He said this more as a jab at our fishing ability than as advice. Well, Captain Ron never has much problem catching them during the day, but admittedly it’s getting tougher and tougher.
Lake Winnibigoshish was known for years as a gentleman’s lake. Most days the fish bit from 8-4. You’d come in, clean your fish and be ready for happy hour by 5:00. This was the routine of my youth. Going to Winnie since 1974, this is what we’d do. Day in and out for a week in June, we always seemed to catch our fish, and have a couple of fish fries for 25-30 people at a local resort. We were rarely late for happy hour!
In 2010 my wife and I decided to buy a cabin on the lake. Both of us being teachers in Southern Minnesota enables us plenty of time to do what we love; spend time on the waters of Lake Winnie.
Over the last 7 years I’ve probably spent an average 75 days on the lake fishing and trying to pattern the walleyes and perch of Winnie. But, the lake is changing and so are the habits of “Ole Marble Eyes”.
In the Ojibwa language, Lake Winnibigoshish means “filthy water” or “Miserable Dirty Water”. This certainly is not the case today. With the introduction of the Zebra Mussel into Winnie, the day bite has become much tougher. Why is this? Zebra Mussels filter a lake and without getting into the scientific end, of which I know very little, it makes it clear. But in this case clearer isn’t necessarily better. The penetration of light often drives walleyes deep. The fish are deep but the bait is shallow. The fish eventually come up shallow to eat and this is at low light. So we must adapt!
Does this mean you can’t catch daytime Winnie walleyes? Absolutely not. But, the conditions have to be right before I’ll go out on the big lake and target my favorite fish. So, what are the right conditions? I prefer overcast cloudy with a chop, something to break up that penetrating sunlight. I am lucky; I can pick and choose the days I fish. Many families are up for a week and need to put fish in the frying pan.
On these calm sunny days, I prefer to target the abundant supply of jumbo perch. These fish are second to none on the table, aggressive, and plentiful. My favorite method is to put my trolling motor on spot lock and vertical jig them with a fathead. Many people don’t fish the perch deep enough; it is not uncommon for me to fish in 20-30 feet of water. Once I find a school. I will use a 3/8th ounce jig, to stay vertical and deter the smaller perch. Even the most hardcore walleye angler loves to catch some Winnie Jumbos!
The Pike on Winnie are almost always willing to cooperate rain or shine. Throw on your favorite spoon and start trolling you will find these toothy critters nearly everywhere. These fish fight second to none and are equally delicious on the table. The downfall of pike has always been the bones. Do a search on de-boning pike, a little practice and you’ll have it mastered in no time
My evening routine is quite simple. I will leave the dock 3 hours before sundown. Go to some of my favorite spots and jig, live bait rig, or pull spinners depending on the time of the year. The decreasing sunlight really improves your odds of catching Winnie Eyes. Those 2-3 hours can be very good, and can also help you decide where to pull plugs later in the night. If I am catching fish during this time on an 18 – 22 foot breakline for example, I will often-time target a shallower break adjacent to that spot. Once I know that fish are in the area, I can assume that they will move in shallow to feed eventually.
In the words of Kenny Chesney and Uncle Cracker, “Everything gets hotter when the sun goes down”. This is surely true of Winnie. When the sun hits the tree tops, it’s time to get out the line-counters and your favorite crankbait.
I was a believer in a #5 Fire Tiger Shad for many years on Winnie, I am sure they still work well. As of late a #11 Scatter Rap Clown color has been my go to. Everyone has their preference, the main thing is to pick a lure you have confidence in and will run about 8-14 feet.
I will run a maximum of 3 lines per trip. The idea of more is better obviously hasn’t night fished much! I am sure there are fishermen out there that can run more, but I’m not one of them. I prefer to use 10lb. Mono on my line counters with quick clips on them. This makes changing lures and color much easier. The same line on all your rods will also help to let you know that all your lure are running basically the same depths.
I’ve tried every different speed and amount of line out imaginable. My opinions differ from many, but this is what works for me. The things you must take into consideration are lure choice, fishing depth, and speed. I will usually let out 100 ft. of line and generally fish 12-16 ft. of water. My preferred speed is 2.0 to 2.2 mph. Some pull at 2.5-2.7 again personal preference. The biggest thing is to communicate with your fishing partners. What lure is working, how much line are you letting out, are you pumping the rod, or is it in a rod holder. Little changes can make a huge difference.
Here are a few tips. I have learned a lot by trial and error when it comes to night fishing, mostly error! Start out small and don’t put too many poles in the water. Have plenty of light as night traffic on Winnie is ever increasing. If someone is hooked up, everyone else reel in. Tangled lines, lines in the prop and lost fish make for a grumpy captain, this I know from experience. Good quality headlamps and a good mapping system are a must. Things get confusing in the dark. Watch the weather, Winnie is a lake that deserves respect when the winds howl and storms blow, this doubles at night.
One time that is my personal favorite is the week of a full moon. The fishing can be off the charts and the beauty of a full moon can be breathtaking. It is also nice to have the illumination of the moon. All around a great time to fish!
I have pulled plugs on every side and corner of Winnie. All areas can be good. Pay attention to your electronics, if you’re marking fish at night you’ll most likely catch them with the right presentation. If you hear of an area good during the day, it could be great at night. Just find that 12-16 feet of water and I bet you’ll find some fish.
Seven years ago I rarely fished at night on Winnie. Night fishing has enabled me to put more keeper walleyes on the table, and put up some awfully good numbers of fish. First of all, be safe, be familiar with the water you are fishing, and be organized and prepared.
I’m a believer now that “Everything gets hotter on Winnie when the sun goes down.” You too can cash in on Lake Winnie’s night prowling walleyes just like me.
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