Lake Winnebago is known as a Walleye factory, as it continues to pump out huge year classes of Walleyes and can sustain major angler harvests on a yearly basis. What Lake Winnebago may lack in trophy sized fish, it easily makes up for with its high concentrations of perfect eating sized fish! Lake Winnebago offers anglers plenty of options to catch Walleyes throughout the year. I have broken down the primary bites and explained each one in more detail below.
Fishing the Reefs
Generally the reefs along the West and East shores of the lake will hold numbers of good eating sized Walleyes (with the occasional dandy mixed in) between the months of April and August. These reefs can be fished productively many different ways.
If you prefer to troll, larger reefs are your best bet as you can troll longer passes on the larger reefs. Flicker Shads, Rip Shads, Salmon Hornets, and Wally Divers are my favorites for this type of fishing. Keeping your lures near the bottom typically works best when targeting reef Walleyes, as they will typically be near bottom searching for food while cruising the reefs. There are also times where less can be more on the reefs. What I mean by that is sometimes you are better off only running one planer board out each side and a flat line out each side rather than run a full six planer board spread. This is especially true on smaller reefs and when the fish are relating to a certain depth on the reef. Digging your baits into the bottom is known to trigger strikes, but there are certain reefs that now have moss growing on them which makes this tactic impossible.
Anchoring on top of a reef during windy conditions can be a very productive method as well. Walleyes tend to move shallower as the wave action increases, so finding the tip top of the reef can be critical to catching the most fish. While anchoring, both slip bobbers and an eighth ounce jig tipped with either night crawlers or leeches are both good options. If Walleyes are present, you will typically know it right away as they will bite. Giving each spot 15 minutes before making small moves will greatly increase your odds of getting on an active pod of fish.
Drifting over the reefs is an often overlooked tactic that can yield great results while reef fishing on Lake Winnebago. Simply allowing the wind to blow you across the reef lets an angler cover different parts of the reef quickly. There are times where the Walleyes will be scattered over the reef rather than holding in one particular area of the reef. Drifting allows an angler to cover the entire reef, picking off scattered fish one at a time. This tactic is especially productive later in the summer when water clarity diminishes.
Trolling spinners around the reefs will also work well at times, especially when there is very little wave action. Walleyes like to relate to the edges of the reef in deeper water during sunny, calm conditions. Slowly trolling spinners along the edges of reefs during these conditions will tempt these fairly inactive fish into feeding.
Trolling the Mud Flats
Lake Winnebago contains thousands of acres of expansive mud flats that contain very little structure. Walleyes will scatter out in groups in the mud from Menasha to Fond du Lac once they return to Lake Winnebago from their spring spawning run up the Fox and Wolf Rivers. These fish can provide great action once located and patterned, but are famous for being here one day and gone the next.
Good electronics are an essential tool in locating and figuring out Lake Winnebago’s mud flat Walleyes. Understanding what a Walleye looks like compared to a White Bass or Sheepshead on your electronics is also very important, as these other fish seem to be everywhere in the mud! Typically a Walleye will throw off a wider signal on your electronics, as well as a more defined arc. White Bass will typically be in small schools high in the water column and be thinner and have a less defined arc than Walleyes. Sheepshead will many times be all over the water column like Walleyes, but their arcs will be thinner and also less defined than a Walleye.
Once fish are located, there are two general programs used to catch these roaming Walleyes. Trolling crankbaits and spinners are the most popular tactics, and both can work very well at times. Generally crankbaits will work better in wavy conditions, while spinners will work best during calmer conditions.
When trolling crankbaits, spreading your lures throughout the water column to start allows you to determine where the fish are feeding on that particular day. Trolling speed is another variable that can make all the difference, so don’t be afraid to vary your speed until a productive speed is determined. Also, varying colors and types of lures until a preference is shown by the fish is always a good idea. By varying all of these variables to start out the day, you will be on the fast track to patterning the fish and filling up the livewell in short order!
Like crankbaits, there are endless options when it comes to pulling spinners in the mud, but keeping things simple to start can actually allow you to pattern the fish faster. There are many different ways to weight down your spinner to get it down to the fish including; snap weights, inline weights, bottom bouncers, and even split shots. Rather than varying the amount of weight being used, varying the type of weight to start out is a better idea. Using the same amount of weight on each line keeps things simple when trying to figure out what the fish want. When it comes to the actual spinners, varying the bead colors, blade colors, blade sizes, and even blade types will help you fine tune the Walleye’s preference. Speed is also a huge factor to pay attention to with spinners, as a tenth of a mile per hour can make all the difference!
