This week brings highs in the upper 30s to mid-40s, lows in the mid- to upper-20s, and strong winds. The forecast indicates little precipitation, with a few chances for sunshine and 40-degree highs into next week. This is great weather for some outdoor recreation, but not the usual for winter in the North Woods! Get out and make the most of the mild weather, and while on your travels, visit some of the various business establishments ‑ this is a rough winter for them!
“As of the past weekend, the Quiet Lakes still had decent ice,” says Greg at Happy Hooker, “but this week could really screw up things. There are consistent reports of approximately 8 inches of ice on most lakes, but most of the creeks and river are open and flowing again. That is not a good sign for lakes with current moving through them.
“Fishing is decent, with most anglers using tip-ups to target shallow fish. Most catches are walleye and northern pike on suckers or shiners under tip-ups in 8-12 feet. Look for weed and rock edges that drop into deeper water.
“Few anglers are targeting panfish or venturing to deep water on this ice. There are still decent shallow weeds and it appears fish have not moved from them yet.”
Jarrett at Hayward Bait says that as we head into the warm-up, ice conditions around the area vary considerably.
“Most lakes have around 10 inches, though some have only a few inches in spots. Take spud bars, ice picks, float suits, and cleats.
“Walleye anglers are finding fish in 5-20 feet, with deep weeds and structure the key. Be very quiet and stay away from set-ups to avoid scaring fish. Most anglers use walleye suckers and medium shiners.
“Northern pike are very active. Most catches are in 5-20 feet with suckers and shiners on tip-ups, and some by jigging. Spoons, rattlebaits, and big dead baits are fantastic options for mid-winter fish.
“Crappies moved to main lake basins, most will suspend, and 10-30 feet is the key. Good electronics help get on them. If not equipped, check a map for basin structure that will hold fish, such as inside turns, weedlines, corners, and steep slopes. Plastics and live bait on small tungsten jigs work well at this time.
“Bluegills cruise mid-depth weedlines and structure. Some hold tight to cover such as cribs. Using underwater cameras along cribs helps get on the edge where fish cruise. Some will not move from cover until certain periods to feed. Unless you are within safe striking distance, the bite can be tough! Waxies and spikes work well. Waiting for weed cruising fish requires silence and patience.
“Perch are on mud flats, feeding and preparing for spawn. Tip-ups, tip-downs, dead sticks, and jigging all work well. The trick is finding and staying on the roaming fish. Set a spread of baits, determine where fish travel, and target those areas while fish are there.”
This week, DNR fisheries biologist Max Wolter discusses suckers as table fare.
“Crappie, bluegill, walleye, trout, and even northern pike wind up on many dinner tables throughout the North woods, but there is another abundant group of fish that rarely gets eaten: suckers.
“For our purposes here, ‘suckers’ will refer to both the true sucker species and the redhorse species. These fish are native and common or even abundant in many of our area waters, especially medium-sized rivers.
“Few anglers target them specifically, though they are large fish that can provide great action and a hard fight. Even fewer anglers look at suckers as a food option, a fact now ingrained in the larger fishing culture. In the same way that people look at panfish and walleye as food fish, most anglers deem suckers as unworthy of the table.
“Some of that reputation likely comes from those who have tried suckers in the past. The main issue with eating suckers is not the quality or texture of the flesh, which is reportedly very good among some species, but the abundant and difficult to remove bones. Think of them as a pike’s y-bones, but bones that are even more difficult to remove.
“Several preparation methods are available for those interested in trying to eat suckers.
“The first strategy is to score the meat heavily, allowing the heat from cooking to penetrate more easily, which might eliminate some of the thinner bones.
“Another method is grinding and forming into fish patties. With this method, the bones are still present, but they may be small enough that they are not noticeable.
“The most highly recommended, and intensive, is smoking at low heat for a long time. This may eliminate many of the bones and/or will make the flesh fall off in flakes where you can account for the bones.
“Anglers who harvest suckers should still exercise restraint. There are few restrictions on sucker harvest, with no seasons or bag limits, but certain species are not highly abundant and all represent an important link in our food webs.”
The DNR is hosting a public listening session for a Nelson Lake fishery plan update. The meeting is February 6, at Lenroot Town Hall on Hwy 63 north of Hayward, beginning at 6:30 p.m. The DNR wants to hear from anglers who fish Nelson Lake, and seeks public input on the plan update, the first in nearly 20 years.
