Walleye outlook promises action
Written by Appleton Post-Crescent   
Monday, 19 March 2007 10:52

Will this be a spring river walleye season characterized as "flush and rush"? Anglers await weather's answer. By nearly every measure, excellent walleye fishing opportunities should be available on the Fox, Wolf and Wisconsin rivers in coming weeks as fish move upstream to spawn.

"The rate that snow melts is going to have a huge impact on fishing conditions," said Scott Ironside, Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist at Adams-Friendship.

There is a substantial, moist snow base in the northern and central counties. If the snow melts rapidly, runoff will quickly raise river levels to flood stage, sending ice and debris downstream, creating hazardous boating conditions.

"If we get rain at the same time, it could add to the problem," Ironside said.

A slow, gradual snow melt keeps river flows tolerable, anglers more comfortable and the walleye accessible.

"When river flows rise, the fish are still there. It's just more difficult to find them," Ironside said.

There is a 15-inch minimum size and a five-fish daily walleye bag limit on the Wisconsin River system. Walleye from 20 to 28 inches are protected and must be released, though one fish longer than 28 inches may be kept.

Anglers on the Wisconsin River can expect to encounter plenty of 14-inch male walleye, an annual situation that can be frustrating for fishermen but reflects positively on the waterway.

"We never seem to have a poor walleye spawning year," Ironside said, "so every year we have good numbers of male walleyes entering the spawning scene.

"Despite what some anglers may think, they are not catching the same 14-inch walleye every year."

Imposition of the slot-size restriction appears to have improved walleye reproduction and angler catch rates for 15-inch plus walleye on the Wisconsin River system, he said.

Kendall Kamke, DNR fisheries biologist for the Lake Winnebago system, said walleye began staging by early March in Winnebago and associated lakes in preparation for moving up the Wolf and Fox rivers.

"How far upstream the walleyes go depends on river flows," he said.

Walleye spawning in the Wolf and upper Fox rivers are unique in that they tend to spawn in flooded, grassy marshland instead of the species' traditional egg-laying sites containing rock or gravel substrate.

When spring flows are high, many low-lying areas provide spawning sites downstream of New London. When flows are low, walleye often travel further upstream to spawn in gravel areas below the Shawano Dam, Kamke said.

There is no minimum size restriction on walleye taken from the Lake Winnebago-Wolf River system.

"There should be pretty good numbers of 16- to 19-inch male walleyes and 18- to 22-inch females," Kamke said. "They should dominate the run, but there ought to be a pretty good component of younger fish around also."

Kamke said by the time water temperatures reach 38-40 degrees, "walleyes are easily" on their upstream journey. "Basically, by the third week in March, there are fish in the upper Fox River and right after that, if not concurrently, they begin moving up the Wolf River also."

The daily walleye bag limit is five on the Winnebago-Wolf River system.

Lee Meyers, DNR fisheries biologist at Green Bay, said the lower Fox River below the De Pere dam should draw good numbers of 16- to 20-inch walleyes from Green Bay this spring.

"We had a good walleye year class in 2003 and it's the fish from that year most people are going to catch," he said.

But it's the possibility of landing a trophy walleye that attracts anglers to the lower Fox, where the daily bag limit until May 5 is one fish at least 28 inches long.

"There's likely to be a few of those big fish around," Meyers said. "Nobody's caught a state record from here yet … but there's always that possibility."
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