I saw the slogan on the back of a faded t-shirt while waiting in line many years ago: "So many fish, so little time" - there are few states where that slogan rings more true. The fact that Wisconsin is home to a large number of diverse fisheries, from aesthetic meandering trout streams to picturesque crystalline natural lakes, from seemingly Canadian-inspired wilderness flowages to the vast expanses of the Great Lakes, means that anglers not only have an array of species to target but also a host of waters in which to pursue them. Whatever your destination this opening weekend, here is an opening weekend fishing primer just for you - region-by-region forecasts from a few top Wisconsin fishing guides.
Green Bay: Captain Brett Jolly, who calls the vast waters of Green Bay home, is looking forward to the impending musky opener and for good reason - after an opening weekend in 2011 that saw Captain Jolly and his clients' boat 17 muskies including 9 on opening day, Jolly feels the bay of Green Bay will again be hot in 2012. Captain Brett advises anglers on Green Bay choosing to pursue the king of freshwater this weekend begin by looking just outside spawning areas for key main pieces of structure; this could be weeds, rocks, or even a sandy point. Shallow main-lake weed beds will also be holding muskies by opening weekend Jolly advises, and should be worked thoroughly by casting the edges and pockets. Double 10's or Double 8's like the Tilky Tail and Lil' Louie are Brett's first choice, while he also recommends taking time to cast topwaters such as the Haley's Comet, Lola, and Crusader. Brett points out in addition that glide baits, including the Tyrant Mathys Glider, ERC Hellhound, and Phantom Viper, are often overlooked but productive offerings for early season Green Bay muskies.
Vilas & Oneida Counties: Having spent every day on the water chasing walleyes and smallmouth, noted Northwoods guide Rob Manthei continues to witness numbers of muskies cruising the shallows. Not only are the muskies shallow, but active as well now that the spawn is complete and the fish are looking to feed. Rob and his clients have had muskies hit pike, strike their lures, and follow other fish right up to the boat. According to Manthei, on certain lakes, if the conditions are right, sight fishing will be productive; he recommends using a large jig head such as the Esox Cobra produced by Bait Rigs and tipping it with an 8" reaper or creature tail. For anglers looking to "blindly" cover more water, Rob suggests looking for the best weed beds outside of shallow bays (spawning areas) and throwing twitchbaits like Bucher Shallowraiders, Musky Mania Jakes, and ERC Double D's or glide baits like the Hellhound, as they will work too. To cover water quicker, Manthei advises trying a medium sized bucktail such as a Double Showgirl. Whichever option you choose, Rob's final advice, "Throw what looks good and what you have confidence in."
Chippewa Flowage & Hayward Area Lakes: Above average temperatures in March brought about expectations of heavy weed growth for the musky opener says legendary Hayward-area guide Dave Dorazio. Surprisingly he notes, weed development has not been as thick or prevalent as expected. That being said, Dorazio does point out that there are some sections of good weed growth and the best news yet - the limited amount of weeds just makes the available vegetation more productive as the muskies will be keying in on them. On the Chippewa Flowage, Dorazio's "home water," he advises the muskies will also be using wood such as downed trees and brush as well as bogs for cover. Whether you plan on fishing weeds or wood, Dorazio insists anglers can't beat utilizing a 6" minnow bait this time of year, with his own personal favorite being a 6" Slammer in a perch, walleye, or red dragon pattern. Dave encourages musky fishermen to twitch their minnow baits, and points out the importance of collisions between lure and cover as a deadly method of triggering strikes from fish. Minnow baits are not the only option for early season Hayward area muskies. Dorazio cautions anglers to be sure and try smaller (5" to 7") bucktails as well, and recommends dark tails with bright blades as they work well on the dark flowage water. As he points out, "Your best bet is to cover a lot of water, and try to establish a pattern."
Marathon & Lincoln Counties: With the spawn a thing of the distant past, the muskies of Marathon and Lincoln counties have been making surprise guest appearances with regularity to bass, walleye, and pike fishermen, and should provide solid action for musky anglers this weekend. Unlike many of the bodies of water further North, weed growth in North-Central Wisconsin is overall quite well developed where available, and will provide musky anglers with good casting options for muskies opening weekend. Mid-sized bucktails like the Mepps Musky Marabou and Magnum Musky Killer will be productive offerings when fished along the edges and through pockets and cuts in the weeds as well as around wood cover. Topwaters lures should also be productive - both prop-style baits like the Tyrant Crusader, Lola, and Hayley's Comet and walk-the-dog baits such as Musky Mania's Li'l Doc and Phantom's Viper. Whereas last season's opener found the bulk of area fish relating to shoreline or near shore areas, the early spring means muskies this weekend will be transitioned further into their summer locales. Mid-lake/mid-flowage/mid-river structures should certainly not be overlooked, and while bucktails and topwaters will produce action, crankbaits and jerkbaits should also be included in anglers' repertoire this opener. Excellent crankbait options for the North-Central Wisconsin region include Tyrant Czar's in both 5" and 7" models, Shallow Invaders for "skinny" water applications, and the live-action appeal of Invaders for fishing deeper cover or along edges. Top-notch jerkbait options include 'spring' and 'regular' sized Bulldawg's, Squirrely Burt's, and glide baits like the Phantom Softail and ERC's Hell Puppy or Hellhound. Regardless of where you fish this weekend, please be sure to have ALL of the appropriate tools necessary for the safe release of our magnificent state fish - let it go, let it grow!