Weeds can be found in the many bays and along many shorelines of the West shore of Lake Winnebago. Many Walleyes will spend much of the year lurking in the weeds, where they feed on young of the year Panfish and minnows. Weed Walleyes are often the most aggressive fish, as they often shoot up out of the weedy cover to land their meals.
There are a few different ways to fish the weeds of Lake Winnebago. Early in the year before the weeds have topped out, trolling can be a very productive option. Trolling both spinners and crankbaits will catch fish. Getting your lure close to the tops of the weeds and hitting the weed tops from time to time works the best, as this is the Walleyes feeding zone.
Casting the weeds is another effective method for targeting weed Walleyes, especially when fishing smaller weed beds or sporadic weed areas. Small crankbaits like Flicker Shads and Shad Raps work great on weed edges, while a Little Cleo can be deadly over higher weeds.
Jigging the weeds is another tactic that can produce really well in the right conditions. Water clarity plays a huge role in this, as clear water will prevent you from getting close enough to the fish without spooking them and really dirty water makes it tough for the fish to find your jig. Weedless jigs come in handy here, as they will limit minimize weeds getting caught on your jig. Both casting and pitching into weed pockets can work, depending on the type of weeds being fished.
Lakes Poygan, Winneconne, and Butte des Morts
The Upriver Lakes of the Winnebago system offer spectacular Walleye fishing like Lake Winnebago, even though these lakes are much different. The Upriver Lakes are even shallower than Lake Winnebago, reaching maximum depths of only 12 feet or so. Trolling is the most popular method for chasing Walleyes here, but there are other methods that will at times produce both numbers and good sized Walleyes.
Trolling the Upriver Lakes
Shortly after the Walleyes finish spawning in the marshes of the Wolf River, the trolling bite on the Upriver Lakes begins as tens of thousands of Walleyes make their way through Lakes Poygan, Winneconne, and Butte des Morts back to Lake Winnebago. There are many different places to troll for these migrating Walleyes, but the trolling program remains similar wherever you choose to fish. Early in the year small baits like #5 Shad Raps, #5 Flicker Shads, and #4 Salmo Hornets will produce the most fish. Trolling slow is also a key to success at this time of the year, as cold water temps make Walleyes more lethargic and less likely to chase fast moving baits. Bright colors tend to work well as the water clarity is usually poor during the spring months.
Spinners can also be used while trolling the Upriver Lakes to catch Walleyes. The only problem with spinners can be the nuisance White Bass and Sheepshead that can at times make it nearly impossible to get your spinner in front of a Walleye! Spinners can be trolled anywhere you would normally run crank baits, and at times will catch larger Walleyes than the crank baits will.
When deciding where to troll, understand that Walleyes will relate to any subtle changes in depth or bottom content amongst these otherwise structureless lakes. The trolling bite in the upriver lakes will usually last into June, as Walleyes really get the urge to get back to Lake Winnebago once the first warm days really start heating up the shallow upriver lakes.
There are many cane beds strewn throughout the Upriver Lakes, all of which can hold Walleyes. There are several ways of fishing the can beds to catch Walleyes. Jigging the cane can be very productive as well as very exciting! Many times these shallow water Walleyes will thrash around on the surface upon hook set! Jigging the cane takes good boat control, as there is a fine line between keeping your boat in the right position where you won’t spook the fish and yet close enough to fish effectively. Calm days can actually be really good for fishing cane, as can windy days. During windy conditions anchoring and slip bobbering becomes a more viable option as Walleyes tend to roam along the edges of the cane.
Trolling along cane beds can also yield good numbers of Walleyes when there are numbers of fish relating to the cane beds. Pulling planer boards right along the edge of the cane beds will work, and many times you will also catch fish on the opposite side of the boat away from the cane beds.
The Wolf River is flooded with Walleyes every spring, creating great fishing opportunities from April through June. There is also an annual fall Walleye migration into the river, which consists primarily of eating sized Walleyes and the occasional big fish.
As soon as the ice goes out along the Wolf River, there are Walleyes there for the taking. During the post ice out phase Walleyes are heading upriver towards their spawning marshes. Walleyes swim a long ways to spawn, so they tend to take the path of least resistance to swim up the river. There is a good bite anchoring on inside bends of the river and slack current areas. Pitching out jigs with Shiner minnows and simply pumping them in the current will take Walleyes that are passing through on their way upriver. As the waters of the Wolf River continue to rise and warm, Walleyes become much tougher to catch as they begin to focus on spawning. There is typically a three or four day lull in the fishing action as the fish begin spawning every year.
