Fishing information on bass, walleye, muskie, pike and other fresh water fish.
Fishing information on bass, walleye, muskie, pike and other fresh water fish. Fishing information on bass, walleye, muskie, pike and other fresh water fish.
Fishing information on bass, walleye, muskie, pike and other fresh water fish.

Gary Engberg

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Gary Engberg - River Currents - Spring Shore Fishing on the Madison Chain of Lakes

Copyright Gary Engberg Outdoors 2012

 Bluegill Joe Kegonsa. This month, some of the year's best shore fishing is at the fingertips of local anglers. Many of these fishermen and women don't have a boat and look forward to shore fishing. Springtime is a great time to fish from shore because most of the local fish species are in relatively shallow water less than 10-12 feet deep. This time of year and into May, most fish are within a cast of the shoreline and often in only a few feet of water. The Madison Chain of Lakes has a very distinct weed line which attracts and holds most fish species this time of the season.

Most fish are now in shallow water because they are coming out of the cold water of winter (this winter was much warmer than usual) and are actively seeking the warmer water which should have food from early hatches for their growing appetites. The shallow and warmer water gets the food chain in motion with these early bug and insect hatches which attract smaller bait fish which will bring in the larger, predator fish. This is one of the best times of the year to fish for crappies and bluegills from shore in the "Chain Lakes" and also to fish the Wisconsin River for post-spawn walleyes and saugers. This is also wonderful time to take the children fishing because the panfish are shallow and usually easy to catch. Remember, children just need to have the fish active to have a good time. The size of the fishor what species they are is not important to the kids, just regular action.

Crappie caught by Bob Zownir of Madison, Wisconsin. The areas that I'm fishing regularly and guiding on are the Madison Chain (Lakes Waubesa, Monona, Wabesa, Kegonsa, and Wingra) and the Wisconsin River from the Wisconsin Dells to Spring Green. All of these waters have areas where you may fish from shore or public piers and have consistent action. Fifty degrees seems to be the magic temperature for when panfish become active and invade the shallow's searching for food. Water temperature can vary greatly this time of year and the shallow water temperature can rise dramatically on a sunny day. Fish actively seek out these warmer areas where the water is calm. Lake water, just a few degrees warmer, is all that is needed to attract crappies and bluegills.

Good locations is one of the most important factors in finding these pre-spawn panfish. The areas to concentrate on include "spots" that are warm, quiet, and calm. These places are away from the main body of the lake. Some examples of this kind of location are; secluded bays, canals, feeder creeks, and backwaters or sloughs. If any of these spots have a mud or dark bottom and some wood and brush, so much the better. These locations warm up quicker and hold warmth longer with their dark bottoms and scattered wood. Think of these areas as solar collectors for the crappies and bluegills, who are actively looking for the lake's warmest locations.

Close-up of crappie . Remember too, that crappies love wood! When available, look for crappies and bluegills to a lesser extent, around and near trees, stumps, brush, downed timber, wood piers, and boat hoists. The wood warms up quicker by absorbing the spring sunshine. As I mentioned earlier, the adjacent water warms up quicker and helps to get the food chain in motion. The warmer water allows the microscopic plankton to emerge and attract the baitfish which brings in the crappies, bluegills, and other game fish.

Another early tip is to fish the shoreline that gets the most sunlight because it will be warmer. Having a south wind blowing warmer water back into secluded and quiet bays is another key element for early season success.

The Madison Lakes have many of the key ingredients that you need to catch fish during the pre-spawn period. Lake Mendota has numerous feeder creeks that run into the lake and regularly hold early season panfish. Some of the better feeder creeks include; Six Mile Creek, Pheasant Branch Creek, and the mouth of the Yahara River. Dingles Bay, University Bay, Spring Harbor, Warner Bay, and it's lagoons, and Marshall Park are spots where the water is usually quiet and calm with wooden piers and brush for cover. I highly recommend these areas!

Bob Zownir with a crappie caught using a Rocket Bobber. Lakes Monona, Waubesa, Wingra, and Kegonsa all contain emerging weeds and rocks that will attract crappies and bluegills who can't find any wood. Slack water and calm areas that have moss-covered rocks will also have crappies and bluegills because the rocks will hold warmth and warm the surrounding waters quicker. Basically, anywhere that there is food and comfort can and will hold early season panfish.

The best technique's for catching early season panfish is to downsize your fishing line to 4 pound monofilament and or try Berkley's fluorocarbon, Vanish Transition, which is invisible under water. Most ice fishing jigs tipped with a couple of wax worms works when fished under a slip float. Another technique which catches fish is to fish a small jig, like a Bait Rigs Cobra jig, again tipped with waxies, small pieces of plastic or small grub tails under a float. Sometimes for crappies, I'll use a small jig with a small crappie minnow under a float and slowly work the rig back to shore. The float that I recommend is the "Rocket Bobber" which allows you to cast farther than any other float that I've used. For success, I suggest that you use and have available, a few different kinds of bait, an assortment of jigs in different colors and sizes, and assorted colors and styles of plastics for early panfish success.

All of the lakes in the Madison Chain are good choices for early season panfish. Try the locations that I've recommended and don't be afraid to contact me for suggestions and tips in this early fishing season.

Guide Wally Banfi with 2 nice spring crappies. The Wisconsin River spring walleye and sauger spawn is basically finished. The spawned out females should start biting in earnest soon after a slight "resting" period following their spring spawning ritual. The male walleyes should still be hanging around the spawning grounds for a few weeks more and provide good action and a few keepers. Try to fish the low light periods either early or late in the day when there is a good chance that the walleyes will be in shallow water feeding. Jigs and minnows, jigs and plastics, and hair jigs work well in the river in the spring. The river's current gives added life to these baits without working your baits too aggressively. The river's current gives added action to your bait. The water will still be cold, so work your jigs, rigs, and crankbaits very slowly because fish won't chase bait very far this time of the year. Casting, twitching, and slowly retrieving crankbaits like the Rapala Husky Jerkbait or Mann's Minus 1 crankbait in black/white, blue/white, and chartreuse work well in water less than 10 feet deep in the spring. Try casting parallel to shore sometimes, instead of straight out from you. Fish locations that are a mile or two below the dams at Wisconsin Dells and Prairie Du Sac, since the walleyes will be dropping back down river for the summer.

Have fun, be safe, and take your kids with you for this early season bonanza. If you don't have kids, then borrow your neighbors or take a senior fishing!

For more fishing articles visit

Gary Engberg Outdoors
P.O. Box 92
Sauk City, WI 53583
608 795-4208

Host of Outdoor Horizons on 1670-WTDY, Saturday's 8:00am-8:30am
Fishing information on bass, walleye, muskie, pike and other fresh water fish.
Fishing information on bass, walleye, muskie, pike and other fresh water fish.
Fishing information on bass, walleye, muskie, pike and other fresh water fish.
Fishing information on bass, walleye, muskie, pike and other fresh water fish.

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