Somewhat “cooler” weather arrived in the North Woods ‑ officially -23 degrees Sunday night and a high of +1 degree Monday, and Wind Chill advisories are in effect. Temperatures moderate a bit Saturday, making outdoor recreation more feasible, not to mention safer. Be safe, dress accordingly, and have fun!
“Finally, some winter temperatures,” says Greg at Happy Hooker. “We do hope this cold snap freezes the Quiet Lakes’ slush layer and builds more ice.
“The snow did a job of insulating the underlying slush layer, producing weak spots in the ice. Check spots, even if you have been on them, and stay on packed, frozen snowmobile trails until you reach your fishing destination.
“Walleye anglers are jigging and using suckers on tip-ups, with flashy, noisy jigging spoons the ticket for big walleyes. Blade baits with vibration will catch aggressive fish; try subtle flutter spoons or dead-sticks for finicky fish. Look for fish on structure and lake bottoms transitioning from hard to soft.
“Northern pike anglers are catching fish with walleye suckers and shiners under tip-ups set in and around shallow weed beds and bays. Work weed bed edges that transition to deeper water or into the main lake, or set up on points and neck-downs.
“Crappies are suspending in deep water, which is relative to each lake, but lake basins are good starting places. Crappie minnows and waxies on tungsten jigs work well, and the smallest Jigging Raps, Tikka Minos, and Kenders T-Rips and similar baits are producing fish.
“Bluegills are near weeds and shallow water, feeding on bugs in the weeds. Small jigs mimicking these bugs will produce big gills. Jigs with waxies or small plastics will put more fish on the ice.”
Jarrett at Hayward Bait says most lakes have a decent base of ice, but covered with snow and slush, and the ice remains spotty.
“Even with this cold weather it is unlikely the underlying slush will freeze as we would like, and most anglers head out on foot or on snowmobiles on marked trails.
“Walleyes are deep during daylight hours, but move to shallower shelves and flats to feed. Small finesse baits and dead-sticks with fatheads will take fish, but sunup and sundown periods are the highlight. Walleye suckers and medium shiners on tip-ups set in quiet areas are producing.
“Northern pike fishing is steady, with fish in different spots depending on the waterbody. Some sit on shallow flats with cover, and some sit on deeper shelves, wandering between weed edges and deeper water. Northern suckers and large shiners on tip-ups are the go-to for big pike.
“Crappies are in main lake basins adjacent to their spawning bays. The schools are suspending vertically, so punch many holes in your search. When you find a school, rattle baits, spoons, jigs, and live bait work well.
“Bluegills are near weed edges, cribs, submerged trees, etc., and bigger bulls roam smaller basins looking for bugs rising out of the mud. Waxies and spikes on small jigs work well, but for aggressive bites, switch to plastics and see how much nicer it is to use plastics in cold weather!”
This week, DNR fisheries biologist Max Wolter further discusses 2022 Chippewa Flowage creel survey comparisons in Part Three of a three part series (Part One here, Part Two here).
“These surveys generate estimates of the angling effort, catch, and harvest for important fish species, with the data used for fisheries management. Comparisons to the 2011 creel survey might begin to reveal the effects of new panfish and walleye fishing regulations.
“We estimate anglers caught 540,238 panfish in 2022, with bluegill making up a majority of that catch, and we estimate that anglers harvested 151,179 fish. This means anglers harvested 28 percent of all panfish catches, a lower harvest rate than in 2011 when anglers took about 33.5 percent of all panfish catches.
“In 2022, we reduced the panfish bag limit from 25 to 10, expecting to reduce the amount of panfish taken by anglers. This creel survey provides some evidence that reducing the bag limit has been effective. The other goal was to increase panfish size, but it is too early to say the bag limit reduction improved panfish size. Still, the size of panfish that anglers encountered and harvested in 2022 was somewhat greater than in 2011 for bluegill and crappie.
“Walleye catches increased considerably between the 2011 and 2022 creel surveys, yet with a slightly reduced harvest in 2022. In 2011, there were no size limits and anglers harvested 60 percent of all walleye catches. In 2022, a 15-inch minimum length limit and 20- to 24-inch protected slot limit were in place, and we estimated anglers harvested just 18 percent of all walleye catches, with an estimated total harvest of 5,766 walleye.
“These statistics show that the size limit is restricting harvest, with the benefits being a more abundant walleye population and catch rates more than double the 2011 rate. In other words, anglers today are catching many more walleye on the Chippewa Flowage than 10 years ago, but they are taking home fewer of the fish they catch.
“Northern pike harvest interest appears to have increased, with about 20 percent of the 34,211 pike catches going home with anglers. That is an increase from 2011, when anglers harvested just 14 percent of their pike catches. The ambitious ‘Pike Improvement Project’ likely played a role in increasing angler awareness about harvesting pike.
