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The heron wades slowly through the reeds at the edge of the lake, stalking his prey. On the other side of the reeds, the man in the boat is doing exactly the same thing waiting and watching for the strike that means the fish has taken his bait. Angler and bird mirror each other patiently waiting for the fish. In all likelihood they will both be successful today. Lake Poygan in the Central Sands Region of Wisconsin is full of fish. In fact, it has the reputation for the best fishing in the Winnebago Pool which also includes Lake Winnebago, Lake Butte des Morts, and Lake Winneconne.
Poygan Lake has healthy populations of largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and white bass along with northern pike and walleye. It is also a popular place to ice fish with shacks and cars dotting the lake as soon as winter sets in. Relatively large populations of lake sturgeon live in Lake Poygan and the other Winnebago Pool lakes. The sturgeon can live to be 100 years old and often grow to weigh over 100 pounds taking on almost mythical proportions. Spear fishing season for sturgeon starts in February and is open every year on Lake Winnebago and every fifth year on Lake Poygan and the other Winnebago Pool lakes.
The Wolf River makes up both the inflow and outflow of Poygan Lake. Formed by the Labrador Ice Sheet about 10,000 years ago the lake was originally a shallow rice lake. The Menomonee Indians, also called "People of Wild Rice," traveled to the lake in the fall to harvest rice for the coming year. Lake Poygan was so shallow it could be crossed on horseback.
The shallow water made navigation by boat difficult to impossible, however, and in 1849 the first of a series of dams was constructed to raise water levels to improve navigation. The Neenah-Menasha Dams were raised and rebuilt until finally by 1881 water levels had risen 3.5 feet. The increased water levels flooded thousands of acres of land resulting in many lawsuits against the United States government which eventually paid damages to the landowners. An influx of hungry carp ate and killed the rice.
With a maximum depth of eleven feet, Lake Poygan is still a shallow lake. It sprawls over 14,000 acres across Winnebago County and has direct access through Lake Winneconne to the approximately 170,000 acres of water in the Winnebago Pool system supplying visitors with an abundance of boating and fishing opportunities. Vacation rentals and permanent residences dot the shore, and there is real estate available for sale. Nearby Winneconne has shops, restaurants and a variety of accommodations, and Oshkosh is an easy drive from the lake.
At the western end of the lake, the Poygan State Wildlife Area has 3,282 acres of marshy land set aside for waterfowl and wildlife. Trails wind across the area providing ample opportunities to watch the waterfowl and other birds. Hunting is also allowed in season.
Fantastic fishing and bird watching combine to make Lake Poygan a great Wisconsin destination. Add all the water and boating opportunities of the rest of the Winnebago Pool lakes and this Central Sands Region getaway has something to please everyone.
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