How to Fish a River System

Breaking Down a River

When fishing a river system there are many different options to choose from depending on the location you are in. Rivers offer a diverse fishery that many people seem to enjoy. When breaking down a river there are many factors to take into consideration. First, you need to identify the species of fish you are targeting. It’s critical to under\stand the many of depths you will be presented with when river fishing. Most rivers will consist of one main depth throughout most of the river. Although, when fishing a river there are also deeper holes you can fish that will hold large portions of fish (if you find them). When breaking down a river I like to spend time doing online research before entering the water. Most rivers will have a mapping system you can access online for a cheap price.

River species 

Typically the river systems I fish here in southern Wisconsin are fairly shallows and small in size. These rivers tend to hold good populations of pinfish and smallmouth bass. You can also look to find channel cats, blue cats and bullhead catfish stacked up in most river systems. Rivers offer a large variety when it comes to fish to catch. Late fall you have the opportunity to catch king salmon out of the Lake Michigan tributaries. Going into early spring you can look to find steelhead and walleye on the move for their spring spawning migrations. This opportunity can present some of the most exciting experiences when fishing a river. When fishing further north in the Hayward Wisconsin area, you then have the opportunity at catching river musky. River musky in my opinion is one of the most challenging yet rewarding fish to pursue. When it comes to river musky, my favorite lures to use are either a small bucktail or a topwater lure. Expect a vicious attack from a river musky when hitting the bait.


It’s important to keep in mind when targeting river fish that you are equipped with the correct tackle. Rivers are full of snags and tangles that can turn a good fishing day into a nightmare fast.  I like to rig up a few rods when entering a river, braided line is critical. You want to be prepared with a line that can take the harsh elements of the heavy flowing river. Rivers have some of the largest variety of fish to be caught. Not only do you get the opportunity to catch fish, you get to adventure a large area of water. Be sure to bring extra tackle when fishing a river, you are likely to lose a lure or two. I highly recommend the art of fishing a river system; you never know what you’ll catch. Not only do rivers offer beautiful scenery, but an amazing experience while catching some fish.

Choosing the Correct Fishing Line

Line Basics

When it comes to fishing line there are hundreds of options to choose from. Fishing lines have been around for hundreds of years and continue to evolve as time goes on. There are many different styles of fishing lines to choose from including braided lines, monofilament and fluorocarbons which I will go into detail on later. When choosing the correct fishing line for the right occasion it’s important to keep in mind the species of fish you are after and the type of water you are fishing. When fishing lakes or rivers with extremely clear water it’s important to use clear lines such as fluorocarbon lines. When fishing water that’s heavily structure based with lots of rock and wood braid may be your best option. When chasing larger fish such as pike and musky it’s important to use heavier lines such as a braid or a super line.


Braid is most effective when fishing around heavy structure such as rock and timber. Braid allows for you to fish in thick weeds or wood without frilling your line and causing extreme abrasion. Braid is an extremely important tool when fishing; you just never know when you will need it. Another reason to use braid is when targeting larger fish. Bigger fish require a stronger line to control, braid offers just that. Braid also offers the option of zero stretch allowing you to feel every little bump on your line. It’s important to realize in most situations when using braid that it’s important to use a fluorocarbon leader when fishing clearer water situations. When fishing murky and heavy structured water it may be appropriate to run straight braid to your lure. Another advantage of using braided line is the low diameter allowing your lure to dive deeper than your average lines.


Monofilament is your most traditional style of line. Monofilament is probably the most popular type of line available on the market today. Many newcomers to the sport of fishing will be introduced to monofilament when just starting out. Monofilament allows for some major benefits on the water that are still used today. Monofilament offers the advantage of a high stretch line that absorbs more impact. A good example of this is when trolling crank baits many anglers will turn to monofilament as their main line to absorb the current and drag when pulling crankbaits behind the boat. Due to monofilaments high stretch capabilities, this line can also be used for a big fish rod such as chasing deep water catfish with stiff poles. Having a high stretch line allows for the absorption of big fish when eating larger sized baits with a fast action rod.


Fluorocarbon is probably my favorite type of line to use when fishing. Fluorocarbon allows for a low stretch line that is virtually invisible under the water. This line excels when fishing water that is extremely clear or pressured. Generally, when fishing with fluorocarbon you are finesse fishing for finicky fish. When fish get heavily pressured or in a neutral feeding mode this line can truly shine. Fish such as clear water pressured smallmouth bass require a line that is light, thin and clear to trick these fish into biting. Fluorocarbon can be a bit more expensive but it’s definitely worth having as an angler.

