If you want to help local conservation projects while testing new fishing ideas and the latest tackle, you’ll find endless ways to combine those pleasures at the annual Madison Fishing Expo, which runs Friday to Feb 23 at the Alliant Center.
This nonprofit fundraising show draws more than 20,000 people each winter for seminars by expert anglers and informative sales pitches from nearly 200 exhibitors discussing new gear, boats, engines and fishing getaways.
The family-oriented Expo also offers youth activities such as minnow races, casting demonstrations and trout-pond fishing.
The Expo is operated by an all-volunteer organization that donates all proceeds to fishing projects and fishing-related programs in south-central Wisconsin. Since 1985, those donations exceed $600,000. Recent donations include:
— $12,500 to the Yahara Fishing Club for the Warner Park project;
— $5,000 for the UW-Stevens Point Scholarship Fund;
— $10,500 to the city of Middleton for its Pheasant Branch project;
— $2,000 for the Thursday’s Child event at Lake Wisconsin;
— and $2,000 for the Big Spring Creek project by the Harry Nohr chapter of Trout Unlimited.
The Expo also features 24 seminars by expert anglers between Friday night and Sunday afternoon, with most focusing on tactics and techniques for using live bait and artificial lures to catch Wisconsin fish.
Whether you want to learn new ways to fish muskies in northern Wisconsin; salmon on Lake Michigan; walleyes in Green Bay; or panfish, walleyes and muskies on Madison-area lakes, you’ll want to hit these seminars.
The lineup includes Wisconsin-based fishing pros Pete Maina, Joe Bucher, Madison’s Joe Puccio and Daryl Christensen; fly-tying legend John Bethke; and Troy Lindner of Lindner Media Productions. The seminars also feature top state guides such as Marianne Huskey of Green Bay; Dan Fox of Port Washington; Lee Tauchen of Madison; Greg Karch of Oshkosh; Rick Krueger of Madison; and Rob Manthei and Ken Jackson of St. Germaine.
For Christensen, 65, of Montello, the Madison Fishing Expo is almost a homecoming. He spoke at the first Expo in 1985 and several more in the years that followed, but his latest Expo appearance was 2009.
Christensen first guided fishermen at age 10 from his grandfather’s bait shop near the Fox River dam that forms Buffalo Lake. He typically rowed his clients along the Fox, where he learned how and when to fish the river based on weather, water flow and time of day.
“I’d charge $5 a day and a pop for my tip,” he said. “I’ve always been fascinated by fishing. A lot of what I learned as a kid I’ve been able to apply as a guide and tournament angler.”
About 20 years after guiding his first clients, Christensen launched a full-time outdoors career through guiding, outdoor writing and photography; and fishing professionally in state and national bass and walleye tournaments. Since 1978 he’s compiled 40 top-10 finishes, including eight firsts and 10 seconds; and qualified 19 times for the national walleye championship tourney. He also was the 1998 Super Pro champion and the 2003 Professional Walleye Trail champion on Lake Erie.
Christensen credits much of his success and consistency to watching and learning from other top anglers he met while guiding and competing. His Expo seminars Saturday and Sunday share many of those insights.
“I always paid attention to what other guys were doing because I was fishing with some of the best anglers in the world,” Christensen said. “I wanted to get better. I was never satisfied. My thing was always jig-fishing, but I learned not to rely on one method. If you’re a ‘One Method Pete,’ you’ll have lots of long days without many fish.”
That’s why Christensen’s seminars teach tips and tactics that range from basic to bizarre.
“You must have at least one good skill that’s your bread and butter, but you need to try something else when fish don’t bite,” he said. “When I first saw planer boards in the back of a guy’s boat, I didn’t care that he’d caught a whole pile of walleyes. I said there’s no way I’d ever fish walleyes with those things. Well, a few years went by and I had 10 planer boards in my boat, and I won the Lake Erie tournament with them. You have to adapt.”
Besides jigs and planer boards, Christensen also has mastered the subtleties of jigging spoons, slip-bobbers, Dipsy Divers, downriggers, speed-trolling and bottom-bouncing rigs, to name a few. Even so, he said successful fishing is more about knowledge than gear.
“I talk with fishermen who have spent $100,000 for the best boat, engine, electronics and fishing tackle, but they still can’t catch fish,” he said. “They’re like the golfer who spends thousands on the best clubs but never learns how to use them. Equipment won’t make you better unless you learn to use and apply it. It makes no sense to spend thousands on equipment, but refuse to spend $300 on a guide who can teach you about using it.”
Sometimes, though, success just means trying something different or unusual.
“Too many guys think bluegills can only be caught five feet down along weed beds,” Christensen said. “That’s where they’ve caught them before, and they refuse to try anywhere else. They never think to pull anchor, move into 25 or 30 feet of water, and start drifting. But if they did, they might find big, suspended bluegills five feet down. You’re using the same gear and presentation, but you’re applying it in places you never tried before.”
That’s also why Christensen seldom pushes specific lures or equipment.
“There are not 30 different ways to catch fish,” he said. “There’s about four to six ways to catch them. But there’s no end to the different places, depths and times you can apply those methods.”
The Madison Fishing Expo is sponsored by Wisconsin Outdoor News, NBC 15, Badgerland Chevy Dealers, The BIG 1070, Outdoor Wisconsin, Lake-Link and Subway Restaurants.