The post-spawn bite produces the best bite of the year for numbers of large Walleyes as the females flush out of the marshes by the thousands and turn their focus back to food. Female Walleyes leave the marshes right after spawning, while the males will hang around the marshes and spawn until all of the females are finished spawning. There are several ways to target these hungry post-spawn fish, with vertical jigging being preferred. Shiners, Fatheads, Nightcrawlers, and even Gulp will all take fish at this time of the year if presented properly to the fish. Main current areas and outside bends prove to be prime locations for contacting these fish as they ride the current on their way downriver. Anchoring and pumping jigs can also work for post-spawn Walleyes once a high traffic area is determined.
As the waters begin to warm into the 50’s these fish will also slide shallow and feed along the wooded shorelines. Casting crankbaits will take fish shallow, unfortunately there are plenty of hidden snags which can make fishing crankbaits a challenge. As the males begin flushing out of the marshes, dragging small jigs tipped with Nightcrawlers along clean sections of river bottom will produce good numbers of male Walleyes. The key to this presentation is to keep your jig lightly tapping the bottom and have your line directly upriver of the boat. The post-spawn river bite can make for incredible action, unfortunately it usually only lasts for a week or two tops.
Fall on the Wolf River can be a great time to catch a limit of great eating Walleyes. Each fall, the migration of baitfish into the Wolf River, falling water temps, and fall rains draw Walleyes into the Wolf River, where they will spend the winter in the numerous deep holes between Orihula and Shiocton. Vertical jigging is the most effective method to use when targeting Walleyes in the fall. Deep sections of river, deep holes, and sharp river bends all will hold Walleyes in the fall. The action can be red hot one day and slow the next, as waves of Walleyes make their way upriver. Understanding this will help you stay ahead of the fish, as you know which way they headed when the hot bite from yesterday has suddenly cooled off. Nightcrawlers, Shiners, Fatheads, and Gulp will all take fish in the fall, with Shiners being my personal favorite.
Fox River in Oshkosh and Winneconne
The Fox River in both Winneconne and Oshkosh provides great Walleye Fishing opportunities from ice out to ice up. As the ice leaves the river in the spring, Walleyes can be taken in good numbers as huge schools of Walleyes are making their way through their river towards their spawning locations along the Wolf and Fox Rivers. There is usually a lull in the action once the majority of fish have headed upriver, but the bite improves as post-spawn fish begin coming downriver on their way back to Lake Winnebago. All summer long Walleyes will trickle through the river from the Upriver Lakes which creates a hit and miss bite. There are days in the summer where you can catch good numbers of Walleyes in short order, and also days where catching a Walleye becomes nearly impossible. As the summer fades to fall, another Walleye migration begins in the river. Walleyes can be taken right up to ice up in the river as fish continue passing through on their way towards their wintering locations. Trolling, rigging, jigging, and pulling flies can all be productive tactics for taking Walleyes in the river.
Finally made it back over to the Wolf River, launched at Red Banks and fished from Fremont to Gills Landing in search of some fall Walleyes. Fishing started off good, boating a 16" Walleye on the second drift, then another 18" Walleye on the very next drift. Fish were biting very light, had several fish come off and several bite marks on the Minnows. Continued moving around in search of a larger pod of Walleyes but never found one. Ended the day with 4 Walleyes from 16-19" and a couple 6-10" Walleyes. Chartruese 1/4oz. jigs caught all of our keeper Walleyes, while Shiner Minnows were the bait of choice. From talking with the other anglers on the water, there doesn't seem to be the numbers of fish around like this time last year!
Took another trip out to the Wolf River for a couple hours last night and was not disappointed with the fishing! The two of us managed 17 Walleyes from 4:30-7:30! All the fish were caught vertical jigging 1/4 ounce jigs with a half crawler. Put a minnow on right now and you will be pulling in a Whitebass! Watched a few boats around us pulling them in one after the other! Now is a great time to get out on the Wolf with the family and enjoy putting some fish in the boat! Whitebass seem to be on the inside bends and shallow sides of the river, while the Walleyes are on the deeper side and in the deeper holes. Good luck and feel free to leave your report!
Fished with my dad and brother from 4:30-8:00, only managed 3 Walleyes (18, 16.5, 15.5) just upriver from Fremont using 1/4 ounce jigs and vertical jigging in 12-16 feet of water. There seemed to be far fewer fish migrating through than there has been for the past week. The AIM Walleye Tournament confirms the lack of fish, out of the 44 Pros fishing the event, only 3 were able to catch a 7 fish limit!
Fished from 8-3 and managed 15 Walleyes between 15-21 inches. All fish caught vertical jigging with minnows and crawlers in 12-16 feet of water. Jig color didn't seem to matter, as we caught them on purple, orange, green, and chartreuse! Lots of fish still coming down the river and flushing out into Poygan!
