Sep 9, 2017
This year is just flying by and we’re already slipping into fall fishing conditions! I heard many stories during the first part of the season on how tough the fishing was. Fast-forward a handful of months, and the fishing success stories have certainly been on the rise! What can we contribute this to? Walleye movements and forage decreases. The warm water temperatures and the dog days of summer will soon be slithering away, but the fish will continue to relate to many areas we have previously targeted. So, what do you need to be successful here on the Winnebago System? Let’s break down two of the many important approaches related to this time.
By: Kyle Sorensen
Over the past couple of months, like usual, the reefs on the system have been smoking hot. This action continues into the fall. With that said, reef hopping, which is our first approach, is something everyone needs to learn and put into their fishing agenda. It’s a quick and fast-paced run-and-gun style of fishing, just like how we attack the hard water: moving and moving until active fish are found. Except here, we are just jumping reef to reef.
I always approach a reef with a two-step method and look for two types of fish – highly active and slightly active. When I arrive on the reef, the Minn Kota goes down and the spot-lock is activated. By utilizing the spot-lock, I have no problem staying put where I want without having to deal with an actual anchor. This saves time and hassle. I cast cranks to start, in search of highly active fish that might be holding on or around the reef. Flicker Shads (as always) are my favorite to cast, but the Flicker Minnows (due to their ability to quickly dive) have been making a stance in my boat.
When breaking down a reef, I will fancast all areas of the reef as I slowly disengage and reengage the spot-lock. This allows me to slide in over the reef without disrupting any fish that are holding. When I am confident that I have covered all areas of the reef, I will motor back to the starting point and begin the second step of my method.
As everyone knows, jigging is probably the most valuable tactic on our system. While it can hold many meanings, the term “jigging” also stretches into the hard water. For what we are currently talking about, I refer to jigging as a lead-head jig that is either brandishing live bait or plastic. When the highly active fish aren’t showing themselves, the slightly active fish might, and this is where jigging comes in.
I will again fancast the reef, but I take two shots into each area. The first cast will consist of me giving the jig a fast presentation – a harder pop and less pause. The second will be a slow drag with a longer pause. Again, I will slide in across the reef, covering the entire area.
If this second approach doesn’t produce any fish, I’m outta there and onto the next reef. Usually, and there is sure some emphasis on “usually,” a fish or two will show themselves. Sometimes the bites are so light and just consist of a little weight, while other times it’s a whomp and you know what’s up. To help feel everything, my jigging reels are all spooled with 8 lb. braid, certainly with a fluorocarbon leader. The drags of the reels are set pretty loose due to the minimal stretch of the line, and I will then readjust the drag after a hookup. If you have ever seen my videos, you know I really like to set the hook. Every time I do, there’s usually a phrase [uttered] of “that’s a nice fish” or “there’s a good one.” The unfortunate part is that the fish is usually not as nice as I thought. After all of the fish over the years, the excitement still gets to me I guess…
Our second approach lands us into the trolling realm. During our fall time period, our walleyes are certainly putting on the feedbag. We have seen some REALLY fat fish this year thanks to the abundant forage base, but the forage has diminished to some degree. With our walleye eating so well earlier in the year (not that they aren’t now), they want to continue this streak. We will save the entire subject on crawler harness fishing for a future article of its own, so we’ll just talk about crankbaits here.
There are two areas that I will suggest you target – the wastelands and the Upriver Lakes’ basins. Let’s start with the wastelands aka the mud flats out on Winnebago. For those of us that can’t fish on a daily basis and stay on the fish, besides just guessing where to go and letting it rip, here’s one idea that will help you to cover some water and find fish: get up on plane and keep a keen eye on your graph. I like to run about 15 mph to 18 mph in search of strong marks, but this is all dependent upon your electronics setup. While it can be hard to identify the species of fish, the nice arcs could be found anywhere throughout the water column. As you begin seeing marks, dropping a waypoint in their location will be a good reference for when you decide to pull out the equipment and set up shop.
I have had “search modes” last quite a while until I have gathered up enough points to get a decent route planned, so it really comes down to how lucky you are with your starting point. After the projected route is shown, the boards and rods come out, just begging to have some cranks clipped on. Yet again here, Flickers are my go to, but Salmos certainly have their place as well! I really like covering as much of the water column as I can so my lines usually start with #4’s, #5’s, and #7’s, unless a specific size and depth has shown promise.
As we run the cranks from speeds of 1.6 mph to 2.4 mph, I am watching my electronics like a hawk as I am looking for two things – fish depth and bottom structure. With fish depth being self-explanatory, watching the bottom structure is something that can help us year-round. The wastelands have some bumps and humps that aren’t on our graph’s maps. If one is located, be sure to mark it and save it for the first approach we previously talked about. Remember, if they don’t want the cranks, slow it down in the search for the less active fish.
The Upriver Lakes’ basins and their edges are always popular areas to target. With my targeted depths of 5-8 FOW, running the smorgasbord of baits previously mentioned can sometimes be difficult, especially with a #7 Flicker. Can it be done? Absolutely, and it works, even with a minimal number of feet out behind the board. Sometimes these fish don’t mind seeing the board, as the bigger bait can turn them on. Usually upriver, I find myself running Salmos on one side and Flickers on the other. If one side is hot, you can bet the other side will soon be showing the same cranks.
As we get into the fall, we start to see more and more floating weeds on the surfaces of the Upriver Lakes. This can sometimes wreak havoc on our trolling program, especially when we know there are fish in the area. If this is happening, the boards come off, and I will run the cranks behind the boat with the rod tips underwater. This makes for a quick way to keep your line free of weeds and for quick cleanup if your rod tip loads up with them. If I must resort to dropping the rod tips, I will look for cranks with less of a dive so I can get the baits out farther from the boat. The larger floating Rapalas will get you 4 to 6 ft. down, and it’s sometimes nice to have a longer profile, as we never know for sure what the fish will want. I have a good stock of these as I run the same sizes and colors on the thumper/floater rigs when targeting river fish in the spring.
We are truly blessed to have this awesome fishery in our backyard. If you’re hunting down fish during this time, and if you plan each trip around the previously discussed approaches, I can guarantee you that you will ultimately succeed. This might not be the case on every outing, as this is the Winnebago System, but the odds will certainly be in your favor. This system gives anglers of all skill levels the chance at an awesome day on the water (or a spanking) no matter the season. Whether or not you’re excited, fall fishing on the Winnebago System means one big thing in my heart, besides the fun fishing action. It means that the hard water is the next season to present itself and words can’t describe my excitement. I wish you all the best as we wrap up the 2017 Open Water Season, no matter where you find yourselves. Until next time, “Tight Lines. Stay Dry.”