Previously on River Rat Bank Fishing Vol One…we discussed efficiency with gear packing, and making sure you have the essentials for your expedition. You can find that article here.
In this next installment, cleverly titled Volume 2, we will explore the rod and reel setups as well as equipment you can use to increase comfort and hookups while live bait fishing. Different stretches of shoreline offer unique challenges and opportunities, so having multiple rigs that offer maximum flexibility is a key element to success on the river.
Fish that haunt rivers love to eat live bait. Transporting minnows is without a doubt the most challenging aspect of river fishing. The tried and true method is the styrofoam bucket inside of a 5 gallon bucket for increased stability. This is a budget friendly advantage, but spillage and clunk is the negative. Engel and Frabill offer a waterproof sealed cooler style bait container for around fifty dollars. Since I purchased one a few years ago, I’m not sure how I ever managed without it. It’s really a game changing aspect. Forever gone is the constant worry about tipping your bucket and dumping your live bait down between rocks and wrecking your trip.
Rods and Reels
Live bait fishing on Wisconsin rivers can be a complicated topic. Some are content to slap a fathead on a number six hook with a split shot and cast away, no matter the situation. River Rats have a flow chart in their heads to determine approach and rod/reel combo to use. Species targeted, size of bait, type of river bottom, type of shoreline, and current flow all factor in the decision process. This requires a large assortment of rod and reel combos, but highlighting a few options can be a great place to start.
If you’re interested in a catchall style of reel, look no further. Baitrunner reels have a double drag system that allows for a tension free pickup and run with live bait. A quick handle turn engages the reel’s fighting drag. Slam the hookset and away you go. This single piece of hardware greatly increased my hookups on live bait for pike, catfish and walleye. Okuma’s Avenger series comes in multiple sizes, can be purchased for around fifty dollars, and is well worth every penny.
If you’re simply casting Rapalas or working soft plastics in and around structure, the Okuma Avenger will also suit those needs just fine. All you have to do is leave the baitrunner drag alone and use the reel as is. The utility of the entire Avenger line is incredible for both river and lake applications.
This expensive yet powerful tool is essential when working heavy weights and large baits, especially in current. I like the Abu 5 and 6 thousand series for dependability, good features and a modest price point. When the spring catfish and pike have the feedbag on and the currents are high, you need large live or dead bait with a heavy sinker. Casting and retrieving these big rigs requires a little muscle in the reel.
Pairing your reels with the correct shore fishing rod takes experience and knowledge of the area you will fish. A basic outline begins with rod length and weight, but as you learn which species are eating and where they’re eating, you can fit the tool to the need. Efficiency with rod selection is important when River Ratting. You simply can’t carry seven fishing rods around with you.
Working a spot with lots of overhanging tree branches necessitates tight casts with a short rod. If the current is heavy and you’ll need to use weight to keep the bait where you want it, you’ll need medium to heavy action. Any areas that require long distance casting to reach the desired fish holding spots will need longer rods with faster action. Find that happy medium between shore line obstructions and ability to cast baits where you want them.
Have extra rods stored, and just switch the reels out to save money. Check craigslist and facebook marketplace for deals on used rods. Having an assortment in your arsenal for different applications is incredibly important, and will allow for a methodical decision making process when you fish the river.
Move away from the idea of grabbing any fishing pole and your bait bucket and heading out to fish. Instead, consider where and how you’ll be fishing. Visualize the shore line, where you’ll place your baits, and how you’ll have to cast to get them there. Choose the rod and reel set up that suits that scenario. Spending a little time scoping a spot before you fish it is also helpful. Stand in the spot you plan on fishing, and imagine where and how you’ll get your casts into areas that will hold fish.
Bring Some Kids Fishing!
Wisconsin fishing is a tradition that counts on future generations to carry the torch. Include the kids and develop that River Rat sense of adventure by finding wild yet easier to access areas. Fish the high success species like catfish and spring walleye to increase excitement and investment. No matter how you do it, get those kids out fishing!
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