Jul 10, 2014

Structure Fishing the Second Largest Inland Lake in the State

By: Larry Smith

The Petenwell Flowage is the second largest inland lake in the state. It was built in the 1950’s by the Power and Light Company. The deepest spot is about 38 to 42 feet which is located on the south end of the lake. The average depth however, is 18 feet.

Growing up on Lake Winnebago, most of the time in late July, the walleye fishing typically gets pretty tough. This is due to the explosion of bait fish. About 30 years ago, this is what led me to start fishing the Castle Rock and Petenwell Flowages. A friend of mine had a place over on Castle Rock and he told me how good the walleye fishing was in late summer and all of fall. So, I went with him in late July onto the Castle Rock and I couldn’t believe how good the walleye and crappie fishing was. I started to fish this on my own and while doing so, ran into a guy that guided out there. He kindly took me in and mentored me on these areas showing me different spots and techniques. He was always talking about Petenwell so it wasn’t long before I tried my luck and these techniques on that system as well.

Using these same techniques, and fishing the same structure that he showed me on Castle Rock, I fell in love with this body of water. I couldn’t believe the numbers of walleyes as well as the size of them. Back then, there were not too many people fishing either of these bodies of water. In fact, you were lucky if you saw a half a dozen boats. This system has an abundance of timber which is not present on Lake Winnebago and therefore I was not familiar with fishing these areas. I had to change my techniques. As opposed to Lake Winnebago, I found out how crucial electronics are due to the small contained timber structures and tight drop offs. They helped me to stay on these small spots.

It took me a long time in those days to find structure but now with the convenience of Lakemaster Chips, it makes it a lot easier to locate the timber and the tight drops offs. Also, using an electric trolling motor, like my Minn Kota Trerova, it allows me to work up and down these tight breaks very slowly dragging the jig through the timber. Normally, fishing from 18 feet to 6 feet is the most productive range, slowly jigging and keeping the jig tight to bottom for walleyes. When fishing for crappies, locate the timber and hover over the top; slowly dropping your jig down, while watching your electronics to slowly fish your way down through the branches. The reason for this is that crappies will layer themselves through these branches, and if you drop down towards the bottom and start pulling the bottom fish out, you are pulling them through the rest of the school layered above them and they will spook.

Another tool to be successful here is to fish with weedless jigs, allowing you to fish through the timber and the brush and not snag up all the time. One thing to think about when you do get snagged on the timber, is not to sit and keep pulling up and down on the branches because this will also spook all the fish. Rather, just give your line a quick snap. This way the line will either come free or it will break off.

I always say that Petenwell and Lake Winnebago are totally opposite of each other. The water on Lake Winnebago is typically pretty clear, has a great early morning and evening bite, has virtually no timber for structure, and from April to July is typically the best walleye bite. Petenwell, on the other hand, is a dark water system. Typically, the best bite is from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with sunny days, by far, being the best and most productive. Timber is the primary structure, found throughout the entire lake, and from July to October is normally the best fishing. Because I fish both of these bodies of water, I have found it convenient to move out to the Berlin area in order to be situated between the two. This puts me a half hour to Lake Winnebago and about 50 minutes to Petenwell.

To be productive on Petenwell all summer and into the fall, the two primary live baits that I carry are nightcrawlers and fathead minnows. For artificial baits, plastics work very well due to the vibration and profile. Plastics preferred are the Kallin’s grubs. Also the Uncle Josh Pork Nightcrawler works very well because of the amount of natural scent that comes from this bait. Another technique that works very well on this system, when the fish are up on the sand flats, is pulling three-way rigs up and down the breaks. You have to pick your spots where the timber is not as heavy. With the dark water, you can get away with using heavy line. I prefer 14 lb. test XT on my rigging rods. My 3-way rig consists of a three foot lead going to the Aberdeen hook with a small blade above the hook or a gold Aberdeen hook and two orange or lime green beads. My sinker lead is usually about 10 to 12 inches. With the heavier line along with the Aberdeen hook, when you are snagged, it will help you to pull out because the Aberdeen hook is thinner. Therefore, it will straighten out and you won’t lose your rig.

This body of water has a slot size on it. You can only keep walleyes that are between 15 to 20 inches or one over 28 inches. The bag limit is 5 and again only one can be over 28 inches. There is a lot more pressure on this system than there was 30 years ago. The slot was put in a number of years ago and it has taken a long time due to the amount of pressure, but, finally, we are consistently catching walleyes from 22 to 28 inches, which must be released, but are awesome to catch. I am a firm believer that a slot limit is the way to go. I would love to see some type of slot limit on the Winnebago system as well. One last important thing: remember to get your kids hooked on the outdoors.