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Gary Engberg: Try wading for walleyes — maybe even at night

October 9, 2018

Wading below the Sauk Prairie Dam in the fall for walleyes.

After a couple of winters with little snow and slightly above normal temperatures, the recent cool off reminded me that we do have four seasons in Wisconsin.

Now, there are so many things to do in the outdoors that one has to plan their days to get all the “wanna-do’s” done.

You could be fishing on a quiet Vilas County lake for muskie one day, hunting wood ducks on the Mississippi River another day, or bow hunting in Sauk County the next day.

If you are a hunter or angler then this is your time of the year I take some of my best video and best pictures this time of the year. I love to watch the migrating ducks and geese as they fly past my Wisconsin River home on their migration to the southern states.

There is one fall activity that as my legs get older, I’m doing it less. What I’m talking about is some of the best fishing of the year which happens about now to the waters freeze over. For this kind of fishing, you don’t have to launch or even own a boat.

Fall wading is what I’m talking about, be on the shores of Lake Mendota or the banks of the Wisconsin River. Wading in the fall can produce some of the year’s hottest action as fish bulk up for the cold months of winter which lie ahead.

To get into this great fishing there are not that many things you need besides a good, quality pair of 4ML-thick insulated waders and a good medium heavy rod and reel. The water that you’re going to be fishing in will range from the 50s now to the upper 30s. If you dress properly, that’s not that bad with the quality cold weather gear that one can now purchase.

Dress in layers using cotton, silk, wool, down, and some of the new polypropenes that wick moisture away from your body. Remember, you can always take off a layer. I like thin gloves or gloves with the fingers cut off for a better feel.

Buy a couple of air activated hand warmers to keep in your pockets for warming your hands. Lastly, wear a hat to keep your body heat from escaping and a life jacket for safety.

Spool a good spinning reel (Daiwa, Shimano); with a top of the line monofilament like Stren’s Easy Cast in 8- to 12-pound test. Next, get some long (4- to 6-inch) crank baits such as Rapala Husky Jerk baits or Mann’s Loudmouth Jerk bait in natural colors that match the available forage. Make long casts and vary your retrieves. A headlamp also helps you see and don’t forget a good net (Beckman) for landing that 10-pound walleye.

The equipment to use are a 6½- to 7-foot quality rod (such as a G. Loomis) that has strength in the rod yet long enough to make the long casts you should be making. Long casts are what is necessary when going after big fish in shallow water.

Now that you’ve dressed properly here’s a couple of good locations to try and some techniques that work right up to hard ice. Though you can wade anytime, I’ve found that the best fishing seems to be the hour before and after dark. If you’re a night owl, try fishing then because big fish, particularly big walleyes, cruise the shallows of Madison’s Lake Mendota off Tenney Park, Warner Park, and University Bay every night during the fall until freeze-up.

Rarely, will you ever run into anyone else. Any of the locations that you fished in the spring are worth trying now.

Fish, and particularly big female walleyes, know that winter is coming and go on feeding binges as their metabolism slows down.

All of the Madison Chain’s lakes -- Mendota, Monona, Waubesa and Kegonsa can all be waded for big walleyes. The chain will also produce some big pike and muskies that in be caught in shallow water only a cast away.

The Wisconsin River also is another fall wading hot spot. I would highly recommend the area below the Prairie Du Sac Dam in Sauk Prairie. The banks of the river from 2 miles down to the dam are worth fishing day or night.

Again, be sure to wear a life jacket that fits because you have current in the river. One rarely has to stand in water deeper than your thighs to catch fish especially at night.

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