Fishing Bago Round Two
By: Kyle Sorensen
There are two activities that I consider to be the most tranquil and fulfilling experiences I have each year while enjoying the outdoors. One, of course, is being up north. The other has sparked the topic for this article. It goes without saying, I love fishing on the Winnebago System. The Lake Winnebago System can be VERY challenging, yet it can be VERY rewarding. Each year I am asked if there is a night bite on the system. I’m here to tell you there is!
The main idea here is to remember that this system holds an awesome fishery, highlighted by the walleye population. Walleye are designed to be stealthy hunters. They are successful in gathering prey in various conditions including stained water, dirtied water (aka walleye chop) and also during low light periods. This is thanks to a light-capturing layer in their eyes called the tapetum lucidum. If you shine a light into their eyes, or even look at them at the right angle, you will see this layer glowing right back at you. Because of this layer, one of the walleye’s many nicknames, Ol’ Marble Eyes, has stood the test of time.
My idea to begin fishing throughout the night on Winnebago came from a trip some years back while renting a sleeper shack on Lake Mille Lacs in Minnesota. While there were sure some highlights from this trip, the one that sticks with me began at 2:30am on the second day of the trip.
The movie had ended a few hours prior and we had turned in for the night. The rattle reels had been checked and fresh minnows had been placed. I was in a deep sleep and God only knows what I was dreaming. At about 2:30am, I awoke to a very faint jingle of the reel, which was only about a foot from my head. As I shot out of the bunk, I heard a plunk but didn’t really think anything about it. I tripped over who knows what, and the rat race began to get the cameras all positioned. I placed myself in front of the reel to see the line slowly being taken out, then faster and faster. As the bells began to really sing their sweet song, I pulled the trigger. Whoa baby, fish on! There it was, a chunk of an eye, almost 28”.
After getting some pictures, she went back down to fight another day. After the chaos slipped into the history books, I did an inventory to ultimately find out what had made that plunk. Yeah, that was my cell phone. It’s perfect trajectory shot it straight into an ice hole to never see air again. After renting that sleeper for the weekend, I knew this was something extremely fun and I planned to try this out on the Winnebago System.
After retro-fitting my sturgeon shack with the obvious necessities (hole covers, rattle reels, CO detector, bunk bed, and of course a 12 volt flat screen TV), I was ready for the maiden voyage. When the weather man gave me the promise of a cold night, with light and variable winds forecasted, the truck was packed and ‘bago was in my cross hairs.
I had been fishing the lake the past week off of the side of my sled and was able to stay on top of a couple schools of fish, which is where I decided to drop the shack. After some housekeeping, the rattle reels were set, the venison dogs were heating up, and the TV was picking up 34 channels of pure entertainment. I was fishing in my sleeper on Lake Winnebago.
About 45 minutes went by and my usual “time to move” mentality began to kick in; that’s when it happened. A soft, almost unheard tick, came from the far rattle reel. Could it be a fish? The TV went on mute and the jig rod found its place on the floor as I scrambled over to the hole. I watched it like a hawk, hoping for any signs of movement. Then another tick, and another! I took hold of the line, felt tension, and with a sweeping tug, I was fighting the first fish which turned out to be a healthy 17” sauger. The first fish in the sleeper while watching Monday Night Football? Hard to beat.
Before hitting the sack, I remember stepping outside to take a look at the stars as Mr. Weatherman said it was going to be a clear night. To my amazement, he sure wasn’t lying as the picturesque sky was painted with dots and a sailing satellite seemed to be moving ever so gently across the horizon. The lights from the communities around Winnebago outlined the shores of the lake in every direction I looked. What a sight. After soaking it in for a few minutes, back in the shack I went and the rattle reels were checked one last time before lights out at 10:45pm.
Lying there, I didn’t hear sounds from the city or passing cars – I heard the lake. The soft wind was hitting the sides of my aluminum house and with that gentle wind, came small pieces of snow. It was a serenade that could put anyone to sleep. Before I knew it, it was off to dreamland I went, landing ten pound eyes by the buckets.
