A long and bitter stretch of winter weather was seen this week in the Lake Winnebago region. The Winnebago system made plenty of ice. Daily high temperatures struggled to break single digits for most of the week, and wind chills exceeded 30 below zero on some days.
Given the lack of snowfall this season, the cold weather is producing up to two inches of ice per day. Snowfall often insulates the ice and slows the ice formation. Currently, little to no snow is on the surface of the ice on Lake Winnebago leading to rapid ice formation. Any ice depths provided in this report will likely be inaccurate just a few hours later, as the system is constantly evolving.
The main North-South pressure crack on Lake Winnebago is about three-quarters of a mile from the west shore in the central basin and moves closer to shore as you move south toward Fond du Lac. Only a very few anglers have ventured past the crack to date. Friday afternoon, ATV bridges were placed to allow access over the crack in the Oshkosh area. There are also reports of a long and wide crack running east-west through the main basin approximately at Brother town. More info to come on this crack after the vehicle bridges are placed.
In general, 11-15” inches of ice has been found on Lake Winnebago as of Friday 12/29. Asylum Bay had a solid 15 inches of ice, and pick up trucks were seen venturing out on the ice here. Lake Poygan has ice depths more than 13”, and truck traffic was common at the end of the week. While these are general estimates, some areas have less ice, and individual judgments and ice depth checks need to be taken on every trip.
Once past the cracks on Winnebago, the surface of the ice is full of ice heaves, and travel will be more difficult in 2018.
On Lake Winnebago, most anglers were targeting panfish. With limited access to the lake within a mile of the shoreline, walleye and white bass locations were difficult to access.
Asylum Bay has been busy. We hit the bay on Friday and landed about 60 perch. While large numbers of perch are present, the quality has been subpar. Many of the perch were in the 6-9” ranges. The bite is excellent from sun-up until about noon, when the perch seem to shut down. I believe this to be related to overhead noise and angler pressure. There was a definite preference for small tungsten jigs, tipped with red spikes. The color of the jig was irrelevant. The perch came thru in schools, and we would pick up multiple fish from a school, and then the locator would go dark for 15-30 minutes until the next school showed up.
In Fond du Lac, in front of the Old Chaparral, another excellent perch bite was occurring for much of the week. Towards the end of the week, the bite had slowed. There was significant pressure here all week; Fish size was running considerably larger than Asylum Bay. Purple-colored Northland Forage Spoons were working well, tipped with a waxie.
The Wendt’s area (Van Dyne, WI) also had heavy angler traffic at the end of the week. This is a good access point for those anglers which want to walk onto the ice. There has been a mixed bag of bluegills, perch, and crappies in the area. Burbot has also been reported in rare incidences.
Merritt Street (Oshkosh) has seen little activity due to limited access past the main crack. However, I did get some reports that solid numbers of crappies, white bass, and small perch were present in the deeper water about 3 miles out. Ice depths were reported in the 11-13 inch ranges.
Gladstone Beach (East Shore) has seen some solid traffic, but no reports were available. Trucks were accessing the lake here.
Lake Poygan…I hit the lake on Wednesday. It was an exercise in futility, as my battery froze on the ATV (35 below wind chill), leaving me stranded on the lake. Special thanks to Dave who gave me a jump to get me back to shore. While on the lake, I did not mark a single fish in Horseshoe hole in the hour plus of fishing. Other anglers were reporting small white bass, small walleyes, and a few sheephead as catches at Horseshoe Hole. The cold weather and heavy fishing pressure have these fish inactive. Trucks were venturing onto the lake as of Friday off Noffke’s launch.
What to expect? The weather forecast simply shows cold weather, never breaking 15 degrees in the next 7 days. Lake Winnebago should see the truck bridges placed around New Year’s Day, allowing access to the “mud.” Be prepared when venturing on the ice, and be sure to have safety equipment (including jumper cables) with you. We appear to have one of the better ice seasons setting up for 2018. You may want to consider an auger extension now before they sell out. This cold is not restricted to the upper Midwest and is impacting many other regions of the country and Canada.
Many of the local fishing clubs are seeking used Christmas trees to use as road markers. Please contact your favorite club as to collection points. For Example West Shore Fishing Club has a pile started at Wendt’s, along with the shoreline for those people in the Fond du Lac area.
Stay on top, and please feel free to drop me a report. Happy New Year..
My Fishing Partner