Tournament Preview: A Look at the Winneconne/Winnebago System

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 Apr 9th, 2011 by OutdoorsFIRST 

Modified Apr 9th, 2011 at 8:30 PM

The Winnebago System is the largest body of water in Wisconsin and the fourth largest in the U.S. Located in east central Wisconsin about 60 miles south of Green Bay, the Winnebago System comprises 154,000 square acres of water. This massive fishery is the site for the AIM Pro Walleye Series® 2011 tournament season opener. The tournament dates are April 20 to 22, however the AIM Pro Anglers will have been in town and on the water for a week or more, “pre-fishing” prior to the event.

Doug Nelson, owner of Wolf River Resorts in Winneconne is a huge supporter of walleye fishing and the tournament. “I like to think that Lake Winneconne is the hub of the wheel when you look at the chain of lakes that make it up,” Nelson said. The entire system is comprised of several smaller lakes, the giant Lake Winnebago, and the famous Wolf River.

Millions of walleyes move upstream each spring through Lake Butte des Morts (French meaning mound of the dead), under the Winneconne Bridge into Lake Poygan and Winneconne, and on through to the upper Wolf River where they spawn in marshes as far as 50-60 miles upstream. Another percentage of walleyes never leave Lake Winnebago and spawn on the endless series of reefs and miles of shoreline.

Nelson predicts the expansive system will test not only the fishing abilities of competitors, but their ability to find and stay on fish as well. “That’s because during the spring walleye run the fish will be here today and gone tomorrow,” he said. “Fish found during pre-fishing won’t be on the same spots during tournament time. Trying to stay ahead of the fish will be one of the bigger challenges. Most of these tournament anglers have fished here quite often. The advantage to this system is that it has every type of fishing application they do. We’ve got rivers, rock humps, sandbars, varying depths, unique forage base – you name it.”

Chris Boucher (the namesake “Critter” of Critters Sports in Winneconne) is a co-sponsor of the tournament, along with Wolf River Resorts and the Winneconne Chamber of Commerce. He added,     “Most spawning activity normally occurs around the first to the 10th of April. This tournament is timed to target post-spawn walleyes. Those fish may very well be spread over 50 miles upstream and downstream of Winneconne. It should make for an interesting tournament.”

Because of excellent year-classes providing good fish numbers, tournament organizers are expecting large catches. This is also due to the unique AIM Catch-Record-Release™ format which allows the AIM Pro Anglers and their Co-angler partners to “weigh” their seven largest walleyes each day.

When walleyes are done spawning in the marshes and on the reefs they are typically aggressive and looking for a good meal. But, due to the unpredictable spring weather, the bite also could be finicky. Live bait is normally the ticket for catching post spawners, but many AIM Pro Anglers rely exclusively on artificial lures.
The hot technique is anybody’s guess right now, but jigging may be the preferred method. Lakes Winneconne and Poygan are excellent trolling lakes. The Wolf River system is also famous for the local favorite technique of trolling streamer flies, a style many Pro Anglers have never tried. “That little twist could make competition very interesting,” Nelson said. “Fishermen who adapt to local ways of trolling streamers may enjoy quite a bit of success.”

He continued, “Runs to fishing spots could be 30 miles or more depending on water temperatures, with warm water attracting the post-spawn fish. Most likely the field will split itself with half going upstream and half downstream. My early guess is that the bulk of fish will come from Lake Winneconne. And I think they could do good not 300-400 yards from the Winneconne Bridge. The winner may not even turn on the big motor,” Nelson said.

Because of the AIM Catch-Record-Release format, the Pro Anglers do not have to worry about creel limits, no-culling restrictions, dead fish penalties, or slot limits. Anglers visiting the Winneconne system after the tournament will be able to catch the same fish that won the tournament for the top Pro because every fish is released right where it was caught!

Diabetes Walk Highlights Pre-Tournament Events

For several AIM Pros, fishing isn’t the only thing on their schedule. On April 16, the Pro Anglers will join in a walk, “Take AIM against Juvenile Diabetes.” The Pros will join the fundraising walk with families and kids starting at the east side of town. The walk ends at Critters Sports with games, autograph signing, beginner boating safety class, and a casting contest. Among the AIM Pro Anglers who have agreed to participate are Tommy Skarlis, Keith Kavajecz, Ross Grothe, Mike Gofron, Mark Brumbaugh and Marianne Huskey.

Later, at 8 p.m. Saturday evening, Critters Sports will host a party with Detroit rocker Brian Schram and his band, “Rock and Roll Fishermen,” featuring songs about fishing. Marianne Huskey has agreed to auction a full day of fishing in her boat with all proceeds going to juvenile diabetes.

More information about the event can be found at the AIM website: www.aimfishing.com. The daily weigh-ins will begin at 5:00 pm at Critters Sports. The weigh-ins will also be carried live on the AIM website.

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