My dream was rudely interrupted by a constant rattling. I wondered what was hitting the outside of my shanty to make such a racket? I quickly realized that it wasn’t something outside, it was my rattle reel! I exploded out of bed as if given a shotgun start and was at the hole, feeling around for my headlight as the rattle kept going. With the headlight on, I quickly grabbed the line, set the hook, and a nice 18” eye was flopping on the floor before I knew it. I looked at my watch and it said 11:47pm. Just then I realized, this night fishing idea really works.
I have now made more time each winter since to spend more nights out on the lake. Each year, more and more fish begin to show themselves, and each year, I seem to enjoy this type of fishing even more. What I have learned is that there are three areas to focus in upon on Lake Winnebago and each has its use.
The first area to target are the reefs or humps. During the day, the action might not be on them because the fish are cruising the wastelands of ‘bago in the hunt for any forage they might come across. As the daylight dwindles, these are areas to key in upon. As this is night fishing, this is a great place to start. Even a little two-foot hump in 17 feet of water can make a huge difference in your success during the nighttime hours!
The second area goes hand and hand with the reef areas and that is the shallow flats. As daylight fades, some of the fish that were cruising the deeper parts of the lake begin to move shallower to ambush prey in the smaller area/water column. These fish are accompanied by the others who decided to stay in the shallows throughout the day but have been “dormant” during the daylight hours. One aspect to point out is that if the areas with adjacent deep water are targeted, this can sometimes open the door to an even better nighttime experience.
The last area is the mud flats. I would only recommend fishing here if you know from very recent experiences that fish are frequenting the area. It is usually hard for someone to be on the lake more than a couple times a week, myself included, so if you do not have the intel, it’s going to be a shot in the dark – literally.
Going out and picking a spot on the mud flats can sometimes certainly work. This past season I just stopped in an area and set up for the night. That night the white bass were sure to be had but it ended with only one nice ‘eye. If you want to see the video from that night, be sure to check it out on the YouTube Channel!
Over the past few years, I have tweaked my rattle reel rigs. The rigs are very simple but have tremendous results. They are spooled with 30 lb. test Dacron line, running to a small two-way swivel. On the other end of the swivel is a three-foot, 8 lb. test fluorocarbon leader, running down to a split shot and ultimately a treble hook – sometimes a single hook. I use one yellow foam slip bobber on each rig, and they are trimmed to run just barely above the water level. When it comes to the sizes of the hook and split shot, it all depends on the size bait being used. I always have large shiners presented on my rigs.
Jigging in the sleeper is a blast all by itself. Jigging in regular clothes and socks? Yes, please! Because moving is really not accomplished when I’m spending the night, I need to do everything I can to bring fish in. A hard, aggressive presentation, loud and glowing baits – anything. Northland’s Buck-Shot Spoon is one definitely one that fits the bill. The rattles within it really make a ruckus when pounding it. Throw that in with a glow pattern and you have yourself a great lure to start with. I sometimes will tip the spoon with a minnow head or spikes, but that is always specific to the behavior of the fish once in flasher range. The glow styles of Jigging Raps are more tools to keep ready. We all know the Jigging Rap is a deadly bait for this system, but for noise characteristics, all it offers is the clack of the hook.
If you get the chance, you have to experience a night or two in a sleeper. If you are from the Winnebago System area, even better! There is a night bite on this system, and it includes various species of fish. As always, safety is the number one factor on the ice, for sure not less when sleeping in a confined heated space. Have a heater that has an emergency shut off, make sure the shack has adequate ventilation, let someone know where you are, and as the final addition, bring along a respected CO detector! Even with all of these covered, it’s never 100% safe.
The night bite on the Winnebago System is sure something not to overlook. Experience it within a sleeper shack, and you will certainly be wanting more. I hope you all have had a great start to the hard water season and that you finish it off with a blast! Until next time, “Tight Lines. Stay Dry.”