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Anglers Able to Tune Out Noise

August 10, 2008

By PAUL A. SMITH

Williams Bay — It’s the first Thursday in August and Geneva Lake has the appearance of a watery Mardi Gras parade.

Under a warm, late afternoon sun, a chaotic stream of jet-skis, tubers, water-skiers and go-fast boats churns up the water. There’s music, there’s laughter, there’s skin.

The mix also contains sailboats, pontoon boats, the odd kayak and a couple dozen fishing craft.

Solitude it isn’t. But we’re all here voluntarily, all with a purpose.

“It gets crazy, for sure,” says John Reddy of Delavan, my fishing partner for the evening. “You have to keep your composure, but it’s usually worth it.”

Reddy and I have come to experience the quality fishery that Geneva, despite extraordinarily high use by boaters and anglers, has provided for decades. Angling success here requires not just tolerance of fellow boaters but techniques tailored to highly pressured, clear water.

We launch at 4:30 p.m. from the Williams Bay public ramp and motor over to Black Point. Reddy says today, with a wind from the northwest, the waves will push plankton and other food into the shore near Black Point, helping to attract fish small and large.

“There are a bunch of decisions you make on any lake, but especially a lake like this, that help a ton in catching fish,” said Reddy, who has run Reddy Guide Service in Delavan since 2005. “The first is where to fish. Next is how.”

At 5,262 acres, Geneva is one of Wisconsin’s largest natural lakes. It’s fed by springs, has a maximum depth of 135 feet, very good water quality and a good forage base. Geneva is stocked with 12,000 to 25,000 lake trout fingerlings each year, as well as about 10,000 brown trout and 250,000 small walleye fingerlings every other year. The lake also holds good, naturally reproducing populations of largemouth and smallmouth bass and northern pike.

Reddy dodges a bevy of powerboats and pulls within 50 feet of the shore at Black Point. A dense weed bed extends about 25 feet from shore, then ends as the bottom drops from 17 to 40 feet. Much of the shore also has private piers and docks.

Geneva’s largemouth bass are concentrated along such weed lines and man-made structures. We tie 1/16-ounce jig heads to 6-pound test line on medium-light action spinning rods. The jig is then tipped with a 5-inch “shaky head” plastic worm.

“The keys are to use the lightest line and weight you can get away with,” says Reddy.

Using an electric trolling motor to keep position outside the weed line, we cast as close as possible to the weed edge and pilings and let the baits fall to the bottom. The first strike occurs on my line as the bait falls, evidenced by a mere sideways twitch in the line.

I set the hook and a fat 8-inch pumpkinseed sunfish comes to the boat.

“You’ll get a mixture of species when you use light tackle,” says Reddy. “You can take that as a blessing or a curse. I always think it’s better to catch more fish.”

We continue to move down the weed line. A 30-foot powerboat cuts in front of us and points its bow into the shore. The skipper commences a conversation with a family and barking standard poodle on shore.

No matter, five minutes later Reddy has a hit. The fish deeply bends his rod and attempts to burrow into the weed bed. Reddy eventually pulls the fish toward the surface and we see the broad flank of a sizable largemouth.

The fish dives multiple times but is brought to the net. It’s a robust 18-inch largemouth; we quickly photograph and release the fish.

“It’s so important to properly handle and release fish on a lake that gets this kind of pressure,” says Reddy. “I catch fish all the time with hook marks in their mouth. Those fish lived to be caught again and we owe it to our fellow anglers to release the fish in good shape.”

To help fish survive release, keep them in the water as much as possible during handling; unhook them as quickly as possible; don’t squeeze the fish; and have a forceps or hook remover handy at all times.

We catch three more largemouth between 12 and 16 inches on the same weed line, then move.

“Another key on pressured water is to work secondary spots, not the hot spots everybody knows about,” says Reddy. “If you aren’t catching fish, keep moving until you find them.”

Reddy motors to a deep shelf near The Narrows at the eastern third of the lake. Again using the trolling motor, he keeps us over 27 to 33 feet of water, using electronics to monitor depth and locate fish.

The screen shows a few bumps on bottom and schools of suspended fish about 15 feet down.

We switch to drop shot rigs with 1/8-ounce sinkers and size 8 hooks baited with a piece of night crawler. Fished on bottom, we catch a mix of smallmouth bass and rock bass. Fished halfway down, we find a cooperative school of bluegill. The smallmouth range from 8 to 16 inches in length, the bluegill from 6 to 9 inches.

After an hour of steady action, Reddy moves again, this time to Conference Point. The boating traffic abates slightly as the evening wears on. Several tourist cruises motor past, the captain honking horns and the crowd waving.

“Just smile,” says Reddy. “The fish don’t mind.”

Here we fish another deep shelf and find more smallmouth and rock bass. Reddy said smallmouth on Geneva will move deeper and deeper as summer progresses. We catch them this evening in water as deep as 40 feet.

After we catch and release another dozen smallmouth, Reddy moves one last time, slightly west to a hump off Conference Point. The bottom holds more smallmouth and we catch them from the first cast. Reddy also lands and releases a 34-inch northern pike that hits a 3- inch piece of night crawler.

As the sun disappears behind the large oaks that line the shore we decide to head in. Carefully.

“There’s always boat traffic,” says Reddy, steering around several cocktail cruisers. “But if you watch the traffic and use the right tactics, you’ll be impressed with the fishing.”

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Send e-mail to psmith@journalsentinel.com

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