SLIPPIN’ INTO SUMMER ON THE WINNEBAGO SYSTEM
By: Kyle Sorensen
Anchor down, a warm breeze drifting across the rippled lake, a cold drink in your hand and maybe some tunes softly riding the sound waves? Yes, please! This is the relaxing scenario we look forward to this time of the year. Now throw in some slip bobbers and a jig pole, and you have yourself the makings of a perfect day on the water… especially when targeting the early post-spawn walleyes here on the Lake Winnebago System. Hang on folks… we’re slippin’ into summer!
This is certainly a magical time of the year. Our summer targets are returning here to Lake Winnebago, some of which have made voyages in excess of 80 miles! As these fish return from their grueling spawning run, they are hungry and EASY for the taking. While pulling flies, a thumper floater, and/or one-line cranks can surely work (as we talked about in my last article), during this time I like to switch gears to the scenario first described.
To achieve success in the most simplest of ways during this time, slip-bobbering and jigging are at the top of the list. Watching bobbers float around, waiting for one to slowly drop, is something I look forward to each year. It’s easy and fun! If you can’t sit still for long periods of time like me, a jig pole is certainly something to keep you entertained. While slip-bobbering and jigging are easy to do, you must know the basics and the locations to target to be successful during this time.
Location. Location. Location. Ever hear that before? Well, just like with house buying, your location/fishing grounds are the most important aspect in fishing. You could have the best equipment in the market, the perfect lure/bait combo, the optimal presentation, but if the fish aren’t there, you can’t catch them. The easiest way to pick a fishing spot on this body of water is to look at a map. By following the river channels into the various water bodies on the Winnebago system, many key areas of interest stand out, and they are easily viewed on the map. Let’s throw a dart on the map and briefly talk about Lake Butte des Morts.
Lake Butte des Morts is in the center of the Lake Winnebago System. Most of the traveling eyes run through this lake on their journey to various spawning grounds on the system, such as the marches up by Shiocton. On Butte des Morts, some key areas close to the river channel stand out like sore thumbs and because of this, these areas have produced heavy fishing pressure by fishermen in the past.
Sunset Point is one of these areas. It is positioned on the northern shore on Lake Butte des Morts and is the closest point to the river channel and 41 Bridge. If a south wind presents itself during the post-spawn period, this area turns hotter than the usual “average bite” as the waves pound into the mostly soft sand point. Oakwood Point is another goodie, and this point is almost directly across the lake from Sunset, but on the south shore. This point holds a more rocky area, which has taken various lures of mine. The rocks and boulders in this area provide for an excellent fishing environment as the structures allow the resting eyes a break from the current and waves that often frequent this area. The rocky bottom also allows for hiding places for the hungry eyes to ambush their prey.
Skipping across the Fox River and landing into Lake Winnebago, many areas come to mind. On any given day in May, you can find hundreds of boats frequenting the mid-western shore of the lake, out from the mouth of the river. Some of the returning fish will head north, some south, and a few will also decide to stick it out in the river. It’s important to take note of where the river channel runs once it hits Winnebago. As soon as it breaks into the main lake around the Brays Point area, it runs south. Heading south past Stoney Beach and Roe Point, it slowly tapers off into a nonexistent current. These areas and many more such as Jesuit, can hold some phenomenal fishing action at times. It’s important to remember that while I only mentioned areas south of the mouth, areas north of the mouth can be even better at times.
While equipment always comes down to personal preference, I like a 7’ rod with a medium powered blank. Team that up with a moderate or slow taper/action, you have yourself one heck of a slipping rod. The moderate taper/action allows for a more shock absorbent battle while permitting the cast to have more flight, meaning an easier and longer cast while keeping the live bait hooked throughout its delivery. A bend of this type of rod can somewhat be compared to a longer trolling rod. When spooling up my slipping rigs, I like to run either 6 lb. or 8 lb. fluorocarbon on my reels, usually 6 lb. While the fluoro is known for its minimal visibility, it also helps to fight off some of the nicks the line endures from slowly rubbing up on a rock that is holding [a few] of our infamous zebra mussels.
The float and split-shot used on the end of the line are all dependent upon the conditions faced (current, type of live bait and size, wave action, etc.). Whatever the conditions, I like to be able to use the correct combination to achieve a steady float that will drop under with the slightest of pressure, as these fish can feel the weight of the cork. Crawlers can sometimes carry more weight than a leech (size dependant) so having a nice assortment of weights and slips are needed to present the bait in an optimal manner.
