In Wisconsin, it seems that each year offers a pair of significant fishing lulls.
Though they vary in length, there are two awkward times of fishing purgatory when ice fishing isn’t quite possible, but open water fishing seems like a waste of time.
The first hits between ice out and the start of the open water season. The second comes between mid-November and first ice.
As someone who averages over two fishing trips per week over the course of the year, I find these lulls to be extremely frustrating. I pride myself on my ability to catch fish all 12 months of the year.
The good news is: you are generally doing to deal with a lot less fishing pressure during these times. And with a bit of planning and even more persistence, it is possible to continue to catch fish in-between seasons.
Here are some strategies for overcoming fishing lulls in our part of the world.
Assess your options
First and foremost, you need to understand the reality of your situation.
The fact is: most of your go-to honey holes you enjoy during the warmer months are likely off the table for a variety of reasons: boat launches may not be open, fish have moved to different water, or there may be enough shell ice to prevent open water fishing but not enough ice to safely stand on.
Furthermore, certain species of fish may be closed to fishing during certain times of year in particular locations.
Honing in on viable spots early in the planning stages will save time and prevent a good deal of frustration.
Once you have some viable options in mind, it’s time to strategize.
Target the right species
There’s no getting around it. Fish behave differently in colder water.
In our state, you’re probably not going to be slamming largemouth bass on top-water baits in mid-December.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t catch fish. It simply means you have to be more selective about the fish you are targeting.
Northern Pike become incredibly active just before ice-in and just after ice out. They are opportunistic feeders that can provide many quality experiences, even when the weather is sub-par. When the pike season is open, these fish are one of the first target species on my list when the going gets tough.
Though you will find them in different locations as the seasons change, panfish can be caught year-round as well. With the right baits and a proper spot, you can get in on some pretty serious panfish action during times when other fish go dormant.
If you live within driving distance of Lake Michigan, brown trout and burbot can also be great species to pursue in the colder months. Fishing harbors, tributaries, and warmer water near power plants are all excellent options when trying to tangle with these powerful fish.
Lake Michigan’s tributaries also provide opportunities for chasing steelhead on the open water in early winter and spring.
Adjust your tactics
As mentioned before, certain approaches just won’t cut it during these times of year.
Your willingness and ability to adjust will go a long way in shaping your experience.
When pursuing pike, you may need to slow down your retrieval. Spoons may work better than large spinners.
Panfish may want a smaller presentation with less action.
Brown trout may prefer minnows and crankbaits to spawn sacks and beads, especially if you are fishing harbors or other large swaths of open water.
Remember, these fish are patterned differently than they are during peak times. You will need to alter your tactics accordingly.
If you’re river fishing, keeping an eye on water flow is critical. This is especially true in spring, when frequent precipitation is a common occurrence.
Too much flow can greatly reduce water clarity and make fishing with vertical presentations more challenging. On the flipside, low water flow can impact the amount of fish movement while also decreasing the effectiveness of certain presentations, like float fishing.
Fishing during the warmest parts of the day may also increase your odds of encountering a bite window.
Dress for the weather
The more comfortable you are, the more likely it is that you will be willing to put in the time necessary to find active fish this time of year.
Dressing in layers that provide you the proper level of warmth while also giving you the range of motion needed for casting and moving around is crucial.
Odds are, you won’t roll up to a spot this time of year and instantly begin to hammer fish. Bite windows during these lull periods can be incredibly short and widely spread throughout the day.
The longer you are able to deal with the elements, the better your chances of success.
I promise you, there are fish to be had in early winter and the beginning of spring. But it’s likely you will have to work for them.
In many cases, especially with pike and trout, catching a fish or two in an outing during these times of year can be considered a very good day. In some situations, you may be fishing for a single bite. And that’s OK.
If you are willing to stick with it, you can still find success. Even during the lulls.