Steve and I fished the Fort Fremont Walleye Classic and took third place with 5 fish weighing 16.35 pounds. The winners had 17.16 pounds and were fishing the same area as we were all day. The only difference in our weights was a kicker fish. We had our five fish over 20" by 10:00 and could not get that one kicker fish the rest of the day! Lots of females flushing out of the river, which is why the bite was so good despite the terrible weather conditions!
Fished from 8-2:30 in the crazy winds down in Fremont. Ended the day with 12 Walleyes with the biggest being 22". Caught all the fish vertical jigging with Shiners in 10-15 feet of water. The fish absolutely hammered the jig, which made for a fun day!
Spent 4 hours on the river in New London and only managed 4 Walleyes from 13-17 inches by anchoring and pumping 1/8 ounce jigs with Shiner Minnows. The word from other anglers was that some females came through in the morning and the night before! The afternoon bite was tough, and the high, fast, and dirty water didn't help the bite any.
Haven't been out lately, but the word is SLOW, which means the fish are in the marshes and busy doing what brought them way up the Wolf River to begin with, SPAWNING. Every year there is a 3-5 day period when most of the fish spawn and the fishing is tough, but once these fish leave the marshes and head back downriver they will be hungry! The best action I have heard of over the last 3 days has been in town in Fremont vertical jigging with 3/8 ounce jigs in bright colors. I will be on the river Thursday and Friday searching for some fish to catch during the Fort Fremont Walleye Classic that I will be competing in on Saturday April 16. Hopefully the forecasted cold and windy weather won't hamper the bite too much!
Fishing is improving on the Wolf River with several limits being reported from the New London area. Most of the success has been by anglers that are anchoring on inside bends and pumping jigs in the shallow, lo current areas. I have also heard of a few fish being caught by vertical jigging between the bridges in Fremont as well as down by the Rat River near the mouth of Lake Poygan. The Wolf River is high and getting higher and dirtier, which will get the fish moving as well as the logs and other debris. Be careful and courteous out there, we are all out there to enjoy the outdoors and catch a few fish! I hope to get out on Thursday afternoon, I will post my results!
The Wolf River is open from Gills landing down to the mouth, but every night shell ice has been forming with the cold temperatures, causing hectic fishing and boating conditions. The ice above there is also starting to break up and head down river, causing hazardous conditions for anchoring. If anchoring right now, be sure to keep an eye upriver for ice, and also have a knife handy in case you need to cut the anchor rope! As far as the fishing, there are a few fish being caught, but the best bite on the system remains out on Lake Winnebago in front of the river in Oshkosh! 30 fish days have been fairly common this past week, and the ice is once again solid! ATV travel or walking only, but if you want to get out on the ice one more time, this is where I would go! I will be going out there tomorrow and will report back on how it went!
Its no secret that each spring hundreds of thousands of Walleyes swim up the Wolf River in search of suitable spawning marshes. Depending on the year, the fish may swim as far as the Shawano dam, which is over 100 miles by water from Lake Winnebago!
Once the fish finish spawning, its back to the dinner table for them! The fish become very aggressive and will eat just about anything that is properly presented to them. Location becomes the most important factor between catching your limit and going home empty handed. The spawned out females will be the first active fish out of the spawning marshes, and will move back down the Wolf River in schools.
The many fishing rafts along the Wolf River can be used as good indicators to where the big schools of Walleye are currently moving through, since the raft fishermen fish all night long in prime locations.
There are several different presentations that will catch fish during this time of year on the Wolf River, but I tend to change tactics as the fish transition from pre-spawn to post-spawn. On the "Up Run" as its called by many locals, I like to anchor on shallow inside bends and sand bars, waiting for the fish to come to me. This technique can be deadly when there isn't too much boat traffic and also on overcast days. You simply throw the anchors in and pump 1/8 ounce jigs in the current, waiting for the Walleye to find your minnow. The Walleyes take the path of least resistance on their way up the Wolf River, which helps them save energy on their long haul up the river.
Once the fish are done spawning, some high tail it back to Lake Winnebago, others slowly trickle back down the river in search of food, and others may find food and stay in the river for several months before finally heading back out to the lakes. The fish become scattered during this period, so being able to try different things on any given trip will boost your success rates!
Just typing this article has me itching to get a jig in the water, my first trip on the Wolf River for 2011 can't come soon enough! Check back on this page as well as the Message Board Page for updated reports and pictures!
Here is a link to wolfrivercam.com, which is a site that has live cameras on the bottom of the Wolf River. It is pretty neat to see just how many Walleyes are really in the river and gives a guy some hope! As of now there are 4 different locations to choose from, including New London, Fremont, Shicoton 1, and Shiocton 2. Later in May, Wolf River Cam moves their cameras to the site of the Sturgeon Spawn, which is also really neat to see from underwater!
Wolf River Cam