When it comes to fishing, there’s more to the Wolf River than the annual spring walleye and white bass runs.
A recent outing on a stretch of the river between Fremont and New London yielded bluegills, smallmouth and largemouth bass, a northern pike, a flathead catfish and a dogfish.
Nick Peskie, a Waupaca resident who has fished the Wolf for more than 20 years, and I checked out some of his favorite hotspots on a recent weekday. The temperature was already in the mid-80s by the time we launched the boat at 9 a.m. and reached the mid-90s by the time we wrapped up the trip some six hours later.
The fishing action was just as hot.
Our first stop was the Colic Slough, a long, narrow horseshoe-shaped backwater about a mile north of the Gills Landing boat launch a few miles east of Weyauwega.
At first glance, the Colic looks like an ideal hangout for bluegills, crappie and largemouth bass, as thick lily pads lined much of the shoreline.
It wasn’t long before I hit a school of bluegills, while Peskie turned his attention to largemouth.
The bluegills weren’t big – 5 to 7 inches – but they were feisty and hit wherever I tossed a piece of nightcrawler.
My luck changed after I switched to a large white and green Beetle Spin. Something – I assumed at first it was a northern or largemouth – grabbed the bait and ran with it. The fish finally showed up at the side of the boat and turned out to be a 2-foot-long dogfish, also known as a bowfin, that Peskie guessed weighed about 8 pounds.
Minutes later, a 20-inch northern fell for the same Beetle Spin bait and didn’t fight as nearly as hard as the dogfish.
Peskie settled for a chunky largemouth caught on a topwater bait before we headed out for the main river channel.
“When you’re on the Wolf, you can pull in anything,” he said. “I’ve caught about anything and everything under the sun. It’s probably one of the healthiest fisheries in the state as far as numerous species. Being connected to (Lake) Winnebago definitely helps that.”
The Wolf flows out of Pine Lake in Forest County, near Crandon, and flows south through Forest, Oneida, Langlade, Menominee and Shawano counties before entering Waupaca County east of Clintonville.
The river has several bends after it flows through New London on its way to Fremont and, eventually, Lake Winnebago.
Peskie began targeting smallmouth along the east shore while using a homemade plastic tube bait.
He soon reeled a 15-incher to the boat that hit his bait only a few feet from shore.
“Smallmouth will usually be in the channel up along the shore,” Peskie said. “They’re feeding on crayfish and everything coming in. We haven’t had any rain in a while, but when there’s rain, they go crazy in the shallows because the new nutrients and new food supplies are pouring in.”
I wasn’t having much luck going after smallmouth, so I went back to nightcrawlers near Gills Landing. A hard bite had me thinking that I had maybe hooked into another dogfish, but this time, it turned out to be a 24-inch flathead catfish, which, like dogfish, are common in the Wolf.
Peskie recalled fishing the Wolf’s spring walleye run as a 5-year-old with his dad.
“Growing up, we would park in the same spot every day,” he said. “You could walk across (the river) from boat to boat to boat. It was kind of like a coffee klatch. Everyone came out, BS’d and talked fishing. Everyone caught fish.”
Although the spring walleye and white bass runs still bring anglers out in droves, Peskie has noticed a change over the years.
“Overall, the fish are still there, but the size quality isn’t,” he said. “I have noticed the size go down not drastically, but a good amount, with (the DNR) taking the size limit off. I would like to see a slot limit where you’re allowed to keep one fish over a certain length. It promotes size structure. Without a limit out here, people are taking 10-inch fish home. That’s just not conducive to reproduction down the line.”
Walleye continue to be a main draw for anglers.
“If you’re going for walleye, I would stick to the main channel,” Peskie said. “I would try to use a jig and a minnow or a jig and an artificial, something that’s hopping along the bottom. You can either anchor or drift, depending on your preference. Backwaters are a good place to start for almost all of the other species. If you can’t find them back there, I would go back out to the channel.”
The fishing eventually tapered off, but not until we saw a 4-foot lake sturgeon jump out of the water just downstream from the boat landing.
“What keeps me coming here is there’s a little bit of everything to do,” said Peskie, who also competes in bass and musky tournaments. “If I want to go bass fishing, I can go into the backwaters and power fish. I can practice whatever I need to out here. It’s so dynamic and diverse. No matter where I’m fishing out here, there’s almost always something that surprises me.”
One fish that did surprise him was his biggest musky – a 54-incher – that he caught in the Waupaca River, about a half-mile upstream from where it empties into the Wolf near Gills Landing.
“I was out smallmouth fishing,” he said. “I didn’t have musky gear and it took me at least 40 minutes to land it. I got a couple pictures and it was out of season, so I was worried about its health because I knew it was getting to be spawn time.”
He also once hooked a lake sturgeon that he estimated to be 8 feet long.
“They’re such a beautiful fish,” Peskie said. “I love watching them spawn. I’m happy that we care enough about them to protect them. It takes two hours to land that size of fish. I typically try to play them and get my jig back if I can, but I’m OK with them taking my jig. I’d rather get back to fishing than deal with a fish that I can’t keep anyway.”
There wasn’t much development along the stretch of river we fished. Most of the surrounding area is marshy and the land along the river is prone to flooding each spring.
“The river’s about 8 feet lower than when I fished in the spring,” Peskie said. “It can get about 10 feet higher and start causing some major flood problems. There are lots of marshes around here and some of the houses you do see are on stilts because flooding is a major issue.
“Current can definitely be an issue,” he added. “I try not to even fish out here in high current. It gets to be where it’s really strong and things can happen really quick.”
The key to finding success on the Wolf is simple, according to Peskie.
“If you’re going to start out there, don’t have too high of expectations,” he said. “It’s a big body of water and it takes getting used to. My dad kind of showed me around and that’s why I like taking people out here.
“There’s so much to do out here,” he said. “You can’t get bored.”