The Phoenix Bass Fishing League presented by T-H Marine Great Lakes Division is preparing to get underway on June 13 on the Wolf River Chain of Lakes, and it promises to be a derby predicated on catching good numbers any number of ways.
Curtis Samo of Rochelle, Ill., has been fishing the Wolf River and its many lakes for three decades, and he has a pair of wins on the chain in previous June tournaments (2017 and 2019). Samo knows as well as anyone how the sprawling fisheries in Wisconsin will set up for the Great Lakes Division opener.
Phoenix Bass Fishing League presented by T-H Marine Great Lakes Division
Wolf River Chain of Lakes
June 13, 2020
To say there’s plenty of water to fish on the Wolf River Chain would be an enormous understatement. From Lake Poygan and Lake Winneconne through the Wolf River and down into Lake Butte des Morts, into the Fox River and Lake Winnebago, there’s enough water on the chain to really find something for yourself.
Winnebago is the deepest body of water on the chain (with a maximum depth of 21 feet) and fishes like some of the larger Northern smallmouth fisheries in that anglers can find good concentrations of smallmouth bass offshore. Other lakes on the chain offer some similar opportunities, but Winnebago is your best bet for finding schools of bronzebacks.
Butte des Morts and Winneconne are significantly shallower (with average depths of 9 and 6 feet, respectively) and smaller than Winnebago, though they do offer some unique opportunities in the form of grass, riprap and other target-oriented cover and structure.
In the rivers, there’s no shortage of current eddies to target, along with plenty of backwater with even more grass and natural cover.
According to Samo, the Wolf River Chain is a bit of an angler’s paradise. Whatever you like to fish, you’re going to find it somewhere on the chain.
“Guys who like to fish offshore will go into Winnebago, and you can find concentrations of fish there,” he says. “Everybody says if you’re going to win a tournament you’ve got to go into Winnebago, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be in the river. It can be anywhere.
“You can just fish to your strengths. You can find pretty much whatever you like to do, and you can catch fish doing it. There are also stretches of riprap and rock where you can throw a crankbait and catch fish. It’s kind of like the Mississippi River – everything looks fishy, and there are lots of ways to catch them.”
In his 30 years fishing the chain, Samo has found that catching bass in most sections of the fishery isn’t about being area-dependent. In fact, he prefers to fish a milk run of basically anything that looks good to him.
“Typically, I’ve got 20 to 25 spots, but it’s normally a milk run,” he adds. “I don’t have just one area I sit on. It just doesn’t seem like that type of fishery – not to say that you can’t; I have done that, but it’s shallow water, natural lakes. I have spots where I catch one or two and run to the next one.”
It’s easy to do that on a fishery as diverse as the Wolf River Chain, which has an abundance of grass (from coontail to eelgrass to milfoil, pads and bulrushes), current, riprap, isolated rock and other natural cover and structure. Whatever you like to fish, you’ll find it on the chain.
As for winning weight, Samo won the Phoenix Bass Fishing League event in June last year with 15 pounds even, and he expects that weight to be exactly what wins it again this year.
There isn’t one specific bait or technique that dominates in the postspawn period on the Wolf River Chain. Last year, Samo won flipping tubes and burning a buzzbait on Winneconne. In 2017, when Samo tied for the win with Mike Feldermann, the latter was using a black and blue swimbait in about 3 feet of water off the main river.
In Winnebago, drop-shots, Ned rigs and other finesse tactics can be prevalent, while crankbaits and other power-fishing techniques often get the call in other sections of the fishery.
Again, it’s dealer’s choice when it comes to fishing the Wolf River Chain.
And like the variety of cover and structure (as well as baits and techniques in play), anglers can choose from green fish and brown fish almost at will. Some tournaments are won with all largemouth and some with all smallmouth and others with mixed bags.
“It’s kind of like the Mississippi River,” Samo says. “The Winneconne tournament I won on all largemouth. Last year, I won on all smallmouth. It could be either. It has an equal chance. It just depends on what you go for.”