Trailering Magazine Archives - Destinations
Right now there's probably any number of Winnebago recreational vehicles parked in campsites around the lake that goes by the same name. And both RV and lake take their identity from the Indian tribe that once lived along these shores. That's where the similarities end. The Winnebagos are built in Iowa. The lake, in neighboring Wisconsin, is the largest in the state and located a half-hour south from where the Green Bay Packers play football.
The story of Winnebago begins with a tale told by the Indians: A creature called Trickster wanted to meet the Earth Maker-the one that gave him creation. A bear told him there was only one way to do it and that was to die. So the Trickster walked into an Indian camp and said "I bet you can't hit me." A few minutes later, pummeled with arrows, the Trickster walked to the top of a hill and then realized he wasn't going to die. He begins to weep and his nonstop tears created this lake.
Since then, there's been the newer theory that suggests the lake is the result of a confluence of two rivers: the Fox River flowing northward before empting into Lake Michigan at Green Bay and the Wolf River flowing southeasterly into Lake Poygan, which, in turn, is a quick boat ride to Winnebago.
Today, Lake Winnebago measures 28 miles from north to south and 11 miles east to west with 88 miles of shoreline. To the south is the town of Fond du Lac (French for "bottom of the lake"), on the western shore where the Fox River empties into the lake is Oshkosh (home of Oshkosh Corporation that produces work trucks and corporate home of the popular "Oshkosh B'Gosh" bib overalls), and along the northern shore the Fox River continues a 39-mile journey northward through the towns of Menasha, Neemah, Appleton and Green Bay before empting into Lake Michigan Andrew Houtz has sailed his 23-foot Alberg Kittwake on Winnebago for a number of years. Based in Menasha, he describes his experiences on the water this way: "There's lots of space to move around and not be on top of another boater or fisherman. Wind is usually plentiful for the sailor and if you're an angler, well, there's lots of fishing opportunities."
One such opportunity takes place this month (June 12-14, 2009). Walleye Weekend has been held since 1978 in the 400-acre Lakeside Park in Fond du Lac. The long weekend celebrates the lake's most popular fish and attracts more than 100,000 visitors who have a picnic, shop or participate in a family fishing tournament, the Mercury National Fishing Tournament, all while watching live bands (the Grass Roots and War have played here) and enjoying the fact they are in a different world, if only for a while. In addition, ESPN fishing pro Jerry McKinnis selects a dozen anglers between the ages of 10 and14 and takes them out on the lake for a two-hour lesson on how to land a walleye-and there are numerous stories about these kids coming back and teaching their old man a few tricks.
And sometimes you just have to seize the opportunity to fish. A fisherman was on a Winnebago ice flow just offshore from Oshkosh earlier this year when people on shore called police out of concern that he might be stranded. When a rescue boat arrived, they found the 35-year-old angler standing on the ice with a ladder that is routinely used to cross from ice flow to ice flow. He said all was well and didn't need any help whatsoever. Thanking the rescuers, he added, "Besides, the fishing's been really good today."
In addition to the Walleye Weekend event, both the Wal-Mart Walleye Tour and the Bassmasters Tournament use Lakeside Park in Fond du Lac as their base of operations when the pros come to town during the summer. For the less-than-fanatic fisherman, there's a web site designed for anyone wanting to try their luck on Lake Winnebago (www.winnebagofishing.com). Fishing is serious stuff here.
So too are airplanes. Every year (July 27-August 2 this year), half a million people attend AirVenture Oshkosh where more than 2,500 classic, home-built and combat aircraft are flown, viewed, awed and photographed. This year, the Doobie Brothers are scheduled to perform, but the stars of the show, besides the airplanes of course, will be Captain Chelsey Sullenberger and his cockpit crew of US Airways Flight 1549 who safely landed a crippled Airbus 320 into the Hudson River earlier this year. More information is available at www.airventure.org.
Still it's boats that remain the center of all things Winnebago. There are boat ramps around the lake, some with as many as six lanes for launching and retrieving-although a county or city launch permit to do so is required in most of the venues. Along the Oshkosh waterfront, where the Fox River flows into Winnebago, restaurants have docks for diners arriving by boat (Fratellos Waterfront Brewery, Becket's, Fox River Bar and Grill and the Boatyard Bar and Grill, to name just a few).
In the event one wants to tour this city of 63,000, boaters can tie up at no cost at one of three docks: William Steiger Park, Riverside Park and Menominee Park in Miller's Bay. Among the popular Oshkosh attractions is the 1920's mansion-now-art museum called the Paine Art Center complete with paintings, sculpture and gardens, as well as Main Street with a mix of franchise and mom-and-pop stores.
