By Jason Boser (MN Fishing Pros)
Lake Winnibigoshish, better known as "Big Winnie," is one of my favorite lakes to fish not only in the spring, but also throughout the entire soft water season. Why? Well, first of all, it is the 5th largest lake in Minnesota, covering nearly 60,000 acres, which is nice. But then consider in that vast acreage, only one per cent of the shoreline is developed.
Yes, it is a virtual wilderness compared to many Minnesota lakes. Some of these have nice fishing, but they are house and cabin filled. Fishing Winnie is like fishing the Boundary Waters, but being able to use your boat and motor while launching in comfort at the many public landings and resorts. As an added perk, it also has more fish. It's a gem. Here's why:
- First and foremost, not many lakes can match the Big Pond's structure diversity. For example, in early season I look forward to roaming the eastern long sand flats of High Banks just as much as I do the following the contours and weeds of the river channel, near the Tamarack Point flats where the old Mississippi River still runs wild and deep just as it had before the dam was built in 1885. (For more information on the lake and its dam and the Mighty Mississippi, just look up Minnesota's Lake Winnibigoshish; it is fascinating.)
- Added to this, there is the North Shore, which stretches west from the Gap coming out of Big Cut Foot Sioux near Bowen's Lodge, all the way to Third River. In between, especially in the spring and fall, there are other secret areas I like to fish, like the Rock Pile, Pigeon River, Farley Creek, and Stony Point. If the wind is steady and the waves have been rolling into these rocky and weedy areas, the fishing can be excellent. None of this area has a dwelling and it runs for miles and miles with nothing but eagles above and fish below.
- Because the rocks and the weeds are shallow, 5-6 feet, however, you usually need that good wind to fish these areas effectively. But, if the wind hasn't been and isn't howling, don't count out the deeper water just off the shallows. Many times in the spring and fall, if the shallow bite is off, sneak out a touch deeper; the fish might just be there. Remember, however, to keep a low profile when you do find the fish. Alert shallow fishermen will key into flashing landing nets and whoops of joy and quickly hone it on you.
In spring, post spawn walleyes mostly cruise the sand flats looking for shiners and small perch. Find these and you will usually find fish. Here are a couple tips to locating prey bait. One way is to cruise the flats at different depths, zigzagging while watching your graph. A mass of minnows will appear as a cloud on your graph's screen. Another way is pay attention to the wind. Which direction has it been blowing the last few days? Keep in mind that because minnows will bunch up on the shoreline where waves have been rolling in, this will probably be a good place to start.
In spring and fall, I usually start with a 1/8 oz. Northland Gumball jig. If the wind is really wild, I will move up to a 1/4 oz. jig, but, conversely, if it is really calm I will go down to a 1/16 oz. jig. I do prefer to fish with a 1/8 oz. jig if I can keep it on the bottom. I also generally tip my jig with live minnow bait. If possible, I prefer natural Big Winnie shiners, but if I can't get them, I will go to chubs. When fishing the shallower flats, the wind will usually determine the jig weight, but when fishing rocks, the lightest possible jig is best, otherwise you will constantly be getting snagged. If the fish don't cooperate, don't be afraid to change jig weights, maybe even going heavier and vertical jigging.
I also usually go with a snap jigging technique, especially in a good wind. Because it is harder to snap jig with less wind, you might have to adjust with a slower popping of the jig. Remember, the best bet with less wind is to use a lighter jig.
The greatest benefit of spring (and fall) fishing on Winnie is the action. You will not only catch walleyes, but nice hefty northern pike and jumbo perch. Both are not only great fighters, but also great table fare for a fish fry. To be sure, there is always something biting on the Big Pond. "Action" is its middle name.
If you are looking for a great lake to fish in spring, summer and fall, check out Lake Winnibigosh, Big Winnie won't disappoint you. Good luck fishing and be safe.