Those who are waiting for snow need wait no longer ‑ snow is in the forecast for every day this week. Perhaps not in the quantities desired (as the forecast now stands), and it is accompanied by cold temperatures. How cold? The high of near 30 degrees today drops to a high of 6 degrees Sunday (following -5 degrees Saturday night!) As always, the forecast is in a constant state of flux, so keep track throughout the week.
“It is beginning to look a lot like winter in the Quiet Lakes’ area,” says Greg at Happy Hooker, “and few inches of fresh snow and colder temperatures made some good ice all last week. There are reports of 6-8 inches of ice on Lost Land Lake, but if you get out, be sure to check the ice for yourself as you go!
“The colder weather should stick around to build more ice cover, and there are a few chances for snow in the near future, according to the forecasts.
“There is not much snow on the lakes, which makes walking out to spots much easier, and anglers are just starting to feel comfortable getting out to better spots.
“Walleye and northern pike anglers are doing well with walleye suckers and shiners on treble hooks fished under tip-ups. Most are fishing weed bed pockets or the outside edges of weeds adjacent to deeper water.
“Panfish reports on success and locations are extremely limited, but quite a few anglers buying crappie minnows.”
Jarrett at Hayward Bait says ice conditions have begun to recover with the return of some mildly cold weather.
“We have not really seen the cold temperatures we need to make a lot of ice, but those temperatures are in the forecast over the next few weeks. Still, there are many areas where one should use caution. Most reports convey that we lost more than half of the ice we had before the warm-up, with some shorelines in rough shape as well. Make sure to take a spud bar, float suit, and a buddy with you when you take to the ice.
“Walleyes remain shallow and in the early winter bite pattern. Lack of snow cover allows sunlight to penetrate the depths, keeping weed growth healthy, and fry and minnows are hiding in those weed beds. Walleyes are ultra-spooky in shallow water, so make sure to be quiet and keep and a good distance from tip-ups to maximize chances for a nice fish.
“Northern pike fishing is solid with northern suckers and shiners tip-ups in 4-10 feet. Do not be afraid to try big dead baits, as big baits catch big fish. Remember that baits greater than 8 inches require using a quick-strike rig.
“Crappies moved into the lake basins and will remain there throughout the winter. Unfortunately, ice conditions are not yet favorable to get over deep water, but the fish will still be there when the ice thickens. Good bait offerings include small rattle baits, spoons, and tungsten jigs tipped with plastics.
“Bluegills are roaming shallow weed beds, and waxies, spikes, and plastics on small jigs do the job.”
This week, DNR fisheries biologist Max Wolter discusses considerations for fishing clear ice.
“Ice fishing conditions in the Hayward area this year are different from what we experienced last year.
“Anglers might recall that last year there was ice on many of the small lakes when we received a big dumping of snow. That led to slushy conditions, and the insulating nature of snow made it difficult to build more ice.
“Walking conditions were not easy in many places, and in some cases, driving was not an option. Anglers still managed to go fishing, but many seemed to consider it almost a lost season.
“At this time, conditions are very different. After building 4-6 inches of good black ice, we hit a warm period that included some rain. Ice depth has not built quickly, and more importantly, we have virtually no snow on the ice. These conditions led to their own access and mobility challenges.
“The current ice is very slippery in some places, creating a falling risk, especially for older anglers. For those venturing out, ‘creepers’ are a great idea right now, and ice skates might even be a viable option! The lack of ice depth means driving out is still not safe.
“Clear ice might change fish behavior, requiring you to adjust your fishing strategy. Ice with little snow cover allows considerably more light penetration. This could create better foraging conditions for visual predators such as northern pike, which might bite earlier in the morning or later in the evening, times they might shut down in other winters.
“Walleyes prefer low-light conditions, meaning they might be in deeper water and/or push the bite window into extreme dawn and dusk periods. Fish might also be more aware of your presence on top of the ice. Our fisheries technician, Scott Braden, recently reported increased success after moving further away from the tip-ups he had set.
“Perhaps most importantly, increased light penetration means aquatic plants can continue to go through photosynthesis, keeping plants green and productive, perhaps making those habitats more attractive to fish.
“Plants undergoing photosynthesis continue to produce oxygen. When light is insufficient, plants actually start to use oxygen, rather than create it. Therefore, good light penetration might also reduce the risk of winterkill.”
Free Fishing Weekend is January 20-21. Every year, the Wisconsin 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.
