Aug 30, 2016

Pulling Pigs Outta The Mud

By: Kyle Sorensen

Ah yes, the summer nights and days are here!  We have sure had one awesome start to the year on Winnebago and the fishing action is surely not done yet!  Besides the pre-spawn fish, this is as close as you are going to get to a fully proportional, tournament caliber fish, out of our system.  I have sure boated some “pigs” during the spring action from all ends of the system as you guys have seen on the OB Outdoors Facebook page.  But, I gotta say, the dog days of summer are almost something more to look forward to if you like the gut hangers as much as I do!

During this time, fish have located themselves in the shallows, mid portions of the lake, and all around ‘bago, but now some also begin to move into the deep mud flats.  With almost 25 years of fishing this system, I have to say, I love searching for the big girls this system holds!  It’s no secret – the two most common (most talked about) places to target these fish are either in the river systems or in the mud flats.  You know me, I love fishing in areas that have the least amount of pressure, whether on the sled or in the boat, so I opt for the deep mud flats.  I love casting, jigging, slip-bobbering, and pulling various rigs (including harnesses) to the utmost level… but I also like to troll cranks when I know I have a chance at some pigs while leaving the live bait at home!

As the water temperatures creep higher and higher, some of the shallow fish feel the push to move deeper in the hunt for schools of prey.  They spend their days cruising the wastelands of Winnebago, usually in smaller schools, and these are the fish we are targeting in respect to this article.  In all theory, there is one secret rule of thumb to being successful while fishing the flats.  Are you ready? It’s being in the right place and at the right time.  There are, however, many factors that go into making this rule an easier one to achieve.  Let’s start with the combos.

You guys know I have the true smorgasbord of combos, from a variety of manufactures, so I am not going to talk on any specific one.  If you ask one person their favorite, the next could have a completely different answer. I will say, though, that I love spending my money on equipment that holds a good price point and on equipment that lasts. With that said, I have had four of my Okuma combos in the boat for over six years and they are still taking ‘bago eyes!  While I do have a couple longer rods and really like the reach of them, I have found the 7’6” rods are optimal because they are easier to handle, especially when in the boat by myself.  Have you ever tried unclipping a board by yourself while fighting a nice fish?  Once and a while this can get a little tricky and a longer rod means I am reaching and fumbling even more to get the board off.

All of the reels are spooled with 10 lb. Berkley XL.  While some like braid, I truly believe in monofilament for all of my trolling applications.  We all love a little walleye chop but sometimes that chop can get a bit lively and it can create some board skip.  The mono offers a stretch that not only soaks up most of the crashing of the boards, but it also serves as a shock absorber to any aggressive strike on the end of the line.  A huge plus to running the 10 lb. XL is that I am able to utilize the Precision Trolling Data for the lures I snap on.

All of the combos I have incorporate a four-foot long 8 lb. fluorocarbon leader, hooked up with a two way swivel, ending with a snap clip.  Especially this year, we have been seeing some above-normal water clarity reports from around the system.  Because of this, I like to go in as “stealth” as possible, so I will run these leaders for any advantage they truly give. 

Have you heard of some of the many names of cranks used on this system?  Well I’m here to tell you there is a reason that there have been so many to stand the test of time, and it comes down to my white bass assumption – the fish will hit anything when they are hungry.  One of the normal brands of cranks you will see clipped on the end of my lines is the well-known Berkley Flicker series.  Whether that means the Shads (I like #7’s) or the Minnows (#9’s are great), each have proven themselves to be pig-getters on this system time after time in my boat. 

Colors? Well, if I said color patterns involving green are hot, I could get on the water tomorrow and they will want patterns with pink.  That’s just the way it goes out here… so as you will hear a few more times, experiment with lure colors when other factors have been eliminated from the equation.  On a side note, if I am running six lines, you can bet there are at least two very different color patterns (one on each side) getting wet at any one time… if not more.

As previously mentioned, we have sure been seeing some clear water in our system this year.  With walleye feeding up, it’s important to stay out of the stigma of running all of your lures deep.  Even if the fish were holding on bottom 100% of the time, which they certainly do not, running them higher off bottom still allows the fish to see and “feel” the baits.  I usually run six lines when trolling the mud and I like to create an abnormal “V” pattern with my cranks.

On each side of the boat I run the deepest cranks on the inner lines, mid-level cranks on the middle lines, and high-riding cranks on the outer boards.  This not only allows me to cover the full water column, but it also allows for an easier retrieval when hooked up.  A key note in this is that when I classify a certain level of crank bait depth, I mean the water depth that I have chosen to run it at by the amount of line behind my board.  Let’s say I’m fishing in 19 FOW.  I might start by running each crank 15 ft. down, 8 ft. down and 3 ft. down on one side, and possibly 17 ft. down, 10 ft. down and 5 ft. down on the other.  When a certain depth is showing action, a few of the other lines (not all) are adjusted accordingly.

The speed of the boat varies.  I really like the speed of 2.2 mph but sometimes a little less, or a little more, is all that is needed to trigger strikes.  The targeted speed can change daily or even hourly so it’s important to mix it up a bit before throwing on different types of cranks or adjusting running depths.  Speed is the easiest changeup that can be made so why not rule this out first? 

I am a firm believer in not getting into the zombie mode – running in a straight line, the same speed, the same cranks, etc.  Whether I am running boards or even just one-lining, I like to throw in some zig-zags with my passes. This makes those cranks dance all around and causes each side to slow down/speed up with each movement.

Location. Location. Location.  The subject is always on everyone’s mind.  Whether you choose to start out north, south, east, or west – the smallest of bottom structures can play a key role in searching out fish.  If you have caught my past videos surrounding nighttime ice fishing on Lake Winnebago, you saw that when I dropped my sleeper in the middle of the wastelands, I landed on a very small hump.  Well I obviously marked this hump and since then, I have gone over it, picking up fish from time to time!  Other small “structures” could be transition areas, small troughs, contour lines - you name it… it can all be on the list!  The important thing to remember is that when you are fishing the wastelands, you need something to go off of so you can make an educated guess on where to start.  Maybe it’s the marks on your electronics you noticed as you were slowly working out to the glory land, or maybe it’s just past experience.  Either way, it doesn’t always come down to throwing a dart at the map and starting there!

I might get some flak for this one, but I gotta tell it like it is.  I primarily fish the west shore, however, when I decide to fish the deep mud flats, I really like an east wind!  I have had some of my best days in the mud when working an east wind.  A great example of this is shown in a video I have on my YouTube channel of a day in which we had multiple 20+” fish in the boat… even a double of two mid 20’s!  Needless to say this was a day that certainly got my blood pumping as you saw (can see) in that!

Pulling pigs out of the mud is something I look forward to each year.  While I only talked trolling cranks, there are fish to be had in a variety of tactics, including crawler harnesses.  Unfortunately, that is an article all in itself, so we will have to cover that at a later date.  This year is going down in the books as yet another awesome year on our system.  Pulling cranks in the mud is probably one of the easiest tactics out there to put big fish in the boat during the summer months here on Winnebago.  A key tip I will leave you with is this:  If you see the board drop back, or multiple ones at that, drop a pin on your chart and come back and work that area.  These fish usually keep to smaller schools, and you can fish multiple fish out of it if you work that area over and over!  The rest is up to you, so get out there and play in the mud!

Until next time, “Tight Lines. Stay Dry.”