By: Dave Duwe
Since opening day for gamefish in Wisconsin is first Saturday in May and still a few weeks away, all my attention is on hitting the lake for some for the hot panfish action. Being early in the spring boat traffic is relatively low, which makes any outing much more relaxing.
April and May are actually great times of year to catch fish. The fish can be very active in their pre-spawn locations. On sunny days, the warming water makes the panfish bite better. The panfish I target are the bluegills and the crappies.
In spring I tend to find the active bluegills in less than 3 feet of water. I will search for the warmest water in the lake. I choose locations like the backs of bays or channels and I look for soft muddy bottoms as they seem to hold more fish compared to harder sand bottoms, this is because the softer bottom holds more water warmth. The softer bottom also contains more vegetation which provides food and shelter for the bluegills. On some occasions it can be hard to find the bigger bluegills, they tend to move a lot depending on the weather. The prime locations don’t seem to change from year to year, so if you found them in a particular spot last year, there’s a good chance that they’ll be back this year.
This time of year, the preferred bait is leaf worms or waxworms. I will use a small Thill fixed spring bobber and an ice jig. I like a tear drop or Lindy Fat Boy. A tear drop provides a vertical presentation, while the Fat Boy presents the bait in a horizontal manner. By presenting the bait in two different dimensions, it doubles your chances of catching the fish. You want to use the smallest bobber you can get away with that will keep your bait off bottom. When fishing really shallow water, your bobber will seldom go under. The slightest movement or twitch indicates the fish has bit and that’s when you need to set the hook.
The water clarity in spring is usually some of the clearest water of the year. I choose to use no larger than 4 lb test Trilene. My rod and reel choice is an ultra light in a 6 ft length with a Mitchell Advocet reel.
Like the bluegills, crappies are also in a pre-spawn stage. In spring I usually find the crappies much deeper than bluegills. I start looking for them in 6-8 feet of water in the emerging weed flats. They have a tendency to be very nomadic and are truly a bite that is here today and gone tomorrow. Due to the fact that I am fishing for them in weeds, a bobber is almost always a necessity. To eliminate the bobber would mean you have to move the bait too fast to keep it out of the weeds. With this depth of water, I will choose a Thill slip- bobber with either a small fat head minnow or small plastic fished beneath. Crappies do suspend in the water column so you will need to adjust your presentation to the mood of the fish. I like to start about 1 foot to 18 inches above the weed growth. I will use the same rod and reel combination that I use for bluegills.
Clear water again makes it challenging, I have found that long casts are a must so the fish don’t get spooked. Keep moving to find a feeding school of fish. Because these crappies are pre-spawn they can be very big so keep a small net handy.
Some good fishing can be had on many Southeastern Wisconsin lakes. My favorites are Lauderdale Lakes and Delavan Lake, both in Walworth County and Fox Lake in Dodge County.
Remember to practice catch and release on the bigger panfish, they have not spawned yet and are the future of our resource. For guide trips Call Dave Duwe 262-728-8063.