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Winnebago’s Suspended Walleyes
By Gary Engberg
If you have not fished Lake Winnebago’s vast fishery than you are missing
one of Wisconsin’s 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.
I’ve 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 ‘Bago, but for years one would struggle to catch legal or 15”
fish. All of the system holds it’s 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 lake’s
population it’s helped it. Anglers were more than happy to take home some
of those 13 and 14” 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 22”. 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
The month of June Winnebago has had a major walleye tournament
every weekend and the weights bare this out. I’ve 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 wouldn’t put you in the top 150 teams in the
This month I’ve fished Lake Winnebago about 15 times and I had
to go back to some old spots to catch fish. The last few years, I’ve spent
more time in the upper lakes because that’s where the fish seemed to be.
This year I’ve 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 I’m 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
The fish that I’ve 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
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
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
Next, it’s 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 7’10” 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 it’s really good to
||The crankbaits that work well on the Winnebago system are no secret.
I prefer Mann’s Stretch 5’s and 10’s 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, don’t be afraid to try any color.
The next important tool is in-line planer boards.
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 let’s you know if you’re dragging a small fish
or weed. The new releases, which are just on the market, don’t slip or
have to be double wrapped. Off Shore continually refines and updates it’s
products to remain on the cutting edge of the fishing industry. If you’re
fishing with a partner, you’re 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 you’ll find the better fish. And one other thing,
vary your speed from 1m.p.h. to over 2 m.p.h. and if it’s rough go with
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