Hayward Lakes Outdoor Report 1-16-24

Steve Suman

Cold temperatures moved into the North Woods during the past week, reaching double-digit subzero marks on a few nights ‑ but locations to the south experienced even colder temperatures AND feet of snowfall! The Hayward area recorded approximately three to four inches of fresh snow and that is about all that is on the ground at this time. Daytime high temperatures will continue to hover in the single digits this week, but will start to warm during the weekend. Wind chills are a factor, so do be aware and cautious with exposed skin.

“A new round of snow Friday night dropped approximately 3 inches of snow on the Quiet Lakes’ area,” says Greg at Happy Hooker, “but it was difficult to tell, as the wind was howling and creating some drifting.

“Bitter cold temperatures will hang around for this week, with most in the single digits during the day and below zero at night. Since there is not much snow cover on the lakes, the conditions should make some great ice this week! Reports say 6-8 inches of good, solid ice on some lakes, but not quite that much on the bigger area lakes. We are hearing about 4 inches on Namakagon.

“Always check the ice as you go, as ice conditions can change daily. The word is that crews might stake some of the lakes this week for snowmobile traffic and there ‘might’ be enough snow in the woods to start grooming. However, so far we have not seen any of the groomers.

“Walleye and northern pike anglers are still finding fish shallow, with most doing well with tip-ups set on weed edges in 6-10 feet that drop off to basins.

“Panfish angler reports are very scarce, but with better ice conditions anglers should be able to work deeper basins for crappie and perch.”

Jarrett at Hayward Bait says ice conditions have really started to improve on the lakes.

“Most lakes are NOT to the point of vehicle or even UTV travel yet, however, as most have 3-6 inches or so at this time. The current very cold temperatures should continue to make ice to get the conditions to where they need to be.

“Walleyes, with the ice still as thin as it is, are still in early winter patterns. Most anglers are catching fish in depths from 5-15 feet, with most catches coming on tip-ups. Some anglers are having some success jigging for walleyes, but with no snow on the ice until just recently, the fish have been super spooky. Walleye suckers and shiners are the best baits for walleye at this time.

“Northern pike fishing is very good, with most fish still in shallow water and hitting hard on big suckers and shiners under spreads of tip-ups.

“Crappie anglers, with improving ice conditions, are making it out to deeper water where fish will stage for a good part of the winter. Anglers are catching fish in 15-30 feet on jigs, plastics, and live bait. Fish are usually on the move, so go prepared to punch many holes!

“Bluegills have started to move out to main lake structures such as deeper weeds and cribs. Some fish remain shallow in what remains of the weeds, but now with the newly snow-covered ice, oxygen depletion will soon cause most fish to evacuate the shallows in favor of deeper water. Waxies and spikes on small jigs are working very well, and for bigger bluegills, do not be afraid to try some smaller spoons!”

This week, DNR fisheries biologist Max Wolter seeks public input on a Nelson Lake fishery plan update.

“Nelson Lake sits just outside Hayward and is beloved by both locals and visitors. Nelson has an interesting fishery history, particularly considering that the lake has not been around for all that long!

“Nelson has produced state record bullhead and bluegill, and formerly boasted one of the most abundant walleye populations in the state. However, the Nelson Lake fishery has undergone several shifts over time, with the most recent shift resulting in fewer walleyes and more bass and panfish.

“The DNR completed the current Nelson Lake fishery management plan in 2004. Since nearly 20 years have passed since the plan’s creation, it seems prudent to update the plan in the near future.

“Angler input is a critical component of the plan update, and is also important pertaining to other efforts on Nelson Lake, such as potential angling regulation changes.

“The DNR wants to hear from anglers who fish Nelson Lake and has scheduled a listening and discussion session for Tuesday, February 6, at the Lenroot Town Hall on Hwy 63 north of Hayward. The session begins at 6:30p.m. We encourage and welcome anyone who has an interest in Nelson Lake to attend.

“There will be a short presentation by DNR fisheries biologist Max Wolter on fishery changes and management actions, a public feedback questionnaire, question and answer time, and plenty of opportunity for all participants to share observations and preferences for the fishery’s future. The DNR looks forward to a productive and collaborative meeting.”

The DNR invites everyone to join in Free Fishing Weekend this Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 20-21. During these two days, residents and nonresidents of all ages can fish without a license or trout stamp. All other fishing regulations apply, such as length limits, bag limits, seasons, etc. This includes Wisconsin’s side of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River.

During Free Fishing Weekend, most Wisconsin waters are included, except spring trout ponds. Review information about the early trout season and the trout regulations for clarification, as some waters may be catch and release only.

Every year, the DNR designates the third Saturday and Sunday in January, and the first consecutive Saturday and Sunday in June, as Free Fishing Weekends throughout the state.

For more information, search “Free Fishing Weekend” on the DNR website.

Northland Area Builders Association’s annual ice fishing event on Nelson Lake to celebrate Free Fishing Weekend is this Saturday, January 20, headquartering at the Nelson Lake public boat landing.

