The last week has presented some challenges as weeks with unstable weather tend to do. The cold nights and on again-off again rain didn't make things any easier to contend with. It does look to be a bit cooler, but with stable conditions around the corner, fishing should be between great and incredible over the next 10 days to two weeks.
Warmer days, or days with sunshine at least...had very active fish moving in the shallow water. Days like yesterday (Thursdsay), where it was nice in the morning and lousy in the afternoon have the fish feeding actively in a limited window of time.
Water temps are all over the place. Protected bays are in the mid to high 60's while open water areas might be as low as the high 50's, but the larger issues I've seen on the water the last two weeks have been:
1.) Lack of weeds. Weed growth is way behind for this time of year.
2.) Lack of baitfish. Finding areas with baitfish consistently has been a challenge.
This means if you can find an area with good, green weeds AND visible baitfish, there will likely be lots of (quality) fish in that area. That said, fishing has steady, but as with any cooler early season, day to day you might just have to put in a bit more work than you would expect. Patterning fish is key. There's rarely a situation where multiple fish can't be caught our of the same area, and that areas similar to the ones you are finding fish, well that's the place to look for more. I get it, guys are anxious, but turn the trolling motor down a couple of notches, put your head down and go with high percentage presentations. Once you find fish, you'll be able to duplicate the pattern in other areas.
Panfish are on the move, and starting to stack into shallow areas, especially on warmer or sunny afternoons. The bite can be really good, especially if you can find some fish in the mid afternoon to early evening. Start you search in shallow, dark bottom bays with scattered weeds, woods or reeds. The fish may be very tight to shore, but don't overlook the first break into deeper water or areas with current. Remember the largest panfish will always be in the bottom of the school, so if you're catching fish, but they are small, try presenting your bait a little deeper.
Bluegills will hit on a variety of live bait but plastics will outperform live bait, and will usually help keep some of the smaller fish off your line.
For crappies, the spawn is "mostly over", but fish are still relating to the shallow cover. Tail hooked minnows, tube jigs, road runners, or waxworms on an ice-fishing jig can really produce. (Try: Okauchee, Oconomowoc, North, Garvin, Lac Labelle, Silver, Golden, School Section, Middle Geneesee.
Largemouth are in various stages of the spawn, and there are lots of larger prespawn fish being caught right now. There are schools that are still cruising the flats, especially on the nice days, while some males are still up on the nests, especially in areas where the water is warmest. Because weeds are hard to come by, look for LM in shallow areas with rock, sand or muck, and remember that rock will almost always have fish either on or adjacent to it this time of year. Protected bays with wood laydowns or weeds can concentrate fish. Squarebill cranks or smaller spinners are good for rapidly testing an area, but once you're on fish, slow down and make tighter presentations. Jig and chunks/ jig and craws/ jig and reapers will catch less fish, but are a great way to catch a bigger fish, especially when fished tight to cover. Slower presentations like wacky worms, texas rigged lizards or tubes are all great for probing areas, but a lead-head jig tipped with a small jig worm or swim-tail can really produce right now. Tip: if the bite is really tough....a buzzbait fished tight (and I mean tight) to cover will trigger strikes.
Using live bait? Leeches, nightcrawlers or largest shiners you can find are your best options. (Try Okauchee, Oconomowoc, Pewaukeem Moose, North, Nag Kessus, Golden, Silver, Fowler, Pine, and Lower Nashotah)
Smallmouth bass are in rocky or gravel areas, cruising and foraging. Look for them in the usual early season spots, but don't be afraid to look for them as deep as 22 feet, where they will be feeding on schools of yellow perch. Dropshot or tubes are a great way to look for fish around the dropoffs. Skirted grubs or wacky rigs on the shallow rockbars, and even topwater can really produce some amazing fish this time of year. (Try Lac Labelle, Pine, North and Oconomowoc)
Walleye: Look for walleyes in shallow water, around rocks or sand, or at the end of longer points especially early in the morning, and later in the evening. In the daylight hours, schools of fish will be cruising the sand flats in 8-15 feet of water. Live bait rigging, (Lindy rigs with small suckers!) jig and minnow or jig and leech combos, or trolling with shad or minnow imitators are your best approaches. (Try Oconomowoc, Lac Labelle, Pewaukee, Fowler)
Northern pike were chasing bait fish around shallow weeds, especially near marshy areas, and will aggressively bite spinners, buzzbaits, lipless crankbaits or live bait suspended around shallow weeds.(Try: Moose, Kessus, Okauchee, Fowler, School Section, Pretty and Nagawicka)
Musky: Most fish are in 5-12 feet of water, and are biting on swimbaits, gliders, jerkbaits and bucktails. Remember to do your figure eights on every cast right now, as lots of anglers were reporting lazy follows this past weekend. Personally, I like to use smaller baits in a black and blue, or black and orange combination at this point in the year. (Try Okauchee, Garvin, Lac Labelle, Fowler and Pewaukee for Musky)
Trout fishing was consistent on the stocked lakes and ponds around the area, but the schools are starting to get a bit depleted...so if you're hankering for trout, put a day on your calender for next week.
Good luck out there.