Spring Steelhead Fishing

Steelhead basics

During early spring around late May and into April steelhead trout start to make their migration into the rivers to start there spawn.  Many southern Wisconsin rivers including Milwaukee, Racine, and Kenosha tributaries bring a large return of steelhead that makes there way back into the rivers. Steelhead trout can be one of the most rewarding fish to catch out of the trout species. These fish once hooked are extremely acrobatic and fast swimmers. it’s important to know how to fight these fish once hooked. Steelhead will offer a series of jumps, line screams, and heart attacks once hooked. Lake Michigan steelhead is generally a stocked species of fish managed by the Wisconsin DNR programs. Steelhead generally grows between 20-40” depending on the location you are fishing.


These fish can be caught with a variety of lures. Steelhead trout are aggressive and willing to chase down most baits put in front of them including crankbaits. When targeting spring steelhead I like to keep my rig simple and effective. My general rig consists of 14LB nanofil braided line connected to a 2-way swivel leading to about two feet of 6LB fluorocarbon leader. when it comes to fluorocarbon I prefer to use Seaguar or Top Knot fishing line. these line brands are strong, clear and durable. When it comes to the fishing rod and reel I like to use a long nine-foot rod generally fiberglass with a soft tip to absorb the trout’s massive runs they take once hooked. I like to use a St. Croix avid trout rod for best results on the river. When it comes to the reel, I prefer to use a size 3000 reel to hold enough line to manage the heavy trout runs in strong currents. I like to use a P-fluger president reel or Shimano brand, both have been proven reliable reels for me over the years.


When fishing river steelhead there are many obstacles to overcome once a fish is hooked. Steelhead are a smart species typically running directly upstream once hooked. These fish will look for anything they can to wrap up around once hooked. I have lost countless fish due to getting wrapped up around snags such as large rocks and trees. This is why having the right equipment is key to success. Last but not least, it’s always important to remember fish safety when handling a steelhead. Trout can be a fragile fish and deserve to be handled with some care once caught. Most of all, learn something and have fun on the water!

Casting Brown Trout

Brown Trout Basics

Brown trout fishing has always been one of my favorite fish to target while casting. Brown trout have a reputation of being a difficult fish to catch but can also be the most rewarding. When targeting brown trout it’s important to keep in mind that these fish rely heavily on sight and smell. When fishing for any trout species downsizing tackle and lure presentations can make a huge difference. Trout can be extremely finicky to bite; therefore finesse fishing can be key to efficiently catching these specimens.

Crank baits

When it comes to catching these fish during the open water season, presentations may vary slightly. Brown trout can be an aggressive species that being said don’t shy away from larger lures. Once the ice melts, trout are on the prowl to stock back up for the summer months. Look to catch trout in local harbors early spring. One of my favorite ways to catch these fish casting is with flicker shad crank bait. This tight wobbling crank bait tends to drive the fish crazy and trout seem to crush them. I like to cast my crank baits on 14LB braid connected to 10LB fluorocarbon leader. Braid allows me to get my bait down to the fish and in the strike zone longer. I like to fish my crank baits with a slow retrieve close to the bottom. When fishing a crank bait its important to change up the retrieve by creating a “different” action to the bait.


Another one of my favorite options for targeting open water trout is jigging. Jigging has proven to be one of the most effective techniques for consistently catching big browns. A jig acts as an extremely versatile tool during all seasons of the year, especially open water. I like to rig up a half ounce darter head lead jig tipped with a Berkley four inch pearl white gulp minnow. Trout fine the tantalizing action of this plastic to be irresistible most of the time. I will fish this bait on a similar rig as my crank baits, 14LB braid to a 10LB fluorocarbon leader. It’s also critical to use a long rod with a soft tip that can absorb the head shakes of these fish. Always remember proper fish handling skills when fishing brown trout.



Winter Lure Selections

Lure Basics

When it comes to ice fishing there are many different lures and rigs to choose from. Ice fishing presents opportunities in which a wide variety of lures can be utilized. Depending on the species of fish you after the type of lure you use may vary. Today there are thousands of options when it comes to fishing lures. There are baits from jigs, blade baits, crankbaits, spoons, etc to choose from. A lot of what determines the bait to use depends on what time of year it is. During the cold weather months from late fall to ice up fish become sluggish and unwilling to chase baits due to the colder water temps. Of course, all fish species are different during cold water temps, for example, a trout. Trout are a cold water fish therefor they become more aggressive during the cold water months. Fish like bass and bluegill prefer warmer water temperatures so they will be less likely to hit a fast-moving lure come winter.  Some of my favorite lure options for the cold water months consists of the following:

Blade Baits

Blade baits offer a quick yet slow-moving presentation to cold water fish depending on how you fish it. With a blade bait, you can catch multipe species of freshwater fish from brown trout to crappies. this diverse bait also allows you the option to fish in deep water. these baits are usually dense and have a fast sink rate to trigger sluggish fish into biting. Blade baits also offer a strong vibration in the water that seems to drive fish crazy especially in cold water. I like to fish this lure on 14LB braid connected to about three foot of 10LB fluorocarbon leader.


