-2433 or 800-589-8405. They also have a web site: www.wfandg.com. They have a very large assortment of hunting and fishing equipment and will be helpful in getting you ready for fishing this area.Dennis Skurulsky is the 2005 Angler of the Year for the FLW Wisconsin League. He is also a guide, tournament fisherman, presenter, and writer. His sponsors include: Mercury, Lund, Navionics, Lowrance, TrollMaster, Dave's Ka-Boom Baits, Main Marine & Ski, Amsoil, Pure Fishing, Storage Battery Systems Inc, PowerPro, Minn Kota, B & B Custom Fishing Rods and Vanguard Trailers. He can be contacted at: http://SunshineFishingAdventures.com or at [email protected]