Mar 10, 2014

The Magnetic Force of Current 

A Key to Fishing the Winnebago System

By: Larry Smith

Growing up on the Lake Winnebago system, I was fortunate to spend a lot of time with my Dad fishing. We covered it from one end to the other, but even though we lived on the lake, my dad would keep a boat up on the Wolf River in New London.

During a good spring, I can always remember my dad taking his hip boots with him due to the water levels fluctuating so much. High water was a signal to Dad that a good walleye run was coming. I learned as a young man how important the current was on this system. The amount of current that flowed down from the Wolf River through Lake Poygan, down through Butte Des Mortes and into Lake Winnebago, would determine how many walleyes would come up into the Wolf River.

This phenomenon is what I refer to as the “Magnetic Force of Current.“

The more run off from melting snow and spring rain means more current. Stronger current means a larger population of walleyes that will go up into the current and into the Wolf and Fox Rivers.

A few years ago, in late June and July, we had a lot of heavy rains that created flooding and caused the Wolf River to rise about three or four feet. Typically, at that time of year there is not an overabundance of walleyes in that part of the system. However, I had seen what good current can do; pulling fish out of the lower part of the system and into the upper part. I had some clients that had wanted to fish on Lake Winnebago, but it was one of those days that the wind was 30 plus miles per hour, so I asked if they would mind starting the trip in Fremont. I hadn’t been up there in quite a while but I had a hunch it might be well worth it.

We met at Fremont and when I got there I noticed how strong the current was, we went up river, around Partridge Lake, and started drifting back down stream. We were dragging jigs with half a crawler. It wasn’t more than 15 minutes later my theory on current was proven, there were more walleyes in that part of the system than during the spring run!

In spring, when the water levels are high and therefore a strong current present, the banks are flooded over and the water is running through the timber as far as the eye can see. This is when you want to get up on the edge of the current into the timber and anchor your boat so that half of the boat is in a slight current with the other half in a stronger current. I prefer to be on one of the many bends the Wolf River offers. The reason for this type of boat position is that early in the morning the walleyes will be making their way up river in the slack water and as the morning progresses, the walleyes with slide out into the current a little bit. Remember some of these fish are making almost a 100 mile run up into the marshes where they spawn. They will not fight the current unless they are spooked from boat traffic.

One of the main techniques when anchored up is pumping jigs or Wolf River Rigs.

When pumping jigs you want to long line the jigs so that they are at least 25 to 40 feet from the boat. You know you have the right size jig for the proper amount of current you are fishing when you’re pumping it and it falls right back into the same spot. You know that the jig is too big for the current you’re fishing if you’re pumping it and it keeps coming closer and closer to the boat. You know if it is too small for the current when you’re pumping it and you have to keep letting more and more line out and you never feel bottom contact.

This can change from one end of the boat to the other due to the way the boat is positioned. Most of the time the guy or gal closer to shore would need a lighter jig than the person out in more current. Understanding this is key to being successful.

When using this technique, make sure you have a barrel swivel about two feet up your jig, because you are constantly pumping the jig or rig, and you want to avoid line twist.   You don’t want your lure spinning on the down drop because about 90 percent of your bites will come on the downward swing.

The type of bait used on the Winnebago system can really make a difference. I like to tip my jigs or rigs with either Emerald Shiners or Uncle Josh’s Pork Minnows. The shiners work great in almost all conditions but they come off the hook fairly easy, which can be a pain when it’s cold. The Pork Minnows are nice because I can get several fish off one bait.

Once the boat traffic starts to increase, the fish are forced into the deeper water. It’s time to pull up the anchors and start drifting in deeper water and use vertical jigging. I feel the key to vertical jigging is being able to control the jig and have good bottom contact. It’s important in the heavy current to use a super braid line which will cut the current better and offer increased line sensitivity which allows you to feel the bottom with a smaller jig. I also run a barrel swivel with about a two-to-three foot fluorocarbon leader.

Sometimes in the spring with the dirty water the fluorocarbon leader is not a necessity. When vertical jigging in this dirty water using plastics like Kallins Grubs tipped with a shiner can increase the amount of fish you catch. The flash and the vibration from the grub just increase your odds of the fish being able to find your jig.

I feel very fortunate to spend the majority of my time fishing the Winnebago system. It’s really a great fishery, I just wish a slot limit would be introduced, as I’m sure then it could be world class!