According to DNR fisheries biologist Max Wolter, “Angler input is a critical component of the plan update and important pertaining to other efforts on Nelson Lake, such as potential angling regulation changes.
During the meeting, Wolter will provide a short presentation on fishery changes, management actions, a public feedback questionnaire, Q&A time, and an opportunity for participants to share fishery observations and preferences.
SNOWMOBILE TRAIL REPORT
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 26 HLVCB snowmobile trail report says lakes currently offer the best riding, as trails off the lakes are thin and could become mushy after a few warm days this week. Some reports indicate the designated fire lane trails, compared to the regular trails, are best to get from point A to point B.
While the lakes are rideable, do so with caution, as they are icy with patchy snow coverage. Always stay on the staked trail. Over the next week, crews will monitor for slush pockets or other dangers and will update as needed. Always ride with caution, as anything can change at any time. Swamplands are not solid, and we recommend avoiding them.
For your safety and the safety of others who might follow your tracks – DO NOT ride on un-staked lakes!
Visit the HLVCB snowmobile trail report website for a current listing of staked and un-staked lakes.
Even if you do not ride your snowmobile, we hope you can come visit the surrounding businesses! They would love to see you and really appreciate your support. The businesses are working together to offer fun activities and great deals!
If you cannot ride your sled, the ATV/UTV trails are open! If you do not have an ATV/UTV, borrow one, rent one, or if you feel spontaneous, buy one from an area business! If you venture out on an ATV/UTV, make sure that you follow the map, always know the map legend ‑ and “Read before you Ride.”
For information on ATV/UTV trail conditions and seasonal closures, visit https://haywardlakes.com/trails/atv-utv/trail-conditions.
Lake ice in most areas was okay going into this past weekend, up to 10 inches in some areas, but mild temperatures this week could cause some issues. Consider current conditions similar to “late” ice, use extreme caution, take necessary safety equipment, and be sure to check as you go. There is little to no snow on the ice, so creepers might be a wise. Daytime highs in the 40s and nighttime lows in the 20s will have to battle it out for ice maintenance dominance!
Be careful out there!
Walleye fishing is fair to good, but with lack of snow cover, it requires a stealth approach and keeping a distance from the tip-ups. Anglers are catching fish in 5-25 feet around weeds, structure, and rock transitioning to deeper water. Walleye suckers and shiners on tip-ups are the choice of most anglers, with some using jigging baits.
Northern pike action is good to very good for fish in 6-14 feet around weeds, weedlines, weed edges, and concentrations of baitfish and panfish. The most productive baits are northern suckers and shiners under tip-ups, jigs, rattlebaits, spoons, and big dead bait.
Crappie fishing is good when you locate them. They are spread out and roaming in 8-30 feet on weedlines, breaklines, drop-offs, cribs, and other structure. Some fish are suspending, so check the entire water column. Baits of choice include crappie minnows, fatheads, waxies, small plastics, and Gulp! baits on tungsten jigs and plain hooks fished under tip-ups, tip-downs, and dead sticks. Small spoons and rattlebaits also work well.
Bluegill fishing is good, though some fish stick tight to protective cover and it is necessary to get baits directly in front of them. Some fish roam mid-depth weedlines, cribs, and other structure. Waxies, spikes, plastics, and Gulp! baits on small jigs, teardrops, and plain hooks are doing the job.
Perch fishing is fair to good on weeds and mud flats, but the schools are often on the move. Fatheads, crappie minnows, rosy reds, waxies, and plastics on jigs or plain hooks, fished on tip-ups, tip-downs, and dead sticks, and spoons in assorted colors, are all effective.
Feb. 3-4: Deerfoot Lodge – 12th Annual Freeze Your Buns Off Crappie Ice Fishing Contest, $50 entry (715-462-3328).
Feb. 6: DNR public listening session for Nelson Lake fishery plan, Lenroot Town Hall, 6:30 p.m. (715-634-7429).
Feb. 10: (Canceled) 42nd 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. 17: 24th-ish Drummond Bar Stool Races, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Feb. 21-24: 50th Annual Slumberland American Birkebeiner (715-634-5025).
Feb. 24: Full Snow Moon.
Feb. 29: Leap Year!
Feb. 29: Seasons close: Cottontail rabbit; Squirrel (gray and fox).
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.