Jul 10, 2015

On The Move Again: The Petenwell Flowage

By: Larry Smith

I feel that things always cycle. Lake Winnebago, over the last three or four years, has been phenomenal. I contribute this mainly to the low levels of forage. In my opinion, the low levels of forage is mainly due to the cold springs and cool summers. When this happens, our baitfish do not have adequate hatches along with many other species such as panfish and, believe it or not, even the sheepshead do not have very good hatches in these types of conditions. You might think this is not such a bad thing, but the sheepshead population is a large part of the ecosystem. When our forage levels are low, the young sheepshead are a main forage for walleyes and other game fish.

Years ago, the DNR used to trap net and trawl out on Lake Winnebago and harvest the sheepshead. I was fortunate enough to work on the trawler one summer. I shoveled a lot of sheephead onto the conveyors. At that time, the DNR was selling sheepshead to the mink ranchers for mink food. I remember one guy from a fish market coming up from Chicago with a refrigerated truck and he bought and sold them as silver bass. Then from a fish market for a few years, the DNR had a private contractor trawling out there for commercial purposes until they realized the importance of keeping the sheephead numbers high in the system.  Again, in my opinion, the Lake Winnebago system is going to be on a downward cycle for a few years because of the over harvesting of walleyes due to lack of regulation and a slot limit. I also think that our white bass, crappie and perch numbers will be down due to poor conditions.

On the bright side, just straight west of Lake Winnebago sits the second biggest inland lake in the state; The Petenwell Flowage. This lake has had a slot on it for quite a few years now. The result of the main spawners being protected is now beginning to show on this lake. The last couple of years, there has been a lot of fish in the 24-30” range caught.

This system is almost completely opposite of Lake Winnebago. It is a stained body of water. The structure is not rocks and weeds like Lake Winnebago, but rather trees and stumps.   Sunny days are actually more productive due to the stained water. East winds are not good but only seem to slow things down. Most of the walleyes relate to the bottom and, last but not least, minnows work year round.   

On a good day, it’s not unusual to catch 40 to 60 walleyes in a variety of sizes. When jigging on this body of water, I use a lot of weedless style jigs. I prefer the ones that are made with 8 bristles. I usually trim 3-4 of them off and I can usually get through most of the timber which increases the hook setting percentage. Doing this will save you a lot of frustration (and some of your hard earned money) from being snagged all the time. It also allows you to get right down into the thick timber, where the fish are laying, and work your way through it. 

If you have never fished a body of water like this before, a great way to learn it (because of the amount of structure it has) is to simply go out and purchase a Lakemaster chip for your Humminbird. When I am looking at the Lakemaster chip, I look at any of the sharp turns in the river channel or anything that has a steep drop to it because the walleye will relate to these areas. The reason to key in on these spots is that they are great ambush spots for walleye to feed. Furthermore, I have always said that this is a bankers’ bite; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. is the time when this lake is the most productive.  I would credit this to the stained water system and the light conditions.    These walleyes also like to move up and down on these shelves. So don’t get stuck on fishing a small range of depths. Sometimes they can be up in 8 ft. feeding heavily and in a short time they can be down to 24 feet.  They might not be as active at this depth, but they are still catchable. 

In order to stay on top of these fish, I use my Minn Kota Terrova to make my way up and down these breaks. When I find them, I hit the spot lock feature and hover over them.  This is an awesome feature, and it sure makes life a lot easier-particularly when you are fishing a stump infested body of water such as the Petenwell Flowage. I have lost a lot of anchors to this lake due to its heavy structure. Besides the fact that I am getting a little older and fighting the anchor is not what it used to be, it is also a lot faster to be able to use this feature.

Something that both Petenwell and Castle Rock have in common is that on the real windy nasty days, you can go up to the north end of the system and go into the river. This part of the system also has adjacent backwater which I have found to be very productive- and here you can fish comfortably. On windy nasty days fishing this area beats staying at home and working on the “Honey Do” list- Yes, I know we all have one.

In closing, the older I get, the more I look at life differently. At the end of each day I think to myself, “Today is gone and will never come back.” None of us are really certain how many days we are going to be here. I certainly cannot think of too many better ways to spend the day than to enjoy the outdoors with my family and friends. This recurrent thought is one of the reasons that we are stepping up to the plate to start a new TV Production. We are going to put much of our efforts into getting more kids involved in the outdoors. Starting in July, you will be able to go YouTube to find our show and we will be adding segments weekly. Also, look for us at Larry Smith Outdoors for tips and techniques. Watch us enjoying the outdoors. You can also go on our website to see what networks we will be on this fall.