Opening Weekend Tactics on the Madison Chain
Opening weekend to most anglers is almost like a holiday. Boats full of eager anglers flood every landing right at the crack of dawn, ready to knock the rust off and put the hurt on all varieties of gamefish. With so much angling and boating pressure the bite can be challenging at times. Here are a few of my go-to presentations for different gamefish species here in the Madison Chain for opening weekend and the weeks to follow.
Of course we have to talk walleyes. Walleye, next to Muskies are one of the most targeted species here in Madison. Spring offers the chance to catch these fish in shallow water using a variety of techniques. More important than the tactics used are the locations where one would find walleyes. Most fish this time of year are going to be found in shallow water (4 to 8 feet) both night and day. The key is to locate early weed growth as well as the warmest water you can find. Shallow bays and rock spines are great places to start.
Guide Robbie Jarnigo of Versatile Angling Guide Service with a Lake Monona Walleye
Two of my favorite ways to catch these spring walleyes are night trolling shallow running crankbaits and casting small stick baits. Trolling these shallow bays in low light conditions with planter boards allows you to cover lots of water while running multiple different presentations to help narrow down what the fish want. My lures of choice for opening weekend are size 6-8 Rapala Husky Jerks, size 6-8 Original Floating Rapala minnows, size 5 Berkley Flicker Shads, and size 5 Salmo Hornets. In the clear water I like to stick with natural-muted colors. I typically target anywhere from 3 to 6 feet of water and run about 15 feet of line behind the planer board for all styles of the above mentioned lures. I like to start trolling at 2mph and will speed up/slow down depending on what the fish want.
Casting stick baits in high percentage areas is another great way to target these spring walleyes. Shallow breaks, scattered shallow weeds, and rock piles are a great place to start. I like to throw the same lures I use for trolling (Husky Jerks/Floating Minnows/Shadow Raps) with 7 foot medium to medium light spinning tackle, spooled with 8lb Berkley Fireline and a 35lb knottable titanium wire leader to prevent bite-offs from pike and muskies.
Muskies are certainly high on the list of targeted game species for opening weekend, even though muskie action typically doesn't pick up for a few weeks later. The jury is out on the debate between small presentations vs large presentations, however in my own experience I have found that smaller presentations seem to make more fish eat this early in the year. Shallow water seems to hold the more active fish, while deeper water (10-18 feet) holds suspended fish that don't seem to want much to do with lures. I concentrate my efforts on shallow weeds and bays that warm up quickly and hold lots of baitfish.
This 42" muskie fell for a spinnerbait on Lake Waubesa in early May
Since I am a believer in smaller presentations for spring muskie fishing I typically fish with lighter rods (XH bass flipping sticks spooled with 65lb braid and 80lb flourocarbon leaders). My lure selection varies based on conditions but typically consists of a few staples that year after year put fish in the boat: Size 13-14 Rapala Husky Jerks, Johnson Silver Minnows, Baby Squirkos, and small Figure 8 spinnerbaits. I usually don't start throwing surface baits for a couple of weeks after opener (typically around Memorial Day Weekend). Once the water hits the 60 degree mark I'll start throwing slow surface baits like Flaptails, Walk the Dogs, and Creepers on regular sized muskie tackle.
Northern Pike tend to be hanging out just about anywhere you go. Weeds, Rocks, Wood, you name it: pike will be there. That said they will eat just about anything you throw at them.
My favorite method for targeting spring pike is simply going out muskie fishing with light tackle. You are almost guaranteed to hitch up with several pike. Jerkbaits, Spinnerbaits, Blade Baits, and Spoons are especially productive. Short, sweet, and to the point.
Bass tend to be similar to pike in the sense that they can be found just about anywhere you find structure (weeds included). With pike so prolific in the same areas it is a wise choice to air on the side of caution and use some variety of leader to help prevent expensive bite-offs.
This Largemouth couldn't resist the thump of a 1/2oz Vibrations Tackle Echotail Blade Bait
Shallow weeds hold good numbers of bass which can be easily extracted using jerkbaits, spinnerbaits, and swim jigs. Find the baitfish, find the bass. They can also be found on deeper weed edges as they prepare to stage and move shallow to spawn. Deep diving crankbaits like the Rapala DT 10 are a great choice for locating and enticing these deeper fish.
Hopefully these quick tips and tricks will help maximize your time and efficiency on the water opening weekend! Good luck and tight lines!