Engbretson Underwater Photography

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News From Behind the Scenes at Engbretson Underwater Photo and Stories about the Freshwater Environments We Visit.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The Pros and Cons of Early Season Scuba Diving

The 2021 season is underway. Water temperatures finally broke the 60-degree mark here in northern Wisconsin, which moved fish out of deep water and into the shallows for spawning.  At this time of year, I don't see many panfish, but the muskies are in the littoral zone completing their spawning rituals. I'm focusing on them now and getting some excellent pictures of post-spawn fish. In the next few weeks, I'll be switching my attention to the bass and crappie that will be spawning next and providing some excellent photo opportunities. Bluegills and pumpkinseed will be the last to spawn, with many bluegills still on nests well into July.

At this time of year, water clarity varies widely. Some lakes have excellent clarity very early in the year that degrades very quickly and never clears up. Other lakes are murky in spring and gradually clear up by mid-summer. Quickly rising temperatures also cause the water to stratify. A barrier can be formed that's difficult to see through. As long as you're looking straight ahead in a horizontal column of water that's the same temperature, you can see well. However, if you look up or down, even a few feet, you won't be able to see far because of this thermal barrier. This can make finding fish difficult. Once the water temperature warms enough, this layer will fall dramatically and form the thermocline, which is typically 20-30 feet deep.

One of the best things about diving Wisconsin's lakes in May is that boat traffic is still very limited. Kids are still in school, summer visitors haven't arrived and many cottages have yet to open for the year. This usually means that during the week, I have the lakes all to myself. After Memorial Day, things get busier. The increased boating traffic always drives the fish away from the shallows to deeper stretches where they're not as easy to find and photograph. Right now, even walleyes are in untypically shallow water and I've seen a few of them near shoreline cover in less than 10 feet of water.  

If you've always wanted to see our native fish in their natural habitat, pick up a snorkel and some swim fins and jump into the closest lake near you. You'll be surprised what you can see this time of year.