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Gary Engberg - River Currents - Ice Fish the Madison Chain for a Winter Mixed Bag
Hopefully, by the time you read this article, the ice fishing season will be in "high gear"
on the Madison Chain of Lakes. For those who are unfamiliar with this Chain of Lakes,
they consist of five lakes which surround the state capital of Madison in southern Wisconsin. The lakes are; Lakes Mendota, Monona, Waubesa, Kegonsa, and Wingra. Each one of these
waters is unique in their size, depth, and their respective fisheries. No matter what species of fish that you want to target, one or more of the "Chain" lakes has the fish that
you want! This is a metropolitan fishery with Lakes Mendota and Monona in the shadow of the capital building and the University of Wisconsin campus. But, just because you aren't
surrounded by tree-lined shorelines and open spaces doesn't mean that the fishing is anything but first-class for all game species. I'll give you a run-down on each lake and what you
can expect to catch, where to fish, and how to catch your fish of choice.
Lake Mendota is the largest lake of the group (almost 90 deep) and the last to freeze because depth and size (9,842 acres). In a good winter, the lake should be safe for ice
angling by Christmas or the first of the New Year. Mendota has always been known for its perch fishing with many fish in the 8 to 11 inch size and some jumbo's that will measure
12 inches and larger. During the hard water season, perch will scatter and suspend throughout the water column from near the bottom to just under the ice. The perch are in schools
of varying size and travel at different depths, so a quality and color electronics (like Lowrance, Aqua-Vu, or Vexilar ) are a must to mark and locate these fish. Many times the
perch schools are in water anywhere from 50 to 70 feet deep in the main lake basin.
Some of the better locations to perch fish include; the Governors Island area, the "Four Doors" near Nelson State Park on the lake's north shore, out from Mendota County Park on the
north-west side, Second Point on the south shore, and Picnic Point again on the southern end on the big lake. All of these "hot-spots" are anywhere from a quarter of a mile to a half
mile out from shore. They all are within walking distance, but many now use snowmobiles and four-wheelers for access. If fishing these lakes which are in Wisconsin's Dane County
requires floatation devices on your vehicles, so check this regulation out before fishing.
To fish the deep water for perch, it may be necessary to get down to deep water. Locals use pencil weights, in-line sinkers, and copper tubes which let the angler get back to deep
water quickly when a school of fish pass through the area that you're fishing. Being mobile is important because the schools move and if you plan to stay with the roving perch you
need to have many holes drilled in advance and keep "popping' from hole to hole. Wax worms and spikes are the best baits for perch, but waxies seem to stay on the hook better. Also,
try using the new plastics (noodles or wedges) and the Berkley Gulp products for your bait. Most jigs will work, but the ones that I suggest include; Rat Finkies, rockers, and the
small Bait Rigs Cobra jig. Experiment with different colors, but orange, pink, and chartreuse are the mainstays. The daily limit is 25 perch and on a good day you should be able to
catch this many fish depending on the size of fish that you want to keep.
Walleyes are another fish that ice fishermen catch regularly on Lake Mendota. The minimum size limit is 18 inches, which is a nice walleye, and the daily bag is three fish. Early
in the season about the time you reading this story, many walleyes will still be in water that is less than 15 feet deep. But, as the winter progresses walleyes will move to the a
bundant mid-lake structure which on this lake is the rock bars. Early, the walleyes will relate to the shallow water flats, the weed lines, and the first break-line. Guides Wally
Banfi, Ron Barefield, and Gene Dellinger, who are all on the ice regularly if not daily, recommend; the western lake shoreline from Spring Harbor to the Pheasant Branch Creek to
the north, University Bay from the UW campus to Tenney Park on the south and south-west shores, and all along Warner Bay on Mendota's north-east corner during the early part of
the season. Dellinger, who owns and operates D and S Bait and Tackle (608)-241-4225) on the lakes north shore says, "Mendota is as good a walleye fishery as there is in the
southern part of the state. It's a super fishery."
After the first few weeks, the walleyes will move to the deeper water rock bars and steep breaks to chase the lakes perch schools. Many of the good walleye spots are also the
good perch locations. These "spots" include; the Commodore Bar, the Brearly Street Bar, Governors Island, Second Point, and again Picnic Point. These locations have the things
that winter walleyes want; steep break lines, bars (rock) with access to deep water, points, and most importantly forage (baitfish) and perch.
During the first few weeks, it's possible to catch fish most any time of the day. But, as winter progresses, the early and late part of the day are best with a good night bite too.
Techniques vary, but since Wisconsin allows anglers to use three rods try jigging a Rapala Jigging Spoon, a Swedish Pimple, a Bait Rigs Deep Water Willowspoon, or a 1/4 or 3/8th jig
and good-sized minnow with one rod. Then, use tip-ups (Beaver Dams or Frabill) for your other two lines with big chubs or shiners for bait.
For more fishing articles visit www.garyengbergoutdoors.com
Gary Engberg Outdoors
P.O. Box 92
Sauk City, WI 53583
Host of Outdoor Horizons on 1670-WTDY, Saturday's 8:00am-8:30am