The event offers cash and raffle prizes with a chance to win an ice fishing package, food, refreshments, and fun for the entire family! The first 40 kids receive a tip-up courtesy of S.C.O.P.E. ‑ and one lucky kid will receive a fish finder!

This is a non-profit event, with portions of the event’s proceeds going to benefit the Nelson Lake Association Fish Sticks and other local non-profits.


Snowmobiles must have a current registration and display a valid snowmobile trail pass to operate on public snowmobile trails. You can renew registrations and order trail passes online or purchase trail passes from sales agents. Members of the Association of Wisconsin Snowmobile Clubs (AWSC) can purchase trail passes at a discounted rate directly from www.awsc.org. You do not need to be a Wisconsin resident to be an AWSC member.

The January 15 HLVCB snowmobile trail report says Sawyer County trails remain closed, but the latest update says lakes are freezing over as the temperatures drop, but still need some time. Crews have staked Nelson and Moose lakes ‑ and we strongly advise to stay on the staked trail if you ride on the lake. Groomers are not out yet, as swamps and lakes are making more ice. We will update Tuesday after a few days of the cold weather.

Our ATV/UTV trails are open! Grab your ATV/UTV or rent one, and hop on the trails. Please do not ride on unfrozen wetlands, as it damages the forming ice.

For more information, visit the Sawyer County Snowmobile & ATV Alliance.

The DNR reminds riders to check trail conditions ahead of time by contacting county forestry and parks departments, local snowmobile clubs, or visit the Travel Wisconsin Snow Report website.

For more information, visit the DNR snowmobiling webpage.

Fishing Report

Ice conditions are improving rapidly for anglers. Double-digit subzero lows and single-digit (above zero) daytime highs, combined with little to no snow cover, are doing a good job of growing ice thickness. Current thickness estimates run an inconsistent 3-8 inches, so checking as you go is still a must-do when on the lakes. Snowmobile crews staked Nelson and Moose lakes, but make sure to stay on those staked trails.

Free Fishing Weekend, when the DNR waives fishing license and trout stamp requirements, is this Saturday and Sunday, January 20-21. The forecast shows a bit warmer temperatures for those days, with 20 degrees for Sunday. Not t-shirt weather, but warmer than earlier parts of this week! Sunday of Free Fishing Weekend might be the best day to introduce a friend (or six!) to ice fishing at no cost to them.


Walleye fishing is fair to good, with some fish still shallow, patterns remaining similar to earlier this winter, and the shallow fish still somewhat nervous and very aware of disturbances above them. Find fish in 4-16 feet on weeds and weed edges leading to basins. Walleye suckers and shiners on tip-ups, and jigged fatheads, are working best.

Northern Pike:

Northern pike action remains good to very good for fish in and around shallow to mid-depth weeds and weedlines in 6-10 feet, especially those that lead to lake basins. Large northern suckers, walleye suckers, and shiners on tip-ups are very effective.


Crappie fishing is good, with most fish in 15-30 feet in lake basins. Crappie minnows, fatheads, waxies, plastics, and Gulp! baits on small jigs, teardrops, and plain hooks are productive, as are small spoons. Fish continue to move, so plan on drilling numerous holes to stay with them.


Bluegill fishing is good to very good. Some fish are still in shallow weeds, but many, if not most, have moved to deeper weeds, cribs, and other structure. Waxies, spikes, plastics, and Gulp! baits on small jigs, teardrops, and plain hooks work well, as do small minnows and spoons for larger fish.

Upcoming Events

Jan. 6: Early catch-and-release trout season opened (see regs).

Jan. 7: Archery and crossbow deer season closed.

Jan. 7: Seasons closed: Ruffed grouse (Zone A); Pheasant; Hungarian partridge; Fisher trapping; Turkey (Zones 1-5).

Jan. 19: Crow season opens.

Jan. 20-21: Free Fishing Weekend.

Jan. 20: NABA Ice Fishing Event on Nelson Lake (715-558-2097).

Jan. 25: Full Wolf Moon.

Jan. 31: Extended archery season in select counties and metro areas (does not include Sawyer/bordering counties) closes.

Jan. 31: Bobcat hunting and trapping season Period 2 closes.

Feb. 3-4: Deerfoot Lodge Freeze Your Buns Off Crappie Ice Fishing Contest (715-462-3328).

Feb. 10: DNR public listening session for Nelson Lake fishery plan update, Lenroot Town Hall, 6:30 p.m.

Feb. 10: Annual Hayward Lions Pre-Birkie cross-country ski race (715-634-5025).

Feb. 15: Seasons close: Coyote trapping; Fox hunting/trapping; Raccoon hunting/trapping.

Feb. 24: 50th Annual Slumberland American Birkebeiner (715-634-5025).

Feb. 24: Full Snow Moon.

Feb. 29: Leap Year!

Feb. 29: Seasons close: Cottontail rabbit; Squirrel.

For more information on area events and activities, visit the Hayward Lakes Visitor and Convention Bureau and Hayward Area Chamber of Commerce websites, view the Calendar of Events, or call (715) 634-8662 or 800-724-2992.