May 10, 2014

Winneconne Spring Fishing

By: Larry Smith

The Lake Winnebago system is a huge body of water. It is the largest inland lake in the state. It is very unique because it has two main river systems going through it as well as a number of secondary rivers attached to it. If someone were to ask me what my favorite part of the system is, I would have to say the Winneconne area would be my first thought. It is one of the largest funnels on the system. What I mean by this is, that 70% of the walleyes that make the run, go up through Winneconne into Lake Poygan and up into the Wolf River for the annual spring run. It also has a number of channels that are awesome for crappie and bluegill fishing in the spring. I remember as a young boy, when the walleyes were migrating up river to spawn and returning back down the river after the spawn, my dad taking me to fish off the bridge.

I am sure that anyone that goes though Winneconne this time of year knows what I am referring to: It seems to have become a tradition that marks the beginning of spring. As soon as the river opens there are guys up on the bridge fishing, and when you see this you know spring has sprung. I am always amazed at the numbers of fish that come off of this bridge as well as the different species.

Along with the great fishing in Winneconne it also has some great restaurants. One of my favorites is the Fin-n-Feather where you can have a great relaxing meal and watch the guys catching fish off of the bridge. Another bonus to Winneconne is that it has one of the best sport shops in the area: Critters where you can find anything you need and more.

In the spring, there are a number of techniques that I use that I have found to be very productive to this area. Vertical jigging on both sides of the bridge with Kallan grubs and shiners proves to be more productive earlier in the year when the water is cold. As the water warms up, I switch to dragging half of a crawler on a 1/8 oz. jig over the gravel bars.

Another extremely successful technique, once the water temperature reaches the 50 degree mark, is pulling flies on a three way system. When rigging this set-up you should use line that is 10-12 lb. test, preferable Berkley XT, because a stiffer line works better. I tie about a 5- 5 ½ ft. leader and tie 2-3 flies in tandem, spaced out about a foot apart in various colors. I use about a 10 in leader with a 1 to 1-1/2 oz. pencil sinker for my weight. When pulling flies, you are pulling up into the current the majority of the time. I use my MinnKota Terova trolling motor, with a speed of about 1mph. I almost never pull up stream in a straight line. I am always tacking side to side and up and down the breaks of the river channel. I am pumping the rig as I am going upstream. By doing this, the hair on the flies open and closes, which attracts the fish. Let me tell you, there is never a doubt when you get a bite because they slam it.

Flat line trolling is also a key way to catch a lot of walleyes through these areas. The baits most often used are Salmos and Flicker Shads. Something to remember on this part of the system is once you are going up into Lake Poygan and hit the mouth of the Wolf River, it is against the law to troll or pull upstream. This bite in Winneconne is typically very active as long as there is a fair amount of current flowing through the system. Lake Winneconne and Poygan are on the top side of Winneconne where a lot of people love to troll the flats with planer boards along with crank baits and crawler harnesses.

A unique fishing technique that I feel originated from this area is using long cane poles 12-20 ft. in length with small spinners attached to them. These long rods give the spinner a unique action.   Some guys are drifting with them and yet others will troll with them traveling at about a mile per hour. This is an enjoyable way to get fish in the boat.

In late spring and summer, pitching jigs with half a crawler or a leech in areas up around the edges of the cane beds is also a fun fishing technique for walleyes. I like to use my trolling motor and stay out just far enough that when I cast a 1/16 or a 1/8 oz. jig I can reach the edges of the cane bed. A lot of guys like to get up real close and pitch the pockets inside the cane beds. It is an unwritten law that you should stay out of the canes with your boat this time of year. These areas are a very fragile part of the system. I prefer to stay out just far enough to reach the edges because I catch a lot of fish 20-30 feet. out from the canes. Sometimes these fish might just follow the bait out that far before they decide to hit it and other times the walleyes may just be staging out off the canes.

Along with really good walleye, white bass and panfish, this area is also key for some tremendous largemouth bass fishing. Mainly due to the number of channels that come off of this area.

   Another bonus of fishing Winneconne is that the boat landings are probably the safest around. A friend of mine is a police officer in Winneconne, who loves to fish, so I always say that one of the safest places in Winneconne is the boat landings, because he likes to check out who is catching what.