The past week has brought consistently warmer air temperatures to the Lake Winnebago region. Air temperatures were in the 80’s for the first time this season, and Saturday registered the first 90 degree reading. Precipitation was held to a minimum.
Water temperatures have made a quick climb higher. Fond du Lac is currently registering 74 degrees, Neenah at 66 degrees and Oshkosh 73 degrees. In the up-river lakes, Lake Poygan was at 72 degrees. By contrast, this is an 8-10 degree increase from the past report.
Ultra-clear water conditions were seen over Lake Winnebago the past week. However, the strong southwest winds from the weekend have stirred the water and visibility was noticeably more stained by Sunday. Water clarity is now variable across the lake. Weed growth has jumped significantly over the past week. Looking back at old logs, the system is approximately 14 days behind normal trends.
Walleyes had been flushing out of the river with the warmer water temperatures, less current, and dropping water levels. Male walleyes have become more numerous throughout Lake Winnebago and the strong 2014 walleye class is now very evident. Walleyes in the 13-15-inch range are extremely common.
Food remains readily available for many game fish. Strong populations of baitfish, larve from flies, young of the year hatches and even frogs are ever-present for mature fish. This has reduced catch rates for larger walleyes.
Bluegills have started moving onto their beds and have become a target to some anglers. Crappies have moved deeper, and can be targeted with walleye trolling methods, especially in 11-14 feet of water along the east shore. Largemouth bass have become more predictable in location with the new weed emergence.
Walleyes were setting up on the deepest edges of western reefs during the past week. In some cases, these stacks were very tight and concentrated. Jigs and meat (leeches or crawlers) were the best option to target these stacks. It took extreme boat control to target these fish in the winds.
Deep water trolling (a.k.a. the mud) has started to fire especially in front of the mouth of the Fox River. Larger females are present, but highly scattered. The larger mud schools, which are typical this time of year, are not formed yet.
I did some mid-depth (7-12 feet) trolling this week on the east shore. I did find walleyes easily, trolling cranks in the center of the water column. It took me just under 1.5 hours to produce a limit of 14-17-inch fish, including some bonus perch. Honestly, I was targeting crappies, and couldn’t find where the school had been blown to after the strong winds. By far, black and gold cranks were the preferred colors. Speed of 1.6 to 1.8 mph’s were favored.
The Fox River and Upper Lakes continue to be productive for walleyes, white bass, black bass and catfish.
This past weekend was the Mercury National Walleye Tournament. Nearly all participants caught tournament quality walleyes, with very few zeros registered for the weekend. However, most anglers registered partial baskets (2.4 fish per team per day). Average fish size was about 1.75 pounds or about 15-18”. I did witness several fish over 7 pounds at the weigh in. The better fish produced seemed to be taken via jigging methods near the reefs. However, the largest walleye of the tournament (8.24 pounds) was caught in the mud.
Next weekend is the Otter Street/Battle on Bago Summer event. This is the largest competition event of the season on Lake Winnebago. Many of the 325 teams of anglers have been tight lipped this past week about locations and tactics.
Given the forecast of strong storms and warm temperatures for the upcoming week, there could be a push of walleyes out of the Upper Lakes and rivers. Given the expected thunderstorms, those walleyes may push out to the mud and the deeper parts of the lake. I would not be at all surprised to see Battle on Bago to be won either in the deep holes of the river or out in the mud. Think deep with the storms.
Also, a huge shout out to Chase Eberly, my tournament partner and MyFishingPartner contributor, who placed fourth in the Cabela’s National Team Competition (250 teams) on Lake Erie with Max Wilson. Congrats on your All-American ring!
Have a great week, and keep your eye on the sky this week with the threat of severe weather in the forecast. firstname.lastname@example.org is my email. Good luck to all of the tournament anglers this weekend.