OSHKOSH, Wis. – Wisconsin’s Lake Winnebago is proving to be a suitable substitute for the Mississippi River as over 100 pros registered five-fish limits on day one of the season-opening Cabela’s National Walleye Tour event. Initially, 2018’s kickoff party was slated for pools 3 and 4 near Red Wing, Minn., but record snowfall led to flood conditions and ultimately a change in venue. Ironically, leading the charge in Oshkosh after the first day of competition is Minnesota angler Dusty Minke, who filled the box with solid 19- and 20-inch fish and coaxed a 25-incher kicker.
Minke knew he was around solid fish in practice, but he wasn’t confident a kicker would come.
“We were catching 20-inchers, some good fish, but we never really got those big bites,” said the Walker, Minn., pro, who weighed 17.44 pounds. “Sometimes it’s better that way though, because then they show up during the tournament.”
“At that point, I knew we had two to play with. There were dead times, and there were flurries. But we threw back a lot of 18s and 19s, probably around 10 of those.”
In this event, pros and co-anglers, fishing as a team, can keep seven fish and weigh their best five. Culling or upgrading is strictly prohibited.
“We finished out at 2 p.m. with a 21-incher. We debated throwing it back, but you know, those 21-inchers don’t come around all that often.”
Minke wasn’t ready to divulge any pattern details, allowing only that he continually moved around one spot to amass his hefty stringer. He described today’s conditions as perfect for how he’s fishing. Tomorrow’s wind, rain, and frigid temps however, could prove to be a challenge.
“The east wind that is forecasted will push against the current. I think they’ll be in the area, but it could make it tougher.”
Minke periodically thought about leaving his honeyhole on day one, but sticking it out proved to be the correct choice.
“I’ve learned in the past that you never leave biting fish to find other fish. Tomorrow I’m starting there, but I’m ready to move if necessary. There’s fish biting all over the system.”
At this point, Minke is unsure what he’ll keep and what he’ll pitch back tomorrow.
“All I know is that it’s hard to throw back a 19-plus incher. I saw a lot of guys gamble today; I don’t know that I’ll do that. I really hope they come in the right order.”
Hot on Minke’s heels is Ranger-Mercury pro Korey Sprengel, arguably the hottest stick in professional walleye fishing. Sprengel was pleasantly surprised when the season opener was switched to Winnebago, which is located a mere 20 miles from his home. In 2014, Sprengel won the NWT Championship on Winnebago.
After a sporadic practice, Sprengel went out this morning without a real game plan.
“I just ran spots all day. I probably caught fish in eight or nine different spots.”
At 1 p.m., Sprengel finally put his fifth fish in the box. At the time, he was worried about not having a limit, especially on the first day of the season’s first tournament. Shortly after, he popped a 21 and a 24 on the same spot and was done for the day. His official weight registered 17.35 pounds.
“I’m catching a lot of fish casting crankbaits, the majority on a Berkley Cutter Shallow 90. It casts great and has unreal action. I also caught one of my bigger fish on a Berkley Digger. I also did some trolling, and I also caught about five fish pitching jigs. It was basic junk fishing today.”
With difficult conditions in store for tomorrow, Sprengel recognizes the need for a limit.
“First and foremost, I have to come in with five fish. It’s going to be brutally cold, wet, and windy. I’m ready though. They’re going to be biting somewhere; they always are on Winnebago.
Local Oshkosh, Wis., pro Justin Heider sits in third place after catching a five-fish stringer weighing 17.14 pounds.
Preissner fourth, Gahagan fifth
Rounding out the top five are local Wisconsin sticks James Preissner and Russell Gahagan. Preissner, the Chilton, Wis., native, boated a 16.54-pound stringer while Gahagan, the Sheboygan, Wis., pro, sacked 16.34.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros at the 2018 Cabela’s National Walleye Tour event on Lake Winnebago:
6th: Luke Leanna of Fitchburg, Wis., five fish, 15.91
7th: Keith Kavajecz of Kaukauna, Wis., five fish, 15.81
8th: Bob Bruegger of Wabasha, Minn., five fish, 15.79
9th: Tommy Skarlis of Waukon, Iowa, five fish, 15.39
10th: Richard Stadler of Berlin, Wis., five fish, 15.35
The final day of competition begins tomorrow at 7 a.m. Central time as the full field takes off from Miller’s Bay at Menominee Park. The final weigh-in also takes place at Miller’s Bay at Menominee Park, beginning at 3 p.m.