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Gary Engberg - River Currents - Fish Lake Mendota's Deep Water for Fall Walleyes
Lake Mendota is one of south-central Wisconsin's premier fishing lakes despite being a metro lake bordering Madison, the state capital. Being so close
to the University of Wisconsin and the state DNR headquarters, Lake Mendota has had many different studies and research projects done on its waters
over the years. The lake is 9,842 acres with a maximum depth of 83 feet which is deep by most lake standards in Wisconsin. The average depth is about
35 feet and 70% of the lake's area is greater than 20 feet deep. The lake is a drainage lake with the major inlets being the Yahara River on the north
end, Sixmile Creek also on the north end, and Pheasant Branch Creek on the west end of the lake. The Yahara River's outlet is on the southeast side
and flows into Lake Monona.
The shoreline is entirely upland except for the areas around the Yahara River inlet which is marsh and lowland. Although the shoreline has high banks and is
highly developed, there are numerous public parks and boat landings surrounding Lake Mendota for anglers and those who'd like to camp while fishing for a
day or two. The lakes bottom is mostly sand and gravel with some large rock areas and muck in most of the lakes bays.
Lake Mendota's water is very fertile and stained or off color. The clarity of the water changes with the extent of the annual algae bloom. The algae blooms
are very cyclical and are influenced by city and country run-off and water temperature. The most common weeds present are coontail, water celery, Eurasian
milfoil, and various kinds of pond weed. There's a well-defined weed line which starts at about 10 to 12 feet. You can also find a deep water weed line
where you'll find sand grass in water 20 feet deep and sometimes even deeper. The weed line depth varies with the amount of algae bloom, which affects
the depth of light penetration and the corresponding weed growth.
The Lake Mendota fishery is varied with most northern water species present and in good numbers. The walleye population has increased due to heavy stocking
by the DNR, but fishery personnel are always worried about overexploitation by anglers. Lake Mendota has a minimum size of 18 inches and daily limit of
three fish a day which has helped the walleye numbers bounce back. Biologists have said that a harvest of 35% is needed to maintain a healthy fishery
without any stocking. But, angler harvest was 60% in the early 1990's and in some previous years. The larger size minimum and reduced bag numbers have
helped the walleye population and allowed them a year or two of added growth time.
The other fish species that is thriving in Lake Mendota is the smallmouth bass. Their natural reproduction is very good and their numbers and size seem
to be increasing each and every year. The smallmouth bass, the walleye, and the northern pike are all doing well in most local waters and one day the DNR
may not have to rely on stocking for many of the Madison Chain's fish. Though this may never happen, Lake Mendota has the size, depth, structure, and
forage to support a thriving fishery and hopefully one that can provide some natural reproduction in future years.
The fall walleye locations are basically the same as they are in the springtime. I suggest that you fish early or late in the day for best results. But as the
fall progresses and the lake waters cool, so you can get on the water by mid-morning and still have good day of fishing. After the fall's turnover, walleyes
are usually found in deep water, ranging in depths from 25 to 40 feet and over the many rock bars and locations with a hard bottom. Steep breaks, deep water
bars, and points can all hold fish this time of the year. Live bait rigs and jigs tipped with minnows (red tail chubs if you can find them) worked slowly
across the bottom is very effective this time of the year. Use large minnows this time of the year because walleyes and particularly big walleyes want
a "meal" not a snack as they bulk up before the hard water period of winter. You can also catch walleyes on Lake Mendota by trolling, but this time
of the year, like the spring, I prefer jigging and live-bait rigging for my walleyes!
Pike begin to move to weedy flats and shoreline points late in August. By October, there is a movement of pike to deep water until ice-up, when they move shallower
again. As water temperatures fall in October, smallmouth move to slightly shallower water (12 to 15 feet) and increase their feeding activity. Then, as fall moves
toward winter, smallmouth move deeper and become basically inactive.
The deeper rock bars on Lake Mendota like; Dunn's Bar, Brearly Street Bar, Picnic Point, Second Point, the Maple Bluff shoreline, Fox Bluff Point, and the deep structure
off Governors Island all have deep water areas which will hold walleyes in the fall. Drag and jig a 1/4 ounce jig in orange, chartreuse, green, or black up and down the
steep breaks and drop-offs. Mid to late November is the time when the big walleyes are going on a major feeding binge to bulk up for the winter. Remember to use the
largest and best quality minnows that you can find and lip hook the bait thru both lips from the lower lip to the top lip. Then, slowly work or drag your jig/minnow
across the bottom and up and down the drop-offs. The key is a slow presentation!
As I write this article, Lake Mendota still has water temperatures in the 60's. The water temperature has to drop and the lake must turn-over before the big girls (walleyes)
start biting and getting active. This is a body of water that gets better as the fall progresses and the temperatures drop. So, mark your maps for good locations, dress
properly, and slowly work the deep water drop-offs and structure for fall's bounty of trophy walleyes.
Guides and contacts:
D and S Bait (608) 242-4225
Tony Puccio (608) 845-5410
Wally Banfi (608) 644-9823
Gary Engberg (608) 795-4208
Ron Barefield (608)-838-8756
Lee Tauchen (608)-444-2180
For more fishing articles visit www.garyengbergoutdoors.com
Gary Engberg Outdoors
P.O. Box 92
Sauk City, WI 53583
Host of Outdoor Horizons on 1670-WTDY, Saturday's 8:00am-8:30am