Residents and nonresidents of all ages can fish without a fishing license (and trout stamp) during these two days. All other fishing regulations are in effect, including length limits, bag limits, seasons, etc. This includes Wisconsin’s side of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River. Most Wisconsin waters are included, except for spring trout ponds. Review the early trout season and trout regulations for clarification, as some waters may be catch and release only.
Check the DNR website for a listing of free clinics offered by clubs, organizations, and state and local parks.
The DNR reminds ATV/UTV riders to beware of winter conditions. Snow has still not covered many state trails, and just because a winter road or trail is legally open for riding does not mean it is safe. Frost, ice, and fresh snow can quickly cause slippery conditions.
There were 32 fatal ATV/UTV crashes in the state in 2023, the most recent occurring December 31. The consumption of alcohol or drugs, excess speed, driver inexperience, and operator error are leading causes of fatal crashes.
Wisconsin law requires ATV and UTV operators born on or after Jan. 1, 1988, who are at least 12 years old for an ATV (and at least 16 years old for UTV) must complete an ATV safety certification course to operate in Wisconsin (exception: on private property owned by operator’s immediate family). These safety courses can be taken online or in person. A list of approved safety education classes is available on the DNR Safety Education webpage.
Wisconsin law also requires every operator involved in a crash incident to report the incident immediately to law enforcement officials. Operators must submit a written report to the DNR within 10 days of the incident.
For more information, visit the DNR’s ATV/UTV Riding in Wisconsin webpage.
The 2024 Seeley Hills Classic, held January 13, (update) is the second-largest annual classic cross-country ski event on the Birkebeiner Trail. The race is a major fundraiser for the Seeley Ski Club, responsible for lighting the Birkie Trail at the Highway OO area and developing the Sawyer County Ski Trail in the Seeley area that the club still maintains and grooms.
For more information visit: https://www.birkie.com/ski/events/seeley-hills-classic.
Cold weather on the way this week, bringing single-digit and even subzero lows ‑ along with some single-digit highs and combined with minimal snowfall ‑ should soon make a significant difference in ice thickness. For now, make sure to check the ice as you go, take safety equipment such as PFDs/float suits, spud bar, icepicks, rope, cell phone, as well as a fishing friend, and inform someone of your leaving/returning itinerary. That detail might not seem important… until it is.
Walleye fishing remains fair to good, with best success during early morning and late evening into dark hours, the prime feeding times. Focus on shallower weedlines and outside weed edges holding food and offering nearby access to deeper water. Walleye suckers and shiners under tip-ups, and fatheads on jigs, are the go-to presentations. A quiet approach and keeping some distance from tip-ups increase catches of wary walleyes in shallow water under clear ice.
Northern pike action is very good on weeds and weedlines in depths out to about 12 feet, as well as near concentrations of panfish and baitfish. Top baits include northern suckers, walleye suckers, and shiners on tip-ups and dead sticks. If you use big bait to target trophy pike, remember that it is illegal to fish with a minnow 8 inches or longer unless using a quick-strike rig or non-offset circle hook.
Crappie fishing is good to very good when you find the fish. Shallow to mid-depth weeds and weedlines still hold some fish, but many have moved to deeper locations where ice is still, for now, somewhat questionable. Crappie minnows, waxies, plastics, and Gulp! baits on jigs, rattlebaits, spoons, and plain hooks with or without bobbers, and jigging rods, tip-ups, tip-downs, and deadsticking, are all very effective.
Bluegill fishing is good in and around shallow weeds, weed beds, and weedlines. Baits of choice include waxies, spikes, plastics, and Gulp! baits on small jigs, teardrops, and plain hooks, with/without floats. Try slightly larger spoons and minnows to deter the small bait robbers.
Dec. 31: Musky season closed.
Jan. 7: Seasons closed: Ruffed grouse in Zone A; Pheasant; Hungarian partridge; Fisher trapping; Turkey (Zones 1-5).
Jan. 13: Seeley Hills Classic (715-634-5025).
Jan. 19: Crow season opens.
Jan. 20-21: Free Fishing Weekend.
Jan. 20: NABA Ice Fishing Event on Nelson Lake (715-296-7881).
Jan. 25: Full Wolf Moon.
Feb. 3-4: Deerfoot Lodge Freeze Your Buns Off Crappie Ice Fishing Contest (715-462-3328).
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.