Follow the Fox River west through Oshkosh and a trio of interconnected lakes are available for the boater. The first is Lake Butte Des Morts (French settlers named it "Hill of the Dead" because the lake is near an Indian burial ground) followed by Lake Winneconne and then Lake Poygan, a total distance of about 20 miles from Oshkosh. Like the larger Winnebago, with an average depth of 15 feet, Poygan, Winneconne and Butte des Mortes are shallow (average depth is nine feet). That lack of depth can be an issue, notes sailboater Andrew Houtz: "Winnebago, and the connecting lakes aren't deep and in a good wind, the waves are going to be close together and big. That's something anyone in a small boat should take note of. It's something I am aware of whenever I'm out and the wind comes up."
The lakeside town of Winneconne (population 1,273) holds an annual Sovereign State Days every July 21 to observe the date they seceded from the state in 1967. City officials were so upset the entire town had been left off the official 1967 State Map of Wisconsin that they voted to become a separate state. Embarrassed, then Wisconsin Governor Knowles personally apologized to the citizens. The misstep is observed with a parade, fireworks, concerts, a flea market and food venders. Many arrive by boat and dock at Waterfront Park for the event. The Winneconne Bridge across the Wolf River is the only state bridge from which anglers can fish.
The towns of Neenah and Menasha on Lake Winnebago's northern shore are separated by Doty Island, around which the Fox River flows north into Green Bay. Neenah has a pair of popular boat ramps while Menasha has five. Boat ramps are also found on Doty Island and accessible by the Highway 114 Bridge connecting Neenah and Menasha. It should be noted that no boats can make the trip from Winnebago to Green Bay right now because a number of the 17 locks along the way are being repaired in an effort to keep the sea lamprey, one of the first aquatic nuisance species found in Lake Michigan, from making its way into the Fox River chain of lakes. There is discussion, however, about building a boatlift over one of the locks (Rapide Croche) that is equipped with a washing system to ensure the lamprey and other invasive species aren't attached.
Winnebago's eastern shoreline is called "the quiet side" by veteran boaters. There are cliffs, some with caves dating back to the days when Winnebago Indians occupied the land. The cities of Stockbridge and Brothertown have boat ramps, although the latter is closed while a harbor renovation project is completed. Calumet County Park has a boat ramp and it's not at all uncommon for everyone to arrive in town by boat and while a few go fishing, others walk the trails and explore the cliffs overlooking the lake.
As the state's largest inland lake with something to see and do along all of its 88-mile shoreline, it can be said this Winnebago is every bit the 'recreational vehicle" for families and fishermen alike.
Fond du Lac Boat Ramps
(Daily fee for county ramps is $3, more information at 920-929-3135; city boat ramps are free):
Fee charge. 6 launch ramps. Restrooms.
10 miles N of FDL off Hwy 151 at Pipe.
Free to the public. 4 ramps. Restrooms, parking.
7 miles N of Fond du Lac, W off Hwy 151.
Highway 45 Wayside
Fee charge. 4 launch lanes. Restrooms.
3 miles N of Fond du Lac on Hwy 45.
Launch fee required. 4 launch ramps.
Parking for up to 25 rigs. Harbor View Drive.
Lakeside Park Marina
Open daily Memorial Day-Labor Day. Weekends
only in May and Sept/Oct. (Closes Oct 15)
Lakeside Park, end
of N Park Ave 920-906-5096
Lakeside Park West
Fee required. 12 launch ramps. Parking for up to
100 rigs. Litscher Drive, off Hwy 45-N on Fond du Lac River
Two launch ramps for larger craft. Parking for up to 65 rigs
. Fee required. Temporary docking available. Seasonal
slips available. Full service marina. Lakeside Park,
end of N Park Avenue 920-906-5096.
Oshkosh Boat Ramps
(cost is $4/day, information at 920-232-1960):
Black Wolf 42 parking places, 3 handicap and 2 lanes.
49 parking places, 3 handicap and 4 lanes.
30 parking places, 2 handicap and 2 lanes.
Menasha Boat Ramps
(cost is $5/day, information at 920-967-3540):
Smith Park (Doty Island)
Doty Island Park (Doty Island)
Eastern Shoreline Boat Ramps
Stockbridge, 6 lanes, $6/day
Calumet County Park Harbor
Hilbert, 6 lanes, $6/day
Brothertown, closed while undergoing renovation as of June '09.