Fishing, Life, Love & The Great Outdoors
Dick Ellis' On Wisconsin Outdoors - Submitted March 2010

Lake Poygan, Nursery To The Winnebago System
By Joel “Doc” Kunz

Averaging at between 6 and 7 foot in depth, with a maximum of around 11 feet, the sprawling 14,102 acre expansion of the Wolf River we know as Lake Poygan is truly a nursery to the Winnebago system. Here, large schools of walleye roam open water, weeds, rock piles and river channels in search of food. And, because of the make up of the large shallow lake, there is plenty of it for them to find. Here’s why.

Because of the number of creeks and wet lands that feed Lake Poygan, the fertile lake provides an abundant source of nutrient rich, oxygenated water. The shallow back bays and weedy areas are prime for the proliferation of the small zoo plankton and the other creatures young of the year fish need to grow. This abundant food source also provides forage for the vast minnow population which use the shallow areas to spawn. The vast wind swept waters provide a variety of structure too, such as the “cane beds”, a well known areas of emergent plant growth. The cane beds are made up of a variety of plants including water celery or eelgrass (Vallisneria americana), and the emergent canes or common reed (Phragmites australis). These areas provide shelter for bait fish and thusly a feeding area for walleye. Walleye also feed on the many small rock piles, near creek mouths, river channel and the well known “Horseshoe Hole”, deepest area on the lake.

Named due to its shape, Horseshoe Hole is a common area for trollers who pull crank baits spread out with the use of planer boards. Trollers also pull “crawler harnesses” with large Colorado blades to catch walleye that use the lake post spawn. But trolling is far from the only way to catch walleye out on Lake Poygan and Horseshoe Hole far from the only hot spot. The lake has many contours, rock piles and places that hold fish all spring. There are also tried and true ways to catch walleye on Lake Poygan developed long before trolling techniques, boats and equipment became so popular. Simple methods such as drifting with slip bobbers or drifting and casting will catch fish. Old time anglers also used to drift with cane poles and Beetle Spins tipped with a leech to catch walleye. The wave induced rocking of the boat provides a great action to the small baits which can produce a great day of fishing. I’ll be using the new Atomic Guppy and small spinner rigs tipped with leeches to do the same. For casting, small suspending baits or Little Cleos, which can be cast a long way, will catch fish.

Walleye use the lake post spawn due to the availability of food so finding the food is the key to catching fish. Paying attention to what the wind has been doing can help you game plan. Wind will push the food throughout the lake and congregate schools of walleye where they can take advantage of it. I like the subtle depth changes and contours on the west end of the lake with light west or south winds. With a stronger west wind, horseshoe hole and areas to the east may hold better numbers. Wind also makes the cane beds a hot spot where pitching small jigs tipped with a crawler or leech at the edges will catch fish. You can also let the wind push live bait suspended below a slip bobber towards the edge or pockets in the weeds. The fish are there because the wind stirs up the weeds, making the hiding food more accessible. The up wind side is usually best, but strong winds can make the down wind side the hot spot. Tournaments have been won fishing in this manner.

Lake Poygan can be accessed from anywhere on the Winnebago system with Winneconne the hub of spring time Lake Poygan activity. Here there is plenty of lodging, cabins, access points, bait shops and qualified information on fishing the lower lakes of the Wolf River system. Anglers can expect excellent fishing for walleye along with white bass, northern pike, cat fish, smallmouth & largemouth bass, crappie, perch, bluegill and even trophy class Muskie. All of these species are active during this time of year. Make sure to check your regulations booklet for size, length and bag limits on all these fish. With multiple access points within an easy drive, boat owners vacationing in Winneconne can pick where on the system they want to fish. On windy days a short drive to Kiesow’s Landing on the Rat River can make the lower end of the Wolf the place to be. A jig and crawler, minnow or leech worked in the deep holes will catch walleye, catfish and white bass. To the east a short drive down highway GG is Lake Winnebago and the west end of Lake Poygan can be accessed from Captains Cove or the boat ramp in Tustin. Or put the boat in and get anywhere on the Wolf River and Winnebago system right from your temporary home port in Winneconne. There are plenty of gas stops and places to see, visit and fish from New London to Oshkosh and then on to the big lake itself. Popular destination Fremont is just a short ride as are numerous water front restaurants and docking options in either direction, up stream or down.

Often over looked as a world class fishery, look to Lake Poygan this year for some great fishing. If you are new to the area, you’ll find guides who can show you repeatable ways to catch fish. There’s also boat rental and plenty of good fishing information if you want to tackle the fishery on your own. If it’s walleye you are after, you can always visit for local fishing information. Plan a close to home vacation this year in Fremont, Winneconne, New London or anywhere in Wolf River Country and take advantage of what the area has to offer. Lake Poygan is just one of the many jewels.

Joel “Doc” Kunz is a freelance outdoor writer photographer and proud member of the Ellis Experts at On Wisconsin Outdoors. He is also a 2005 “Readers Choice” Award winner and member of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW). Visit his web site at


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