Variable weather patterns have typified the last several weeks. Bitter cold, rain, snow and a warm front were all seen over the last 14 days around the Lake Winnebago region.
Ice conditions have been excellent for this time of year; however, the DNA of the lake ice has been changing daily. I can only speak in generalities for this report as every region of the lake has its own personality currently. 18-25 inches of ice is common, with areas which can surpass those common depths. There is almost no snowpack, so the surface is like an ice skating rink.
Anyone who is venturing onto the ice on Lake Winnebago at this time must make individual judgments as to the safety of the ice each day and determine their risk tolerance. Some anglers are using ATV’s, while others are driving full-sized vehicles after the recent rain event. Numerous cracks are found system-wide and have been shifting in the wind. The ice just needed time to heel from the recent rainfall, and large vehicle traffic has been discouraged until the ice hardens back up to preserve the landings. Be especially aware of areas where feeder creeks and rivers have had water flows eroding the ice.
Fishing has been phenomenal this season on Lake Winnebago. The early month extreme cold snap resulted in a large kill of shad and other baitfish. The kill was so large that some areas of the system had dead bait fish layered on top of each other under the ice. While alarming to see, it is part of the natural cycle of the lake. The result has been less food in the system and hungry fish.
Walleyes have been active system-wide. Given the history of the last several years, this season remains special. Walleyes caught have been ranging from 6” to the mid-20’s. Often these fish are coming through the mid-water column, rather than near the bottom.
The standard ice fishing lures have been performing well this winter. Jigging raps, spoons, ripping raps, and even small tungsten jigs can net walleyes. I tend to downsize in congested areas and upsize when away from the crowd. Tipping the lure with minnows or waxies will help with catch rates, but really is not needed as the ‘eyes are extremely aggressive.
White bass fishing continues to net large numbers of solid sized fish. The white bass tend to be roaming, but have been consistent to general locations (maybe not roaming as far this season). If chasing white bass, just follow the crowd. In general, the 3-mile mark out of most access point seems to be a good starting point.
Crappies have been showing up in larger numbers. Many of the schools are running on the small size with an average of about 6-7 inches. Next season should be outstanding for these fish when they become a little larger.
Perch fishing is better than normal but can be sporadic. There are some nice sized fish being caught especially on the south end of the lake. These fish are tight to the bottom and red has been an excellent color.
When fishing a big body of water, electronics are critical to locating fish. Once a school of fish is located, watch the movements of the village to determine which direction the fish are moving. Stay ahead of the crowd, and you’ll likely have a great day on the ice.
Have a great week. Warm temps are projected heading into the weekend. Please take every precaution to be safe, and keep your speed to a minimum on the ice roads. Sturgeon spearing just weeks away!