While some might overlook the true importance of a hook, you mustn’t in this area. I am usually running Gamakatsu bait holder hooks (#6, 8, 10) and these also vary in size needed depending on the live bait being presented, while keeping the smallest usable hook tied on. I love these for slipping because of the small barbs on the shafts of the hook. When I rig a crawler, I will thread enough onto the shaft on the hook, sometimes even over the eyelet of the hook, making it look in line of the rig. While many just hook a leech through its sucker, I will usually thread the leech partially onto the shaft. The barbs on the shaft drastically help to hold the chosen bait in place. Any type of bait holder hook I use is usually always snelled to my line, but then again, personal preference comes into play here as well.
When positioning the slip in the target zone, I usually know of little rock piles or larger rocks in the given area that I am fishing. If there is a decent current or the wave action is of the strong variety, I try to float the slips in from the windblown side, across and over the smaller area I am hoping to target. This is important so you do not spook the fish by dropping the rig on top of their head! Usually, depending on the size of the larger rock or pile I am working, a couple fish will hold in the smaller area and they will quickly show themselves when the slip slowly drifts past or over them. I like to run the slips 6 to 8 inches off of the bottom or the highest point of the structure I am fishing, from the lowest part of the crawler or leech. When the poles are positioned in my boat, I leave the bails open so the rigs can move freely, whether by waves, current, or fish. When a fish hits, I allow them time (sometimes upwards of 20 seconds or more) before the sweeping style of hook set is performed.
If I feel like doing a little bit of work while watching the corks bob, I will bust out the jig pole. Previously, I always recommended a nice 7’ to 7’6” medium rod with a fast or extra fast action, however, this past year I downsized to a 6’ medium powered rod with a fast-actioned tip. I grew to like the smaller pole because it seemed to present my jig in a better manner. One downside to the smaller rod is its reach. I feel as though I have lost more jigs due to the limited reach of the shorter rod when snagging up in a rock bed.
For line, I run an 8 lb. test braid, directly tied onto a 6 lb. or 8 lb. fluorocarbon leader, ultimately ending with the jig. As with many other tactics on this system, it’s important to constantly check your line and leader, as the slightest collision with a zebra mussel could mean a lost fish in the future. The sizes of jigs can change frequently with conditions. I like to get away with the smallest jig possible, usually around a 1/16 oz. Colors really haven’t seemed to matter in my boat, as I have always used various colors during each outing due to losses/snags. I will say one thing though, I really like any jig that brandishes a blood red hook.
The presentation methods vary from large lifts and drops to just dragging the jig over the bottom. I usually find myself jiggling the crawler in place (barely pulling it in closer), adding a pause, and then slowly dragging it about a foot or so. I will repeat this constantly until reaching boat side when I will slowly bring the jig up. You would be surprised how many fish follow and ultimately strike when the jig is just a few inches the surface! As always, it’s important to change up presentation methods to find out what the fish want on that given day… or hour.
Bait is something extremely important. Over the past few years, I cannot recall a time that I have used minnows under slips for walleye fishing. As I have already touched on, my “go-to’s“ are lively leeches and fat nightcrawlers. It is extremely important to have both on each outing. I remember a day last summer when I was fishing with a buddy of mine. We had anchored off a nice rocky point and decided to give it a whirl. Perfect conditions resulted in more ‘eyes than I can remember and a trip I will never forget.
When I say we got ‘eyes, we got our eaters and even at one time, we had two mid 20’s in the Frabill! It was insane. To get there, we needed to switch bait halfway through. First it was crawlers, then we switched to leeches after the bite died down… and WHAM! Back at it! We were followed back to the launch by a gentleman who came up and asked what we were using as he said he saw us pulling up the fish and just could not believe it. He was given the exact recipe that we were using and he said, “I knew I should have used something different than minnows.” The moral of the story: be prepared.
This time is just an amazing time to be on the water. Put the cooler days and the passing river fishing/run in the past, bust out the slip and jig rods, grab some suntan lotion (which Clint knows all about), and slip into summer the right way. I hope you all had some awesome action during the run and that you are able to have some fun in the sun this summer, while enjoying this great fishery we call the Lake Winnebago System.
Until next time, “Tight Lines. Stay Dry.”
Kyle Sorensen lives in Oshkosh, WI with his wife (Traci) and their two dogs (Boomer and Bella). Kyle has over 20 years of experience fishing the Lake Winnebago System. He enjoys being able to pass on what he has learned through his videos and articles in order to try and help others become more successful fishermen. When Kyle is out fishing, so are his cameras. To contact Kyle or to view or read his material, jump onto his website: www.oboutdoors.com