Monday, October 7, 2013

Rain, paddlefish, buffalo, and drum

In need of a vacation day, I took a three day weekend trip to Wisconsin to spend time on the Wisconsin River at the Prairie du Sac dam. Rain was in the forecast, but I figured the fish wouldn't mind. Being the lucky guy that I am, Ruoxi agreed to be my fishing companion. We drove up Friday afternoon, and since the rain hadn't started I set up the bank rods before worrying about our other gear. A few minutes after putting a nightcrawler on the bottom, the bell at the end of my rod was ringing, and I had a heavy fish on the line.

I knew that I'd have to get in the water to negotiate around snags, so I already had my waders on. There are a lot of sharp rocks in the water, especially where the shallow flat drops off into the main channel carved out by the dam discharge. After a few brief hangups, I guided the fish into the shallows. To my surprise, it came in tail first! On the end of my line was an American paddlefish, a state threatened fish in Wisconsin. My line was wrapped once around his tail, and to be honest I'm surprised he stayed on.

I unwrapped the line from the its tail, and lifted it half out of the water for a quick photo. It's important to handle these fish correctly, or you can get in trouble with the DNR. They would prefer that the paddlefish are not fully removed from the water, and they especially do not want them picked up by the snout, gill flaps, or tail. These large animals are not designed to support their own weight out of the water, so picking them up incorrectly can cause permanent damage.

American Paddlefish (Polyodon spathula)

After smiling for the photo, the paddlefish headed back to the main channel.

The rest of the afternoon was pretty slow. We lost a lot of rigs to the snags, and the only bites we had on the bottom were small freshwater drum. They're cool fish, but you do get tired of seeing them when they're all that's biting!

Freshwater Drum (Aplodinotus grunniens)

Ruoxi took one of the poles set up with a 2-hook Sabiki rig and fished closer to the dam discharge. While I was unhooking another small drum, I heard her shout that she caught a fish, and she didn't know what it was. She had caught a mooneye, one my of my favorite Wisconsin River fish!

Mooneye (Hiodon tergisus)

On Saturday we headed up to the same spot, determined to lose less rigs to snags and find more fish than the day before. We set up our awning closer to the discharge. It was nice to have when the rain picked up.

The first fish of the day was a pleasant surprise, my second ever smallmouth buffalo, and my first from Wisconsin. It was caught on one of my heavier rods, so it wasn't able to put up much of a fight.  It would have been a blast on light tackle I'm sure.

Smallmouth Buffalo (Ictiobus bubalus)

The rest of the morning was pretty slow, but this cormorant kept us company. He enjoyed snacking on the shiners that were schooled up next to shore trying to avoid predators.

Mid-day the bite began to pick back up, and we caught a few more species, including this walleye and a several small smallmouth bass.

Walleye (Sander vitreus)

Ruoxi did her share of reeling in drum. I swear we must have been putting our bait right in the middle of a huge school of them.

Freshwater Drum (Aplodinotus grunniens)

Ruoxi managed to catch three new lifers over the weekend, completing her trio with this walleye.

Walleye (Sander vitreus)

Eventually the rain and snags convinced us to head back to Madison and spend the rest of the weekend indoors. The Prairie du Sac dam can be a tough place to fish, but every time I visit there's at least one big surprise!


  1. Just stumbled across your blog today, fantastic read!!! Great pictures and write up. Give mine a read if you are into fishing tales

  2. Ben, what a great trip. And that paddlefish is awesome. But I must say you are doing it a little rough in the rain and cold.
    Tight Lines