Sport fishing on area lakes is closed until the first weekend of May, making warm, sunny weekends in the next few months the ideal time to load up the fishing rods and take the kids out for an afternoon of shore fishing.
Most serious boat anglers will spend the next several weeks on the Rock River, where they can catch bass, walleye and muskellunge, leaving lake shorelines clear for young ones and parents to catch and release bluegill, perch and crappies.
With warmer weather just around the corner, Lake Country Sunday recently caught up with Mike Smith, owner of Dick Smith's Live Bait & Tackle in Delafield, for some tips and advice on how to have a fun, successful fishing outing.
Wait for the right weather
One of the biggest mistakes one can make while fishing during the spring is to start too early, Smith said. Panfish won't move into the shallow water until high temperatures are consistently in the 50s for at least a week, he said. Sunny, warm days will produce the best opportunity for getting strikes on the hook.
"Once you get some of those warm days, the fish will move into the shallow water and you can catch them easier than on a cold, cloudy day,” Smith said.
Smith said the time of day is also important.
“Afternoons are going to be better," he said. "Sunny days are going to be better when the water temperature warms up. And this is whether it's on the boat or on shore.”
Choose the right location
For family shore fishing, Smith recommends the Nixon Park pond in Hartland, the Delafield Fish Hatchery, Pewaukee Lake, Okauchee Lake in the town of Oconomowoc and Fowler Lake in the city of Oconomowoc.
Those spots offer easy accessibility, good fishing facilities such as boardwalks or piers and a high probability of catching a few fish. However, don't plan on fishing for keeps.
“A lot of these shore fishing places are not going to be 'I'm going to go catch a fish fry with my kids,'” Smith said. “Normally, shore fishing opportunities are more of a fun, catch-and-release type thing."
Use the right gear
When looking through aisle after aisle of crankbaits, plastic worms, hooks, weights and fish attractants, it can be easy to become overwhelmed when thinking about what to use on your fishing trip.
But it really doesn't have to be that complex for shore fishing, Smith said.
Smith recommends a simple bobber with a small hook and a crappie minnow, red worm or wax worm. He said four- to six-pound test line is ideal, and advised to hang the hook about two feet below the bobber.
“Keep it simple," Smith said.
Patrons of Smith's store can also have their rods set up in-store with a simple bobber, a little jig or hook and a worm.
"Especially in spring, live bait is going to work better than any artificial bait.”
Smith said kids may be disappointed if they head to the lake with plans to catch fish after fish.
Fishing with a bobber and a worm takes patience because it isn't as active as the casting and reeling typical of using artificial bait. But by following Smith's advice, families are likely to pull a few fish out of the water.
“Any time a kid can go out and see the bobber go under and reel in a fish, it's exciting and rewarding for them,” he said.
Dick Smith's Live Bait & Tackle frequently holds fishing clinics for kids. To learn more about the clinics or to sign up, visit dicksmithslivebait.com.
Mike Smith's top 5 shore fishing spots
Delafield Fish Hatchery
Address: 417 Main St., Delafield, WI 53018
Amenities: Ample parking, large boardwalk.
Address: 222 W Wisconsin Ave., Pewaukee, WI 53072
Amenities: Fishing pier, ample parking, close to restaurants.
Address: 100 block of East Wisconsin Avenue, Oconomowoc, WI 53066
Amenities: Boardwalk, ample parking, close to downtown Oconomowoc.
Address: 175 E. Park Avenue
Amenities: Small size, close to downtown Hartland.
Address: Road T, town of Oconomowoc, WI 53066
Amenities: Fishing pier.