Spoons are one of the most utilized baits during the cold water period and continue to catch fish in most cases. Spoons can be highly effective when the water gets cool due to its flash and subtle wiggle.  Spoons present an opportunity for cold water fish that is hard to resist. I like to fish a spoon on a medium action rod rigged with 14LB Berkly Nanofill braid connected to a two-way swivel leading to a 10LB leader. This set up allows me to fish the blade bait smoothy while the lighter line keeps my bait deeper and in the strike zone for a longer period of time.


Finesse jigs are potentially the most popular jigs to use during the cold water months. Easy to use and consistent, jigs seem to catch fish in most situations. Jigs can be used from as small as a pencil eraser to as big as a foot depending on what your fishing for. A jig is also an extremely versatile lure and can be used during warm water temps as well for bass, trout etc. When it comes to ice fishing for panfish, jigs must be the most productive lure to use. I like to use 2LB line tied directly to a small tungsten jig tipped with a spike for winter panfish.

Spring Fishing Tips

Typically around the end of March to April time frame, local lakes here in southern Wisconsin start to thaw out. As water temperatures slowly start to heat up the ice leaves the lakes, fish start there spring spawning patterns. This time of year you can expect to find fish returning to there nearby bays and flats that they have been spawning in for as long as they have been alive. Most fish this time of year are fairly dormant and inactive for the most part. It’s important to remember that fish this time of year require patience and some technique to catch due to cold water temps. Most fish in a small lake will congregate in similar areas to start their spawning rituals. Most fish like to locate shallow warm bays and muddy flats. When it comes to spawning fish you need to make sure it is the season before targeting that specific fish. Panfish are available to catch year round, unlike bass, walleye, pike, and musky. Be sure to check your local fishing regulations to get an accurate confirmation on fish seasons near you. Shortly after the water temperatures have warmed up you can look to find most bass and panfish species shallow. Bass will look for weedy soft bottoms where they can drop their eggs. Fish this time of year can be fickle when it comes to locating the correct spawning grounds. It is also important to consider the predators and competition aspects that fish go through during this period. Bigger fish such as northern pike and musky spawn before the panfish and bass. Northern pike will spawn before a musky, its common for water that contains both musky and pike for the first hatched pike to eat the musky fry. Always keep in mind fish spawning patterns and their usual sping movements in order to catch them this time of year. If you’re not familiar with a new body of water in search for spring fish. Always start by scouting shallow, weedy soft-bottomed bays or marinas to find a variety of panfish and bass. Always remember safe fish handling and selective harvest once the season opens in your neck of the woods.

Madison Fishing Expo

During the weekend of February 22-24, Madison will be hosting its annual fishing expo at the Aliant energy center in Madison Wisconsin. This is an opportunity for ice angler from around the state to come and observe some of the products available from many of vendors. Every year Madison hosts this event for local anglers to check out new products for a good price. The Madison fishing expo is a chance for small companies and business to expose their items to a large group of consumers with the same interest. As mentioned before I am a student at the University of Whitewater Wisconsin. I Am the Vice President of the UWW Bass fishing team. For about ten years now the UWW bass fishing team has had a booth at the Madison fishing expo. The purpose of the UWW Bass team doing this is to create more awareness that colleges have bass fishing teams. This is also an opportunity to purchase some UWW Bass team apparel such as hats and shirts. We will be selling these products for around ten to fifteen dollars. All money that we raise goes back into the team for funding our events such as tournaments. This is a very special opportunity that our bass team receives and we are all grateful to have the opportunity to present the UWW Bass Fishing team at this event. The Madison fishing expo also has some neat attractions for the kids such as small casting tournaments and a trout pond. The Madison fishing expo offers opportunities for people of all ages and passions. Not only do they provide fishing equipment but also a chance to win a free guided fishing trip to Canada or Florida. The vendors also offer tips and techniques to help catch more fish along with key speakers at the professional level. That being said I would recommend anyone within the state of Wisconsin to come to check out the Madison fishing expo. You never know if you will pick up a new passion or win the next guided fishing trip to Canada!