By Dan Johnson

In an unusual twist to the spring river plot, walleyes in Wisconsin’s storied Lake Winnebago system have abandoned the Fox and Wolf rivers in droves, setting up intense post-spawn action on the main body of Lake Winnebago.

“Usually the fish take their time dropping out of the rivers and upper lakes, but this year it’s a different story,” says local sage and hard-fishing walleye guide Jason Muche. “They spawned and then shot straight downstream to ’Bago. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

The strange springtime tale holds both good news and bad for anglers.

“You can normally count on an extended jigging bite while the walleyes are still in the rivers,” he says. “But on the other hand, Lake Winnebago’s shoreline and reef bite is phenomenal right now.”

Muche recommends focusing on areas along the west shore, on both sides of the Fox River mouth, between Black Wolf Landing and South Asylum Bay. When fishing shorelines, he trolls Lindy River Rockers 15 to 25 feet behind planer boards at speeds of 1.6 to 1.8 mph.

“Keep the boat in 4 to 5 feet of water and spread boards off both sides,” he says.

When fishing the reefs, he anchors the boat and fishes a live bait rig under a slip float.

“I throw a slip-bobber rig consisting of a Lindy Frostee Jig tipped with a minnow or nightcrawler, suspended under a Thill Pro Series Float,” he said. “Since we’re allowed three lines per angler, I fish two float rigs and cast a 1/16-ounce Lindy Jig with half a crawler while watching the floats.”

Muche credits the walleyes’ early river exodus to a lack of baitfish.

“The shad population is way down,” he says. “With nothing to eat in the rivers, the fish went right out to the lake. And they’re hungry. If you put a bait in front of them, they’ll eat it.”

He says walleyes range from 14 to 26 inches, with most fish running 16 to 20. Mornings and evenings are prime times, but the bite lasts all day long.

The implications of Winnebago’s strange spring are twofold. First, if you’re able to make a trip to the renowned fishery, there’s no time like the present. And second, the pattern is worth remembering on similar systems across the Walleye Belt.