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Winnebagoís Suspended Walleyes
By Gary Engberg

If you have not fished Lake Winnebagoís vast fishery than you are missing one of Wisconsinís premier walleye waters. Lake Winnebago is the largest inland lake in the state of Wisconsin encompassing 137,708 acres and a maximum depth of 21 feet. This breaks down to approximately a lake 30 miles long and 10 miles wide. If you would include the Fox and Wolf Rivers which are part of the system and the upper lakes of Butte des Morts, Winneconne, and Poygan there is more fishable waters than one could fish in a lifetime.
  Iíve fished Lake Winnebago regularly for over a dozen years and I have never had better fishing than this year. You could always catch walleyes on ĎBago, but for years one would struggle to catch legal or 15Ē fish. All of the system holds itís own walleyes year-round, with spawning taking place in many areas from the Wolf River down to the main lakes reefs and rocky shorelines.The fish like to spawn in the upper marshes and work their way back to the main lake. But, as I said walleyes would stay in the upper lakes through out the summer depending on the forage supply.
  Sometime in late May or early June or when the water temperature reaches 60 degrees, many of the schools of fish move out into the big lake and on to the mud flats to feed on bugs and schools of forage fish. The fish roam this huge body of water from Menasha to Fond Du Lac searching for food which is their primary concern.
  A few years back, Greg Horoky of Canada fishing an In-Fisherman Professional Walleye Trail tournament unlocked a secret that holds true to this day. Horoky found schools of 3 to 5 pound fish suspended over the mud flats. The fish Greg were catching were only a few feet down over 18 to 20 feet. These fish are not even located or marked on the best electronics because they are so shallow. There is a relationship between the walleye and white bass. The white bass will attack schools of baitfish and stun them. The walleyes being the opportunistic feeder they are will move in and take the easy pickings. These fish are so high in the water column because they are actively feeding and very aggressive.
  Another important factor is that Lake Winnebago did away with a size minimum a couple of years ago and instead of hurting the lakeís population itís helped it. Anglers were more than happy to take home some of those 13 and 14Ē fish which put less pressure on the bigger fish and allowed some year classes to grow and spawn.
  The population of the lakes fish has grown and now there is plenty of fish between 18 and 22Ē. Kendall Kamke, the D.N.R. biologist in Oshkosh estimates that there are 800,000 to1.2 million walleyes longer than 15 inches in the Winnebago system.The daily bag limit is 5 walleyes with no minimum size limit.There are walleyes from the1991,1996,1997, and 1998 year classes in good numbers. The 1991 fish should be25 to 28 inches by now.
  The month of June Winnebago has had a major walleye tournament every weekend and the weights bare this out. Iíve seen tourneys were 10 fish for a little over 20 pounds would put you in the money and the top 10. Now, the Mercury Nationals and the Otter Street Tourney had winning weights of 47 pounds by Gary Gray in the Merc and 43 pounds in the Otter Street event. Twenty pounds wouldnít put you in the top 150 teams in the Mercury Nationals.
  This month Iíve fished Lake Winnebago about 15 times and I had to go back to some old spots to catch fish. The last few years, Iíve spent more time in the upper lakes because thatís where the fish seemed to be. This year Iíve spent most of my time on the main lake trolling the mud. I spent a weekend trying to catch some of the non-stop fish you see on the bottom. I mean you see fish everywhere and Iím sure some of them are walleyes, but they are not biters.
  Constantly, you have to run lines way up in the water column. Lures that run somewhere between 5 and 12 feet down. You can even run lures that go only 2 to3 feet down over the deepest water and catch some of the biggest fish.
  The fish that Iíve been working are from Garlic Island all the way to Menasha. But, to catch these fish you have to work them constantly trying different lures at different speeds and varying the number of feet back. Never troll or pull in a straight line. Always troll or pull your baits turning regularly causing inside cranks to slow down and outside baits to speed up. This will sometimes trigger fish to hit.
  To be a good troller on a big body of water like Winnebago means you have to be set up correctly for to do it right. A large deep-V boat is a must because the wind can pick up on the lake and make it ugly. I have a Tracker Boats Targa 2000 which is 20 feet long with a beam of 96 inches. This boat can take the roughest waters including anything the Great Lakes can offer. My main Motor is a Mercury Outboard Motors The Water Calls Optimax 200 h.p., but the important motor for trolling is the Mercury 9.9h.p. four Stroke kicker. Some anglers I know use a 15 horse kicker, but the 9.9 has been fine for me. The four stroke is great with little smoke or noise and great fuel economy.
  The TR-1 autopilot is one of the greatest inventions for the fisherman. You can get a course and stay on it while having your hands for fishing. They are attached to your kicker and really save you time and energy. 
  Next, itís important to have line counter reels (Daiwa 27G) and good long rods to get your baits away from the boat. Here I use G. Loomis MBR941 which is a 7í10Ē rod with a fast tip and good lower strength for big fish. My line is Stren Easy Cast in green and 10 to 12 lb. test. I have never had a big walleye break this line and itís really good to work with.
 
Winnebago Eyes can be alot of fun The crankbaits that work well on the Winnebago system are no secret. I prefer Mannís Stretch 5ís and 10ís and the Loudmouth Jerkbait.Other baits that work well are Shad Raps in #4,5,8,and 9, Wally Divers, and Jr. Thundersticks. Colors change regularly, but black-chrome, blue-chrome, fire-tiger, and orange belly cranks seem to be best. But, donít be afraid to try any color. The next important tool is in-line planer boards.Off Shore Tackle and Trolling products for serious walleye fisherman makes by far the best board there is on the market.
 
The boards allow you to get your lines farther away from the boat and the new tattle tail flag letís you know if youíre dragging a small fish or weed. The new releases, which are just on the market, donít slip or have to be double wrapped. Off Shore continually refines and updates itís products to remain on the cutting edge of the fishing industry. If youíre fishing with a partner, youíre allowed six lines in Wisconsin so with planer boards you can run six boards and really cover alot of territory and water. Once, you locate fish you can cut down your trolling distance and zero in on the aggressive fish.
  The Lake Winnebago system is a walleye angler dream now, so try to get out and catch some good eaters and remember that high in the water column is where youíll find the better fish. And one other thing, vary your speed from 1m.p.h. to over 2 m.p.h. and if itís rough go with the waves.



 
Gary Engberg hoists a fine early spring Winnebago Eye GARY ENGBERG OUTDOORS
10106 Hwy.  Y   Mazomanie,Wi.    53560
Phone & Fax    608 795-4208
E-mail    gengberg@chorus.net
website Gary Engberg Outdoors
Copyright Gary Engberg Outdoors


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