By Les Wolfe
Posted on 5/12/2018 10:22 AM
My annual trip to Rainy River was cancelled due to ice still clogging the river. So good friend Andy Merical set up a trip to Green Bay 04/08-13/18 to fish with Guide Steve Paulsen (www.walleyemadnessfishing.com) out of Peshtigo, Wi just outside of Marinette/Minominee. Steve and his wife also own a motel in Peshtigo where we stayed. We actually left a day early to avoid towing a boat through the forecast snow storm. Saturday night we got a call from Cliff Haugland who was in Baudette, Mn waiting for the Rainy River to clear of ice. Since the weather forecast was for warmer weather, he and his partner decided to make the drive and join us.
We fished with Steve on Sunday 04/08 launching his Ranger 621 from the ramp in Oconto. Steve had told us his primary baits would be Rippin Raps and hair jigs, so Andy and I bought a sack full of these before leaving on the trip. We fished the shoreline between the Oconto and Peshtigo Rivers as the Bay was still ice-covered north of the Peshtigo. Walleyes migrate from deep water into these rivers to spawn when water temps reach to low 40's. Water temps in the Bay were 36-39 so we were anticipating pre-spawn males with the possibility of a big female. We drifted between 5'-11' which extended at least 1/4-mile off shore. Because the water is crystal clear we made long casts letting the Rippin Rap fall to the bottom lifting 2'-3' (not ripping) just fast enough to feel the bait vibrate then letting it fall on a tight line.
I broke the ice (not literally) catching 2 pike in the low 30" range before moving. We continued the pattern for about 6 hours catching 5 males between 19"-22" before moving back to the mouth of the Oconto River for the last hour catching 2 more in the same slot. Andy and I each kept 1 walleye taking the fillets to the Dockside restaurant across from the ramp where they fried them up with salad and sides. Since Cliff and his partner did not do as well, he was going to try the Minominee River on Monday.
Monday we launched Andy's 18' Alumacraft tiller with 60 hp at Oconto and headed back to the same general areas we fished with Steve looking for the warmest water. We found 39 degree water at the mouth of a creek that warmed to 41 in the afternoon catching 18 walleyes on chrome/chartreuse and chrome/blue Rippin Raps . We tried hair jigs and jig/plastics without a hit. My largest was 26"+ but I had a 24.5" that must have been pushing 9 lbs (see photo album). Andy got a 27" and a 30". We also kept a couple smaller fish for another meal. We thought we had a good day but Cliff and his partner caught 35 up to 30" on the Minominee River.
We all headed to the Minominee River on Tuesday where Andy and I caught a total of 8 walleyes up to 23" on jig/plastics in 25' - 35'. Since the numbers were down Cliff surmised that these were resident fish that hadn't seen any baits since last fall; none of these were lake fish that had migrated into the river.
We all returned to the Bay on Wednesday anticipating a good bite as weather was good and water temps were rising, however, by noon the only fish caught were some jumbo perch. Cliff suggested with investigate the Pestigo River as there were 30+ guys fishing the dam tailwater in town. We launched the boats at a public ramp but found water less than 5' deep and full of logs. We did see numerous walleyes spooking them with the boat but could not get any to bite. We spent about an hour exploring the Pestigo River losing a few jigs before loading the boat and heading back to the Minominee where we caught a few more males before taking our filleted fish to another restaurant for a fish dinner.
Since the bite on the river had slowed dramatically the plan for Thursday was to return to the Bay. We launched the boat at Oconto but before Andy could park the truck and get in the boat, boats were returning to the ramp in droves. I asked a guy what was going on and he said the wind had switched from the WNW to the NE and was blowing the remaining ice sheet on the Bay into the mouth of the river cutting off access to the Bay from this ramp. We loaded the boat and thought about heading home a day early, but talked to Steve who suggested going to the Fox River in the City of Green Bay.
Since we were both unfamiliar with the Fox I Googled area bait/tackle stores and we stopped at Smokie's at the mouth of the river. This turned out to be an interesting experience as the owner, Jeff (Tilky) Tilkens, was in the process of expanding/remodeling his shop and very outgoing about showing us his customized baits and providing us information on fishing the river. We followed his directions to the boat ramp in De Pere about 5 miles upstream from the Bay. Tilky recommended casting crank baits below the dam and jig fishing on the break just out of the channel, and this is what we found virtually everyone doing. There were 100+ boats on the water but still plenty of room 1 more. We did buy some minnows from a vendor out of a trailer in the DQ parking lot, and tried casting crank baits without success before joining the masses jigging. Andy caught 4 males in the next hour or so before I finally hooked up a couple times on plastics. We headed back to Peshtigo for dinner and packed for the trip home on Friday.
Back at the motel one of the guides staying there related how he got caught out on the Bay when the ice sheet cut off his path (and several other boats) back to the ramp. He called the local sheriff who contacted the National Guard. The Guard drove a high-wheeled Humvee through private property into the Bay towing their boat trailers allowing them to load out as the ice sheet pushed them toward shore.
Having learned the ropes on the Bay/rivers and a new technique, I would not hesitate returning to this fishery in the years to come. Andy is heading back to fish with Steve in July where they will be pulling spinner rigs on planner boards.