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Lake Winnebago survey shows strong perch, crappie populations

Stockbridge Harbor on Lake Winnebago, May 12, 2020 (WLUK/Eric Peterson)
Stockbridge Harbor on Lake Winnebago, May 12, 2020 (WLUK/Eric Peterson)
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OSHKOSH (WLUK) -- The populations of young yellow perch and sheepshead are strong on Lake Winnebago, according to a report just released.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says its annual Lake Winnebago trawl assessment was conducted from August to October last year. Overall, the DNR says it captured 79,835 young of year fish from 15 species. Also captured were 42,480 adult fish representing 18 species.

Key points by species:


The YOY trawl catch rate was lower than expected because cold weather in mid-April negatively affected spawning, egg hatching and fry survival on the Wolf River. Measurable classes in recent years are expected to contribute to a strong adult population.


Natural reproduction continues to be limited, and the adult population has decreased since the Sauger Rehabilitation Program ended in 2010.

Yellow perch

The trawl turned up a record class for YOY yellow perch, with 13.8 per trawl coming in well above the long-term average of 2.1 per trawl. It was the third year in a row of above-average classes, leading biologists to hope for an excellent perch fishery in the next few years.


The crappie hatch led to the second-highest YOY catch rate on record. DNR biologists hope conditions allow for strong overwinter survival, increasing fishing opportunities.

White bass

Fishermen have reported white bass have been harder to find recently. The trawl catch was the highest since 2012, but below the long-term average. The DNR says it is common for adult populations to reach record lows before a strong hatch replenishes the population.

Sheepshead (freshwater drum)

The 2020 class set a YOY record. It was the second straight year of a strong class following a die-off in 2018 linked to viral hemorrhagic septicemia.

Trout perch (grounder minnow/sand roller/silver chub)

Although below average, the 2020 catch rate was slightly above 2019's level. The species is a staple food source for gamefish including walleye and sauger.

Gizzard shad

The trawl revealed a weak hatch for the fourth year in a row. The species is known for its boom and bust cycles. Weak shad hatches are linked to favorable fishing opportunities for gamefish. The shad are a food source for lake sturgeon.

Meanwhile, the DNR also completed its 2021 walleye spawning stock assessment on the Wolf River, as well as on the upper Fox River near Princeton. A relatively dry winter and spring led to low water levels on the Wolf River, leading to marginal conditions for spawning. Fish from the 2016 spawning class were measured at 15-18 inches for females and 13-15 inches for males.

DNR staff members tagged 100 male and 100 female walleyes. Fishermen who catch and report a pink tagged fish will receive $100, with the reward expiring next March 31. The tagging is part of a study to provide more accurate annual exploitation estimates. The rewards are funded by the Battle on Bago event.

On Lake Winnebago and upriver lakes Poygan, Winneconne and Butte des Morts, the DNR conducted electrofishing surveys, where employees give fish an electrical shock to temporarily stun them and allow them to be handled. The DNR was measuring immature walleye, with males and unknown sex ranging from 11-14 inches, and females ranging from 14-17 inches.

Those who catch tagged walleye can report them to the DNR by email at, by phone at (920) 303-5429 or by mailing the catch information to the Oshkosh DNR office at:

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625 E. County Road Y
Oshkosh WI 54901

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