Dealing with Tough Conditions

Having logged 38 years of guiding experience, I have learned to be ready for the unexpected, and have a few fail-safe destinations.

After a record snowfall and late ice-out, it was a tough call when I hit the water in 2019. When the Wisconsin fishing season opened on May 4th, the Menominee River was high and the water was cold. Making matters worse, a cold front passed the previous day and the forecast was for brisk northwest winds.

I knew that to offer my clients a quality experience, I would have to reach into my bag of trips. All I needed to do was to find the warmest available water, shelter from the high winds, and of course, a school of aggressive fish. I told my clients that I had a place that had never failed me in the early season.

Our destination was one of the Menominee River flowages. Smallmouth bass were the primary target, but that particular flowage sports a healthy population of northern pike, walleyes and crappies. It also has plenty of shallow, stained water, which can warm considerably on a sunny day. The sun is your friend when fishing cold water in spring. Water that seems void of fish in the morning can see a transformation by midday as the water warms a few degrees.

Swimbaits are always my first choice when searching for pre-spawn smallmouths, but they also are great for northern pike and walleyes. My clients tied on Case Lil Magic Swims rigged on 1/8-ounce jigheads. I spooled my baitcaster with 12-pound Seaguar InvizX Fluorocarbon. InvizX is soft, supple and castable with superior sensitivity. It is virtually invisible, with advanced hook-setting power. If you prefer a spinning rod, spool your reel with 8-pound InvizX. My choice for a fishing rod is a 6-foot, 6-inch or a 7-foot, medium-action Grandt rod.

We fished points, rocky shorelines, wood and shallow bays, picking up isolated smallmouth bass. Although we did not find concentrations of fish, the quality of the fish we caught was excellent. One of my clients caught a chunky smallmouth that measured over 20 inches, with a few more pushing 19 inches.

With the smallmouth action being sporadic I suggested that since the water had warmed four degrees since we started fishing, it was time to move into the shallows. It was a good move, as we spent the rest of the day catching northern pike, walleyes, largemouth bass and crappies, along with a few more smallmouths. While we did not break any records, we ended up with a mixed bag and an enjoyable day on the water. Not a bad way to start the 2019 season.

Again, my hotspot did not fail me. If the wind would have subsided a bit, the water would have warmed faster, and we would have had a banner day. Just imagine how great the action would have been that day under good conditions.

A few days later, I met my clients at Popps Resort and headed out on High Falls Flowage for a combination smallmouth and walleye trip. Typical of early May, we were hit with another cold front, and with the water temperature a cold 51 and walleyes in post-spawn, it would be a tough bite. The good news was that the forecast called for sunny skies and light winds, which would raise the water temperature during the day and activate smallmouth bass.

After launching the boat, we headed for the north end of the flowage, and I positioned my boat on the edge of a rock ledge that dropped from 7 to 16 feet of water. Post-spawn walleyes were stacked up like cordwood tight to the bottom, but as expected, the bite was tough. Our 1/8-ounce lead head jigs tipped with a fathead minnow triggered a few bites, and we boated a few walleyes over 15 inches, along with several smaller ones. Things were looking good, but the walleyes got lockjaw, and we made a move to a shoreline point. We marked plenty of fish on the locator, but only managed one legal-sized walleye.

By 10:00 am, the water temperature warmed to 55 degrees, and it was smallmouth time. I rigged my clients’ rods up with Case Lil Magic Swimbaits, and it did not take long to find active fish. We continued to fish points and rocky shorelines, ending the day with 27 smallmouths and four hitting the 20-inch mark. All of the smallmouths were caught with Case Lil Magic Swims. We never gave it a thought to try another lure.

It is important to pay attention to how a swimbait looks when reeled at various speeds. Some baits don’t swim well at extremely slow speeds. Others roll or blow out at high speeds. Weight and rigging also affect a swimbaits’ action, so if it looks a little funky at first, you might simply need to reduce or increase the weight, or try a hook or jig head of a different size. Most ribbed-bodied swimbaits with square tails, like the Case Magic Swim, are effective at a variety of speeds and are the best choice for finicky smallmouths.

Nothing was normal in 2019, but by adapting to the conditions, we enjoyed good fishing. One thing is for sure: Regardless of the conditions in 2020, I will be on the water and catching fish!