With the unseasonably warm March and cool April, all attention has turned to hitting the lakes for some open water fishing. With gamefish season closed, my fish of choice is panfish. The opening day for gamefish in Wisconsin is the first Saturday in May.
April and May is actually a great time to fish. The weather can be quite comfortable and the boat traffic is much less than in summer. In addition, the fish can be very active in pre-spawn location. The fish of choice for me 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, the softer bottom holds more water warmth. The softer bottom also contains more vegetation, which provides both 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 do not seem to change from year to year, so if you found them in a particular spot last year, there is a good chance that they will 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 teardrop or Lindy Fat Boy. A teardrop 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 shallow water, your bobber will seldom go under. The slightest movement or twitch indicates the fish has bit and that is 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 Silver Thread. My rod and reel choice is an ultralight in a 6 ft length with a Mitchell Advocet Reel.
Bluegills are pre-spawn and can be very vulnerable this time of year, so be careful not to over harvest and keep only what you will eat.
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. Because I am fishing for them in weeds, a bobber is usually 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 fathead minnow or small plastic fished beneath the water. 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 necessary so the fish do not 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 opportunity is on many Southeastern Wisconsin lakes. My favorites are Tripp Lake and Delavan Lake, both in Walworth County and Fox Lake in Dodge County.
With winter behind us, it is time to get the boat out and spend some time on spring pan fishing.