A warm week of weather has been seen in the Lake Winnebago region, which in turn has led to the first signs of spring in Eastern Wisconsin. By Sunday, Feb 25th, many of the local fishing clubs had pulled their bridges off Lake Winnebago and numerous vehicle were breaking thru the ice, especially along the western shore. Essentially the ice season on Lake Winnebago is done unless accessing by ATV or foot.
After an epic ice season for Lake Winnebago, where large numbers of fish were harvested, some of the remaining fish are now schooling in preparation for the spawning runs. Many of these fish are grouping near the mouth of Fox River in Oshkosh. Food sources remain minimal, so the solid bite should continue for the foreseeable future.
The Fox River in Oshkosh has open water, and some boats have ventured out onto the river. There are ice flows moving down the river, and the upper lakes are still ice locked. Still too dangerous for me out there, so I have been focusing north to Green Bay and the Fox River.
On Saturday 3/3/18, The Fox River in DePere was jammed pack full of boats. While the docks are not installed, it stopped no angler from getting the long sticks out for some walleye action. Many were rewarded with some fantastic action.
The Fox in DePere, WI has minimal ice except in some of the slack water areas and shorelines. Water temperatures have been rising and registered 38 degrees on Saturday. Unusual for this body of water, water clarity was extremely clear, with unprecedented visibility. Water flow was very light, but the spillways were active.
With the light current, many of the walleyes were up in the flats or on top of rocky rises. The main river channel held only a few fish, except on the steep drops, where schools of white fish were suspended in the 8-10-foot depths.
While we tried a host of tactics this week, several trends did emerge:
There is a mid-afternoon lull. Morning and evening bites were solid.
Plastics were sporadic but caught most of our fish (more on this below).
The dam is holding a few bigger walleyes, and they are attracted to vibration style baits.
It’s never too early for crawlers
The jigging bite is weak, pitched plastics/live bait are the key.
We tried a bunch of different plastics this week, and one plastic out fished everything else hands down. The Hooksetter’s Split Tail Plastic Insanity (4 inch) was the golden ticket. Group thinking was the scent of the plastic was key; but whatever the reason, about 50% of the fish came on this plastic. (SwampDonkey bait shop (Fox River Launch/Dairy Queen) had these in stock, but they sold out on Saturday, so you may want to go directly to their website).
I experimented with crawlers during our most recent trip. Surprisingly, I produced numerous walleyes on crawlers, which typically doesn’t start working until mid-April. The walleyes caught on crawlers were significantly smaller (under 20”). The Fox River in Green Bay also has limited bait fish like Lake Winnebago, so many non-traditional tactics may produce fish currently. The key to catching these fish was watching your line for changes. These fish would mouth the bait, but not run.
All told, we produced about 45 walleyes on Saturday, with 35 plus over 20 inches. About 25% of the fish came on a jig and minnow. I would say the male walleyes outpaced the females 5:1.
The best fishing is yet to come, as many females have not moved into the river yet. Look for pockets of water current or warm water to be most successful based on today’s conditions. With a snowstorm predicted for mid-week, the river dynamics are almost guaranteed to change by next weekend.
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