As I have detailed in this column over the past two weeks, my wife and I recently spent a week out of state on a business trip to Wisconsin. Along the way we visited with the good people at both the Mepps fishing lure factory in Antigo, Wisconsin, as well as with those at the St. Croix rod manufacturing facility in Park Falls, Wisconsin.
After these two meetings concluded, we drove back eastward toward Lake Michigan. Our last full day in Wisconsin would be spent on Green Bay, a large bay on the western shore of Lake Michigan, in pursuit of walleye.
Joining us were two of the staff from Mepps, production manager Dan Sheldon, and customer service manager Laurie Powell.
Our guide, a young man by the name of Brock Bogacz, was hand-picked for us when I booked this trip through Alexander’s Sport Fishing, operated by Bret Alexander. Alexander’s company offers ice fishing, fishing for trout and salmon, as well as fishing for warm-water species like smallmouth bass, walleye, perch, pike and musky.
When I expressed our desire to fish by casting (versus trolling), Alexander felt Bogacz would be a good fit.
We lodged overnight prior to the trip in Oconto, Wisconsin, and then had about a 20-minute drive to our launch point the following morning. We had previously purchased one-day nonresident fishing licenses at a Wal-Mart in Antigo at a cost of $10 per person.
The five of us met up at 6 a.m. at a small boat ramp location known as Geano Beach. With light southeast winds at under 9 mph, we headed out to the opposite, eastern shore of Green Bay, traveling due east just as the sun was beginning to rise.
Bogacz was fishing out of a 22-foot, fiberglass deep-V hull, produced by Vexus. On the bow was a Minn Kota Ultrex trolling motor, at the helm was a Humminbird Solix 15 sonar unit, and on the transom, next to the Mercury outboard was a 9.9 horsepower ‘kicker’ motor used for various trolling methods.
Bozacz had multiple spinning rods rigged up with either casting spoons or small lures similar in appearance to Jigging Rapalas used for ice fishing, called Shiver Minnows made by Moonshine Lures.
Twenty-pound test braid as a mainline, terminated with a roughly 22-inch fluorocarbon leader (10-pound test) completed the outfit.
With the boat Spot-Locked atop a rocky formation, referred to as a reef, in about 24 feet of water, Bogacz instructed us to fan-cast out from our positions and work the lures with a snap-jigging tactic across the rocky bottom.
When the first reef failed to produce fish, we moved to a second and spent the remainder of the trip there. When I saw that the snap-jigging method was similar to the sawtooth tactic I used with my own MAL Lures, I tied on an MAL Heavy with chartreuse tail and white blade and wound up catching the first fish of the trip on it, as well as one other a bit later on.
Later, as the light level increased, the fish began to respond better to the snap-jigging. The increasing light also revealed the character of the water. The waters of Green Bay were slightly murky with an olive green-brown tinge, similar to Belton Lake after the wind has riled it up for a few days.
In all, we landed 11 legal walleye (of 15 or more inches in length), as well as two-dozen or more gobies and a single freshwater drum. Bogacz indicated that was a fair catch for this time of year, although the fishing has generally been a bit depressed due to the unusually cold water they have seen in Green Bay all summer. The surface temperature was 68-69 degrees, whereas it is normally in the mid-70s in late August.
Bogacz added that yellow perch will often commingle with the walleye and provide some bonus fish while fishing the reefs of Green Bay. Such was not the case for us on this morning.
If you are searching for solitude, Green Bay is not the place for you. With just a handful of well-known reef locations to consolidate the walleye, and the number of boats present in the middle of the week, it was clear that warm-season fishing on the weekends would be zoo-like.
As it was, we shared the reef with numerous other boats, some doing as we were, and yet others trolling. Most of those trolling were doing so with planer boards to both get their presentations out and away from the boat and to increase the overall width of their spread. Some of the trollers ran as many as six planer boards with crankbaits trailing behind.
As we observed those around us, it seemed the trolling and casting approaches produced just about equally.
Around the four-hour mark we concluded our trip and headed back west for Geano Beach launch. We took a photo of our group holding eight of the 10 fish we had retained. There is a five-fish daily bag limit, and both Sheldon and Powell chose to keep the fish for consumption.
Although guides often do clean kept fish for their clients, due to Lake Michigan’s strict 15-inch limit on walleye, unless the resulting fillet is at least 15 inches in length, the fish must be kept whole and intact until transportation is complete.
We desired to do as many “Wisconsin-y” things as we could while in the state in the time we had to spend there, and walleye fishing was one of them. Other such things included trying locally made yellow brick cheese, sampling cheese curds dipped in marinara sauce and ranch dressing (but not at the same time), and sharing an entrée of pan-friend walleye. Ah, but we saved the ultimate Wisconsin experience for last.
After the fishing trip concluded, we drove south along Lake Michigan’s shoreline into the town of Green Bay and capped off our Wisconsin experience by eating bratwurst on a bun with spicy mustard and kraut and a side of barbecue chips inside the stadium at Lambeau Field, the home of the Green Bay Packers football team.
The Packers were gearing up to face the New Orleans Saints in a preseason event on the forthcoming Saturday, and the place was already alive with excitement. It was enough to make even a Texan want to stand up and shout, “Go, Pack, go!”