Early Season Walleyes

By: Mike Mladenik


The entire Menominee Rivers offers excellent opportunities for walleye anglers. On the river there is a one fish bag limit until the first Saturday in May when the regular fishing season opens. Even with this one fish bag limit it is still worth your time spending a day on the river. March and April are prime time to catch big pre-spawn walleye and action with smaller males. If you need to take home a fish, you can take one home as long as it is over the 15-inch mark. Many anglers choose to fish in Marinette-Menominee where the Menominee Rivers enters the bay of Green Bay. While there is an excellent fishery present and big fish are caught on a daily basis, I prefer to fish the upper river. The lower Menominee River is an urban environment and while catching fish, you encounter noise, boat traffic and other congestion. Sure, you can choose to troll the big water out in the bay, but here to you don’t experience the Northwood’s or solitude, especially when you troll in a pack of boats.

I choose solitude. Sure you may catch less fish, but when fishing, enjoying your surroundings is more important than the number of fish you put in the boat. In early spring I choose to fish walleyes below one of the many dams on the upper river. As I mentioned earlier there are big fish present below these dams in the spring and few anglers take advantage of this fishery. Over the years I have caught my share of 8-10 pound walleyes.

Walleyes will start to move below the dams in late fall and early winter. By early March, water levels are low and current is minimal below most of the dams. With days becoming longer and warmer, fishing can be good by mid-March. Several years back, I managed to catch several nice walleye fishing from shore below a few of the dams even though the weather did not cooperate. I had to choose my days since we did have a few heavy snowfalls during this period.

It looked like I had things under control until the bottom dropped. We experienced a warming trend and temperatures approaching 70 degrees. The fish were biting and even getting ready to spawn. However, with the warm temperatures and frost still in the ground the snow melt had no place to run, but in the river and did the river rise. I have lived in this area for 25 years and have never seen the river this high. The feed back I received form others is that the river was probably at its highest point since the dams were built.

Shore fishing is overlooked by many anglers in the early spring. In fact, in the cold water of spring, a shore angler will often out fish the angler in a boat. Once the water levels began to rise, fishing from shore is the only safe way to fish. However, with the high water, I experienced conditions I never faced before. By adapting to these conditions I was able to catch fish and learn as well.

Keep in mind that the walleye had already come close to spawning and were in a positive mood prior to the high water. Once the water began to rise they did not head back to deep holes in the river, but instead moved tight to the shorelines avoiding the current in hoping to complete spawning. As the walleye moved to shallow water, they became fair game for the shore anglers. The bulk of the fish were stacked up in the first slack water areas downstream from the dams. These areas would have been impossible to fish let alone navigate to with the high water.

Although it was a good hike to where I located the walleyes minimal tackle was needed. My tackle box consisted of an assortment of jigs ranging in size for 1/8 ounce to 3/8 ounce, some Aberdeen hooks and split shot and a few three-inch twister tails. I did have to bring along a small minnow bucket and some fatheads and golden shiners. In the spring I rely on both types of minnows. As far as a rod goes when shore fishing I like a seven foot medium action rod to maximize my casting. My favorite is a Lamiglas XMG 50 EXS 703. I spool my reels with 8 pound Yo-Zuri Hybrid Ultra Soft.

Under a normal year, the best time to try shore angling for walleye is from early March through late April. Once walleye have completes spawning, they will move and you will fare much better by fishing from a boat. By mid April, almost all of my fishing on the river is from my boat but on occasion I will still cast a few jigs from shore.

Mike has been a Wisconsin Fishing guide for 25 years, authored several books, and has his own Television Show “Fishing with Northwood’s Guide Mike Mladenik”. Sponsors include Sylvan/Smokercraft Boats, Yamaha Outboards, Zieman Trailers, Lamiglas Rods and Peshtigo River Rentals. For more information go to his website www.bigsmallmouth.com

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