“As expected, we estimated no muskellunge harvest by anglers. Anglers released large majorities of bass, with 6 percent harvest for largemouth and only 1.2 percent harvest of smallmouth bass.”
The DNR is accepting nominations for the 2022 Wisconsin Ethical Hunter Award. This honor represents an outdoor tradition enjoyed responsibly, respectfully, and safely. Any hunter or non-hunter can nominate a licensed Wisconsin hunter for his/her actions occur during any Wisconsin hunt during the 2022 calendar year. The deadline to submit nominations is Feb. 15. For more information, search “Ethical Hunter Award” on the DNR website.
SNOWMOBILE/SKI 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 27 HLVCB snowmobile trail report says Sawyer County trails are open, groomed, and in excellent condition, with a base of 12-16 inches. Soft snow and slush presented challenging conditions and grooming crews have worked double-time to get trails in shape. Crews have staked all lake trails, with the exception of Lake Hayward at this time. Lakes are rough and slushy, ride with caution, and stick to the marked trails.
The January 30 Travel Wisconsin snowmobile trail report for the Cable area says trails are open, cleared, rolled, groomed, and in excellent condition, with a base of 12-16 inches. Watch for signs for the Trail 4 re-route through Mason. Crews have staked the lake trails, but due to early snow, ice depths are variable, so use extreme caution on the lakes.
The January 30 Travel Wisconsin snowmobile trail report for Washburn County says trails are open, groomed, and in good to excellent condition, with a base of 12-16 inches. Ride with caution, as there might be limbs and branches along the trails. Stay on designated trails and please be aware of any current grooming activity.
The January 29 Travel Wisconsin snowmobile trail report for the Clam Lake/Ashland County area says trails are open, groomed, and in excellent condition, with a base of 12-16 inches. Be alert for downed trees and low hanging branches. A one-mile segment of Trail 8 near Clam Lake shares Forest Road 336 with vehicle traffic. Please ride with caution and in the same direction as traffic at posted speed.
The January 27 Travel Wisconsin snowmobile trail report for Rusk County says trails are open, groomed, and in excellent condition, with a base of 8-12 inches. Anticipate heavy traffic given the lack of snow in southern Wisconsin. Some creek crossings might be rough as crews repack them after last week’s warm spell. All trails are open except Trail 27 north of Cedar Lodge and Trail 99 north of Flambeau River Lodge. Ride safe!
The January 27 Travel Wisconsin snowmobile trail report for southeast Douglas County says the trails are open, groomed, and in good condition, with a base of 20-30 inches. About 85 percent of the county is open and in excellent riding condition. Thank any volunteers you pass on the trails, as they are working very hard to open and maintain trails.
The current stretch of very cold temperatures might take some time to affect the inconsistent ice depths, as there is considerable insulating cover. Foot travel remains the best mode, though many anglers are taking snowmobiles. Even at this point in the season, it is wise to check as you go.
Walleye action is fair to good, with best success in early morning and evening into after dark when fish are in shallow to feed. Walleye suckers and medium shiners on tip-ups, fatheads on dead-sticks, jigging and flutter spoons, blade baits, and small finesse baits can all be very effective at certain times. Angles just have to figure out those times!
Northern pike fishing is good to very good, with fish spread from shallow weeds, weed edges, flats, and bays, to deeper drop-offs, shelves, and points, and wherever you find panfish and baitfish concentrations. Northern suckers and large shiners on tip-ups set up over these areas are generating some very good action.
Crappie anglers are doing well once they locate the suspending schools of fish in deep lake basins. Plan to drill many holes and move with the schools for best success. Crappie minnows, waxies, and plastics on tungsten jigs, small Jigging Raps, Tikka Minos, jigging spoons, and rattle baits are all producing fish.
Bluegill and Perch:
Bluegill fishing is good to very good. Find fish around shallow to mid-depth weeds, brush, cribs, and other structure. Waxies, spikes, plastics, and Gulp! baits on small jigs and teardrops are all effective. Perch are near the bottom in lake basins, hitting small spoons tipped with minnow heads.
Jan. 31: Period 2 Bobcat hunting and trapping season closes.
Jan. 31: Squirrel season closes statewide.
Feb. 3: Full Snow Moon.
Feb. 4: Flambeau River State Forest ‑ Candlelight Ski and Hike, no fees (715-332-5271).
Feb. 4-5: Deerfoot Lodge ‑ 11th annual “Freeze Your Buns Off” Crappie Ice Fishing Tournament (715-462-3328).
Feb. 15: Fox, Coyote, and Raccoon hunting/trapping seasons close.
Feb. 22-26: American Birkebeiner Ski Race week (715-634-5025).
Through May 5: Early catch-and-release trout season open (see regs).
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.