Feb 10, 2018

Bago's Unspoken Jewels

By: Kyle Sorensen

Lake Butte des Morts and Lake Winneconne – The “unspoken” jewels of the Lake Winnebago System.  When we talk of the Lake Winnebago System, two bodies of water usually come to mind right off the bat in many of our eyes: Lake Poygan and Lake Winnebago.  While I have certainly fished Butte des Morts (BDM) and Winneconne during the hard water time period, I haven’t made an ice video on either of them.  They really aren’t on too many of our crosshairs because there hasn’t really been too much talk of them.  If you are from the area, chances are you have fished them… and probably have fished them hard.  The less talked about water offers us locals (or those willing to adventure out) a more relaxed style of fishing - away from the mass crowds. 

I grew up fishing the Upriver Lakes.  I distinctly remember heading out with gramps (many years ago) in search of perch on the gravel beds BDM holds.  We didn’t have GPS, and we relied on the “old way” of utilizing landmarks to cross-reference our location.  While it is an obvious fact that the landmarks never moved, it always seemed to be a guessing game as we zeroed in on a targeted location.  Sometimes we would hit the beds with pure accuracy, while other times (most times) we were on the hunt.  The cane poles would come out and we would be poking and prodding our way through the muck and the sand until we felt the pay dirt. 

Fast-forward many years, and we have GPS services in our arsenal.  The sometimes-tireless search to locate our spots have been eliminated; it has helped us become more efficient, and ultimately, more effective anglers.  I have come to rely on my Humminbird units to not only mark the fish that are under or around me, but also get me to and from the spots I want. I was just working the Cabela’s Ice Fishing Classic and had a gentleman tell me he doesn’t use GPS, not even in his boat, even though he could afford a unit.  I told him that no one needs GPS, nor do we need power augers compared to a chisel.  It’s the need versus want that allows us to be more effective and efficient fishermen, depending on how we want to approach the sport.  And that’s just it, no one is wrong on how they fish.  It’s the attempt at fishing that makes the sport just as great. 

So why have a GPS?  Well it’s very important for our system, especially when talking about BDM and Winneconne.  Thanks to our fishing/conservation clubs and various donors, BDM and Winneconne have various man-made reefs and structures not available on most mapping products.  These locations, including natural structures, are found from time-to-time, especially during the open water time period.  When we get those stronger bottom returns, or we see that ever so slight of a change in the bottom while trolling or cruising through areas, we need to mark them and save them for the hard water.  These small or sometimes larger changes in the bottom or rockpiles can certainly hold fish in the winter months at various times of the day.  Will they always? Absolutely not, but it’s great to have these locations at the ready on any given day. 

If you have never fished BDM or Winneconne, you might ask how to access these lakes.  While there are a handful of roads that can allow public access (parking can sometimes be an issue), here are some “publicly listed” areas to get you started: BDM – County Launch: South Shore; End of Main Street: North Shore; Wiouwash Trail: North Shore. Winneconne – Indian Shores Road: East Shore. 

Once access is safely (and legally) obtained, it’s time to hunt down the fish!  Like the rest of the Winnebago System, moving is an absolute must; and this means the true meaning of the run and gun style of fishing.  When on search mode, most of the time we are hunting for a school of fish that is roaming the flats, in a particular area on the selected lake.  Sometimes, we are hunting down schools of panfish within or alongside weed bed breaks or within the weedbeds themselves. 

If you are into panfish, then BDM and Winneconne have you covered.  While we certainly don’t have what I would call the ability to catch multiple trophy potential fish, you do get the occasional chunker.  Spikes and plastics, brandished on small teardrops or even tiny spoons, have certainly made the list for these fish. The weedbeds contained in Sunset Bay (northern shore BDM) offer the ability to locate some decent numbers of fish.  The cane beds and submerged weeds along the southeastern shore (also BDM) can offer the same, especially during early and late ice conditions. 

On Winneconne, there are weedbeds strewn all about. If you look at the aerial imagery of this lake, you will see islands and marshy structures all over the lake.  A good rule of thumb has always been to stick close to shore and rip holes until you can locate active weeds with nice edges.  If located, the fish shouldn’t be too far behind.  By locating your weedbeds prior to your trip, either having them marked on your GPS from open water trips or by importing the coordinates from aerial imagery prior to your trip, it will certainly cut down your searching time when you hit the hard water. 

If you haven’t read one of my articles or watched one of my videos on our system, I have to say that the school(s) of fish that I hunt down have a variety of species contained within… this is what I have called for years – A Mega School. Walleye, white bass, perch and crappies, are the most common species contained within, besides the infamous ‘goat’ aka sheepshead. While I wouldn’t call it a rarity to catch a goat through the ice, I think its safe to say that most of the catch rates during this time are limited… no quarrels here! 

While BDM and Winneconne are certainly shallower than Lake Winnebago, the method to the madness is still the same.  You can certainly refer to these lakes as Mini-Lake Poygans as both BDM and Winneconne’s combined acreage is just a handful more than Poygan itself.  With that, the sometimes-monotonous ritual of: rip a hole, drop the ducer, hope for marks, jig a bit, be discouraged, move on, repeat… comes into play.  I have really fallen to rely on Rapala’s Jigging and Shad Raps over the past few years.  Running them with a medium action rod strung with 6 lb. fluorocarbon has been what I have settled with thus far.  Aggressive rips, followed by small upward flutters of the rod when they are chasing, is what has surpassed all previously attempted presentations. 

If you hit the ice and have multiple buddies with, you can break down water in a more effective and efficient way by utilizing the grid pattern we have spoken about in past articles.  These articles are available in BadgerSportsman.com’s archives and I highly suggest you check them out.  If you are by yourself, it’s the guesswork game that comes into play, jumping around and attempting to section off water by yourself.  Last year, like some years past, the schools of fish were holding so tight that moves of only 5-10 yards could be needed! 

For good starting locations, the Sandpit Road area on BDM has always been good for me, and if not, I have worked southeasterly towards the flat lands down Leonard Point Road.  Some have had success moving northwesterly towards the Fox River but I personally haven’t spent too much time in this area, nor do I have the ambitions as of now.  Don’t get me wrong, I have worked all areas from Oakwood Point through Springbrook, but I have found the best success in the previously mentioned route. 

As public access is at a premium on Lake Winneconne, there is really only one starting point.  Here, 6 FOW is generally a great starting point.  Even though BDM is linked up into two rivers (Fox and Wolf), Winneconne just has the Wolf.  With Lake Winneconne not being as large, the river channel is a serious highlight that needs to be addressed, along with its springs, as with BDM.  We all know the rivers and their channels serve as the fish “highways” throughout or system but with flowing water, ice conditions need to be fully understood. 

The rockpiles, artificial reefs, and the small bumps and humps that both BDM and Winneconne hold can show some true promise during the dawn and dusk hours, sometimes at other times. Even stopping out on a rock pile for an hour prior to sundown can sometimes be the most action one could have in a day.  Have that GPS handy and be sure to mark the spots as you find them, and resort to them on your travels if the school hunting isn’t panning out.  You never know what might show up on top of one as the daylight trickles away.  I’d say you’d be surprised, but I’m sure a lot of you know what can happen. 

As always, be cognizant of the ice conditions, especially around the cane beds and river channels throughout both BDM and Winneconne as there is usually drastically thinner ice around them.  Hard water has hit and by the time this article has reached your mailboxes, up to date fishing reports on the OB Outdoors Facebook page have already started. I hope you all have an awesome start to the New Year, and until next time, “Tight Lines. Stay Dry.”