Embracing seasonal change on the water
Our natural world will undergo profound changes over the next five weeks as beautiful autumn weather yields to the insistence of approaching winter. Less than 10 percent of foliage is ablaze with fall color locally, but prime time for “leaf looking” in Wisconsin's northwoods is projected for next weekend.
Bow season is open, but many who would rather hunt than fish are waiting for crisper temperatures, opting for doves that are near a migrational peak in southern Wisconsin right now.
Right now, consistently productive fishing is a study in mobility all across the state. Smaller northern lakes are at or near fall turnover already, with the annual mixing of the water column occurring in our part of the state in two to three weeks.
Southern Wisconsin lakes are generally at a point of extreme stratification, with most gamefish cruising in the distinct thermocline layer, which is typically 8 to 14 feet beneath the surface.
Rivers—and riverine lakes like Koshkonong—are not subject to stratification. But fish in area rivers are harder to target now because they are constantly on the move looking for food.
River fishing in October is like roulette: with fish on the move, a run-and-gun approach is the best way to locate them. The trick is landing on the right spot when the fish happen to be foraging there.
The best way to find active fish in rivers right now is with a “search” lure. For my nickel there is no better search lure on the market than the Rat-L-Trap, a fixture in every serious angler's tackle box for more than 50 years.
Fish of all stripes—and spots—will strike this lipless vibrating crankbait. The Trap is best known for its effectiveness on bass, but pike, walleyes, white bass and even aggressive panfish will hit this lure.
Once fish are located an angler can try another presentation which will stay in the strike zone longer. But most of us will stick with the Trap until it stops working.
Unlike most popular lures, Rat-L-Traps are made here in the United States. For decades this bait was produced down in Louisiana. Some lures still come out of Cajun country, but fully 70 percent are now created here in Wisconsin at Spartek, a small company in Sparta.
Digital technology enables this company to produce amazingly lifelike images on these lures, but Wes Higgins, project manager for Bill Lewis Lures, which created the 'Trap, says almost 50 percent of lures they sell are of the old reliable chrome-and-blue variety.
The chrome bait works best on sunny days, with the Royale pattern, gold and the new bluegill colors generally more effective under overcast skies.
A native Louisianan, Higgins visited Wisconsin for the first time last week with primary missions of inspecting the Spartek facility and testing some of the new lure patterns on Yankee fish.
He had never tangled with walleyes or northern pike prior to visiting the Land of Cheese but smiled when the new walleye series Rat-L-Trap produced marble-eyed predators on both the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers.
It was hard not to laugh out loud at Higgin's first encounter with a Wisconsin “gator.” Variations of the red and white color scheme are generally most effective on pike, but most of the fish he boated on this trip came on the Royale pattern, which has a primarily lavender color scheme.
The most gratifying experience of this southerner's first foray to the great state of Wisconsin was a deep impression of the natural beauty we take for granted here.
“This is truly one of the most beautiful places on earth,” Higgins beamed while unhooking his personal best smallmouth bass. “And Midwest hospitality rates right up there with the way we treat folks down south.”
The fact that we didn't see a single boat with Illinois tags in three days on the water may have led this southern gentleman to the latter conclusion.
But bragging “if you think this is pretty, you ought to see Wisconsin in a couple of weeks” came right from the heart.
Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.