Welcome back outdoors world! It’s February! To most people in the northern part of the country, this is really nothing to get excited out. But there is one thing that gets a diehard few off the couch.
When you think of bucket list adventure destinations in the United States, Lake Winnebago in east central Wisconsin, simply must be on the list.
Often considered Wisconsin’s second Great Lake, it covers a massive 215.2 square miles. It is a staggering 28.58 miles long and boasts a very healthy population of perch, walleye, and white bass. It is also know world wide for its annual lake sturgeon spearing season every February. People travel from all over the world to try their luck at this unique opportunity, trying to spear one of these ancient giants.
There is one event though that has been taking place for eight years now and has been growing dramatically every year: The Battle on ‘Bago ice fishing tournament in Oshkosh. February 27-28, 2015.
Oshkosh is located in the center of the lake on the west shore. Its central location makes it a short drive from anywhere around the lake. Especially when the lake freezes solid and you are able to safely drive from the east shore to the west shore crossing over the hard water. During non winter months it takes more than an hour to drive from Quinney, Wisconsin on the east shore to Oshkosh on the west. But in the winter that time is cut to 15 to 30 minutes depending on conditions and depth of ice.
The Battle on ‘Bago is truly a tournament for the average guy. You can register only one fish per ticket purchased. Big fish takes first place. Luckily first place does not arbitrarily take the best prize. The tournament pays out to 1000th place! Heck number 900 is a brand new truck! A full list of the prizes can be seen here.
Every year, thousands travel to Oshkosh for this event from all parts of the country. It is quickly becoming one of the largest ice fishing tournaments in North America.
Here are some helpful tips about the area to help navigate your stay while you are here.
Let’s be real; this is Wisconsin. You can’t throw a rock and not hit a place that sells bait. Gas stations, box stores, bait shops, old guys down the road, they are everywhere. If you are anything like me though, you like going to the bait shops that know their way around the local fishery. You may be able to get the same bait at slightly better prices from places like the corner gas station, but they may not have the fishing knowledge that a good, reputable bait shop will. You can get all the good gossip on the current bite from them. At least a lot more than the college aged kid at the gas station would; and there are a few that I would definitely recommend.
Since the tournament is held in Oshkosh, I am going to concentrate on the west shore. Located on County Highway A just north of town is a small bait shop called Fish Tales. For convenience, I always stop here for my bait. They usually have a decent selection at fair prices and they always seem to have a good tip or two if you ask them nicely enough. While they have a somewhat basic tackle selection, they certainly have everything you need to catch fish on Winnebago.
If it is a better variety of tackle you are searching for, check out The Reel Shot; located at 2755 Algoma Blvd in Oshkosh. From shanties to jig poles, from shiners to grubs, it is a one stop shop for your ice fishing needs. Conveniently, you can also pick up your tickets to The Battle there.
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And of course, in this area, you can not mention ice fishing gear without mentioning Fleet Farm. Fleet Farm is considered a box store in this area. It isn’t the place to go for the best tips, or the most knowledgeable anglers, but if you need gear, this is where you go. If they do not have it, you do not need it. A wide selection of augers, shanties, jigs and ice lines, rods and reels, and you can’t beat their prices. Fleet Farm is located strategically all over the lake. In Oshkosh off Highway 41 and Witzel, on Wisconsin Ave in Appleton on the north shore, and in Fond du Lac on the southern tip of the lake. Fleet Farm also sells tickets for the tournament.
And what would be an ice fishing adventure like this if you did not stop in by one one many restaurant and traditional Wisconsin supper clubs that dot the lake.
TJ’s in Oshkosh will be running some delicious lunch features during the tourney. It would be the perfect spot, just a short drive from your cold shanty to warm up with a hot lunch, and maybe a cold beverage or three.
If you are trying your luck off the south shore, then the place for lunch is Wendt’s on the Lake. Located between Oshkosh and Fond du Lac on Highway 45 in the town of Van Dyne. When I think of Wisconsin food, I think the classic fish fry. Wendt’s on the Lake has been a Lake Winnebago staple for the traditional fish fry for over 50 years. With awesome views of the lake, great food, and good people it is worth the drive no matter which shore of this massive lake you are fishing.
Don’t forget, they always have plenty of brats on the grill at the Battle on ‘Bago Grounds. With live music playing, a sizeable beer and food tent, even if you are not fishing the tournament, it is worth coming down to the shores of Miller Bay to join in the true Wisconsin experience that is The Battle on ‘Bago.
The best part is this whole event is it is all for charity. Much of the proceeds generated go to a list of children’s charities, so it’s all for a good cause. I have been fishing it for 5 years now and I seem many more in my future. I hope you can make it a tradition to join us in this outdoor extravaganza every February. It really is a good time!
SAFETY REMINDER: even though we drive trucks miles out onto the lake, it is never wise to assume the ice is “safe”. Always do your homework before venturing out there, even if you think you know the lake. 2015 has been a strange year for ice conditions, and it can change daily. Check with local fishing clubs such as Otter Street Fishing Club and Paynes Point Hook and Spear Fishing Club for locations of bridges and cracks. Both these clubs can be found on Facebook. SUNK? Dive and Ice Service is another good resource for updated ice conditions.
Well I am off to the ice; see you out there and good luck!!