Despite a much cooler and wetter than normal spring, the Walleyes throughout the Winnebago System are returning to their normal late spring haunts on the reefs of Lake Winnebago. Water temperatures are still several degrees behind for mid May, and the numerous windy days have kept many anglers off of the lake recently.
When the weather has cooperated, so have the fish on the reefs and rocky shorelines! Walleyes are being caught from Black Wolf all the way up the west shore to Menasha, and just about everywhere in between!
To productively fish the many reefs of Lake Winnebago, having a GPS with a Lake Chip that displays the contours of the lake's bottom is priceless. A lake this size can be overwhelming to try and conquer, but with the Lake Chip a person can break the lake down by fishing reefs and breaks that look good on the chip.
When I head for the Lake this time of the year, I like to have a game plan before the boat even reaches the water. Wind direction is the main factor for me when I consider where I want to start fishing. Certain parts of the lake are good with certain winds. An easterly wind tends to push feeding Walleyes onto the many west shore reefs of the lake, while a moderate westerly wind will do the same for the east shore. Knowing what the wind has done for the two or three days prior can also help you decided where you should be fishing.
For instance, if there has been a heavy west wind for three days and today is fairly calm, I know that the west shore reefs will have clean water, while the east shore rocks will still have nice dirty water that will allow the fish to be shallow even without lots of wave action. My technique would be to troll the east shore in these conditions.
Another important factor to consider when fishing the rocks of Lake Winnebago is technique. Calm, sunny conditions favor a trolling bite along the reef edges, while windy, overcast days favor either drifting or anchoring on the reef tops. There are also times when trolling can be very productive in windy conditions on the reefs, primarily the larger reefs with lots of shallow water on them.
When the wind is blowing waves over the reefs, Walleyes move shallow in search of an easy meal, which often times concentrates the Walleyes on a specific part of the reef. Drifting can be a great way of locating the active Walleyes. Taking different drifts over the reef and then hitting a waypoint when a fish is caught will help you better locate the active fish.
There will be some days on the reefs where the fish are on a small spot, and other times where you will catch them scattered all over the reef. Drifting the reefs will allow you to diagnose what is happening below the boat. Boat control when drifting is also critical and can dictate whether you catch fish or not. A drift sock in windy conditions will allow you to present your jigs to the fish slower, which gives them a better chance to find and eat it!
Slip bobbering the reefs can also be a very productive technique when the fish are stacked on a certain part of the reef, or also when the reef you are fishing is very small. Setting your slip bobber so that the jig is only a couple inches off the bottom is usually the most productive method, but I have also set them so that the waves cause the jig to touch bottom and then pop up off the bottom and had some great days as well.
Another less common way to fish the reefs is to cast crankbaits. This can be done while anchored and watching slip bobbers or while drifting, and can produce numbers of fish as well. Perch colored baits have always been my personal favorite, since a hungry Walleye simply can't resist a small Perch that swims by! Bright colors can also produce when fishing dirty water.
As soon as the weather allows anglers to get out, there will be Walleyes waiting on the many reefs and rocky shorelines of Lake Winnebago! I hope some of these pointers will put a few fish in the boat for you!