The grips of winter are rapidly slipping across the southern two-thirds of the state. This is bad news for ice anglers who have been cheated out of a typical Minnesota winter this year.The good news is that, normally, it takes a lot more than a few warm days to put ice anglers out of commission along the northern edge of Minnesota.
I wouldn’t dare venture out on most lakes in the metro area but there was little concern driving the truck several miles onto Lake of the Woods, specifically Muskeg Bay, this past Saturday morning to do some late season trophy pike fishing.
“I can’t say how much fun it is to get all those kids on the ice,” Sathre said. “Even though it’s a lot of work, the support of the community and all those smiling faces today makes it well worthwhile.”
Late ice and early ice get so much attention it’s only fair that mid-ice gets its fair share of ink. After all, it’s the timeframe more anglers fish and it is largely neglected by the experts who are too busy debating the merits of early ice versus late ice.
Flat calm conditions are not normal on massive bodies of water like Lake Winnebago covering 137,708 acres of east-central Wisconsin. A massive body of water 30 miles long by 10 miles wide, it is a lake fed by the Wolf River and Fox River and drains north into Green Bay.
The lake is full of a wide variety of game fish and an impressive forage base—enough to keep the game fish growing large and chunky. I recently had the opportunity to fish this tremendous body of water and was impressed with all that it had to offer.
Troy Peterson was my guide for the day and a mixed bag was what I was hoping for us to pursue. A professional angler for over a decade, Peterson’s nickname is “Mr. Bluegill” because of his affinity and skill at catching massive bluegills.
“There are big bluegill in Winnebago and there are great lakes in the area but today we’re going to go after smallmouth bass and then walleye,” he told me upon meeting in the morning.
I had the option to go after whatever, but having never fished Winnebago or the area lakes, I was open to whatever he felt was best.
He came highly recommended from the Fond du Lac Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. Not only did those folks help me find a guide, they also helped me find a great room and showed me around town. Their office in town is a great place to visit to learn more about the amenities in town or you can visit them online at www.fdl.com.
We started off the morning in pursuit of smallmouth bass on a large boulder field in 15 to 18 feet of water. Three and four-inch tubes were the lure of choice and it wasn’t long until we’d both caught half a dozen chunky smallies.
After a few hours chasing fat, green smallmouth bass, we headed out to the mud flats in the middle of the lake in pursuit of walleye. Like most lakes around the upper-Midwest, Winnebago is about two weeks behind schedule for typical summer patterns.
“The mud bite just got going earlier in the week and we might have a tough time out there finding them, but it’s where the walleye are going to be for next few weeks so I think we’ll do good,” Peterson said.
Wisconsin allows three lines per person so we put planer boards out, three on each side of the boat, armed with spinner rigs of varying colors and blade styles. As a native Minnesotan, I’ve only fished one line per person in the boat. I’ve run boards before, but Peterson provided me with a quick refresher and it wasn’t long until I was proficient at setting them up.
It’s a tactic that would work with multiple anglers in the boat, no matter what size boat. With six lines out and multiple doubles, we still managed to reel in fish after fish without a single tangle. It’s simply a matter of thinking three dimensionally and being able to slide rods up and down the rod holders as the fish dictate.
We caught a ton of sheepshead, a species prevalent in the Winnebago system, in addition to two limits of walleye. None were over 24-inches long but all were healthy and chunky, not to mention strong fighters (especially for walleye).
Before I left, Peterson showed me a great new baitshop in town called The Reel Shot. It features an 11,000 gallon demonstration aquarium stocked with fish and accessible to anglers for sampling lures, reels and rods.
He also extended to me an invitation to return for his favorite species to pursue, big bull bluegill which, according to Peterson, are prevalent in that portion of Wisconsin.
.The Lake Winnebago Area
There are several cities located along the shores of the lake including Osh Kosh, Appleton and Fond du Lac. For my trip, I stayed in Fond du Lac and fell in love with the town.
I had a Hobie kayak along with for the ride and spent a few hours plying the waters along the southern end of the lake. The Supple Marsh is a beautiful series of channels surrounded by wetlands chock full of fish and birds.
Located in the middle of town, I might as well have been in the middle of nowhere. It was a great place for some solitude and peacefulness in the middle of an otherwise vibrant city.
Even though I had a great room at the Country Inn and Suites in town, and needed to be up at 4 a.m. for a morning fishing expedition, I found myself sliding through the waters of the marsh until well after sunset. I’d probably have stayed longer but the mosquitos urged me to get some sleep for the night sooner than I was ready.
Another great town on the lake is Osh Kosh, which is where I met my guide and where we set off for the day. More than just the brand name of kid’s clothing, Osh Kosh is a great city that truly embraces the lake as part of the town.
Still, Fond du Lac is my city of choice because of its unique location on the south end of the lake. There are massive beaches, numerous parks all along the shoreline, delicious restaurants, canals and river channels enough to shorefish and explore, and a great view of both the sunrise and sunset.
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