The forecast (and driving conditions) from now through the end of the week are not for the faint of heart! Okay, maybe it is not “that” bad, but rain, ice, snow (currently predicted for 5-8 inches through Wednesday), and strong winds are not painting a pretty picture. On the other hand, perhaps the prognosticators have it wrong (it has happened!) and none of the extremes will arrive. This weekend will bring single-digit lows. We need cold for ice making, but before heavy snow blankets and insulates the ice already in place. Winter in the North Woods ‑ ya gotta love it!
“Some bitterly cold nights helped make ice on the Quiet Lakes,” says Greg at Happy Hooker. “However, ice condition reports are all over the place, from nearly 9 inches on lakes such as Lost Land to open water on Round, LCO, and Grindstone. This indicates the smaller, shallower lakes are setting up nicely, while the big, deep lakes are taking their time. Every lake is different and snow cover can hide thin, unsafe ice, so make sure to check as you head to any spots.
“Walleye anglers say suckers and shiners on tip-ups are working well, though it appears some are now using fatheads and crappie minnows for jigging and dead-sticking. Bigger profile jigging baits are still producing, as the winter bite has not yet switched to finesse fishing, but we are still a long way from that.
“Northern pike action is best with suckers and shiners under tip-ups set on weeds and weed edges. Pike can be cruising for food be anywhere in the water column, so set tip-ups at different depths.
“Crappie, bluegill, and perch anglers should stick to shallow bays and weeds. Deep lakes have not yet frozen over, and deep basins in the shallower lakes might not be safe. Small jigs and spoons fished plain or tipped with live bait or plastics can catch fish. Using electronics is the easiest way to ice panfish, but this time of year does not require it. Use lake maps to find weed beds in bays and start there.
“Hunters who have not yet tagged a deer still have time. Archery and crossbow seasons run through January 8, and there is a late December antlerless-only holiday hunt in select farmland units.”
Ken at Hayward Bait says ice depth reports vary from lake to lake, so use extra caution, especially on the larger lakes.
“Walleyes are hitting walleye suckers and medium shiners under tip-ups set on weedlines. Use treble hooks or flashy spoons on fluorocarbon leaders. Low light conditions can offer a better bite. During the day, try reaction baits such as Jigging Raps, Shiver Minnows, Rippin Raps, and similar baits.
“Northern pike are hitting northern suckers and large shiners under tip-ups set on weedlines and weed flats.
“Crappies move around while suspending in deeper water and can show up on deep weedlines, small humps, and cribs. Crappie minnows work well, but so can plastics. Vary jigs styles and color, with white, pink, and purple good first ice colors. Clam Silkie trailers can entice negative fish.
“Sunfish family members like weedlines, cabbage patches, and vertical structure close to weeds. Small jigs with waxies and spikes work well. Drill a few holes and move around to improve success.”
Mike at Jenk’s says that anglers report most lakes have 5-7 inches of ice, however flowage lakes such as the Chippewa Flowage do not have uniform ice depths, and anglers should be very cautious.
“Some areas have 5-7 inches, with other areas thinner, and with the current ice conditions, crews have not yet staked the snowmobile trails.
“Northern pike reports are hard to come by at this time, but the few reports so far say the pike bite is average.
“Crappie and panfish reports are also not plentiful. Several anglers report some decent crappie and panfish catches, and some anglers report Blueberry Flats on the west side has respectable crappie action.”
This week, DNR fisheries biologist Max Wolter discusses the weirdest fish spawners in Wisconsin.
“Most Wisconsin fish species, from sturgeon to smallmouth, spawn in one of two standard modes. The first is broadcast spawning, where males fertilize eggs dropped by females as they swim across spawning grounds. The second main type of spawning happens with a male or female building a nest for the eggs and sometimes with one of the parents guarding the nest after the female lays the eggs.
“Most of our fish species spawn in the spring; however, some fish species in Wisconsin have unique spawning habitats that fall outside of these norms.
“The freshwater drum is an interesting spawner in several ways. First, the males make an audible drumming noise as spawning approaches. The other drum oddity is that drum eggs float, which is typical of saltwater fish, but very rare for freshwater species.
“Burbot is another species unique in its spawning, though more so in the timing. Burbot spawn in the dead of winter, under the ice, making large, writhing spawning ‘balls’ with many adults slithering together as they procreate.
“Creek chubs are also a noteworthy spawner. Many fish species scoop nests with their powerful tail fins, but the chub does it with its mouth. The male chub digs out a spawning depression in gravel by relocating rocks by mouth, one at a time, usually placing them in a ridge or a pile that you can see if you wade in a stream where chubs have spawned.”
The Sawyer County deer harvest total, as of December 6, is 3,001 deer, including 1,940 antlered and 1,061 antlerless. These totals include:
- Archery: 289 deer (188 antlered, 101 antlerless)
- Crossbow: 660 deer (430 antlered, 230 antlerless)
- Youth Deer Hunt: 54 deer (26 antlered, 28 antlerless)
- Nine-day gun deer season: 1,936 deer (1,253 antlered, 683 antlerless)
- Muzzleloader: 62 deer (43 antlered, 19 antlerless)
An antlerless-only Holiday Hunt open only in select Zone 2 farmland counties is open Dec. 24-Jan. 1. Archery and crossbow seasons run through January 8.
The DNR encourages winter recreationists to practice ice safety and remember that no ice is safe ice. Contact local fishing clubs, bait shops, or outfitters for ice conditions. If the lake has inlets and outlets, know if its narrows are spring-fed or have currents, as both can thin the ice. Some small lakes have aerators running throughout the winter, often covering a large area towards the center of the lake, or smaller aerators placed by private property landowners. Be alert for pressure ridges or ice heaves that can result in open water. Temperature changes and high winds can create, move, or grow these ridges and heaves.
If you are traveling on the ice, carry a cell phone, let people know where you are going and when you will return, and leave a written note. Wear a life jacket or float coat to help you stay afloat and maintain body heat. Wear ice creepers to prevent slipping. Carry a spud bar to check the ice while walking to new areas, and spikes and length of rope to pull yourself or others out of the water. If you fall through, remain calm, attempt to get out of the water, and call for help. Do not travel in unfamiliar areas or at night. For more information, search “ice safety” on the DNR website.
Christmas in Hayward Gingerbread House judging takes place this Saturday, Dec 17, at Hayward Mercantile in downtown Hayward. Anglers Bar and Grill will have a fire pit and s’mores from 12-4 p.m. in its beer garden.
Gingerbread house categories include Adult, Business, and Kids (16 and younger). There is one prize for each category. Judges base their decisions on the most creative house, yard, etc., with the platform size no larger than a jellyroll pan (11×17 inches) for the contest.
Creators can turn in their houses to Hayward Mercantile Co. Dec. 10-16 and judging is Saturday, Dec 17, at Hayward Mercantile Co. The gingerbread houses will be on display at area businesses until noon, Dec. 24. If you have any questions, call Hayward Mercantile (715) 634-7179.
Ice conditions are improving, but they vary from lake to lake and even from location to location on each lake. It is early in the season and weather fluctuations are affecting ice creation, so use extreme caution in traveling on the ice and check every step (which should always be the case anyway!) Ice thickness reports range from less than 5 inches up to 9 inches in spots. Most species are still somewhat shallow, so there is no need to take unnecessary risks. Personnel at your favorite bait and tackle shop can keep you current on ice conditions, fish locations, and favored baits and presentations.
Walleye fishing is good, with best action during periods of low light. Look for fish on shallow to mid-depth weedlines (where ice conditions allow) and set tip-ups with walleye suckers and medium shiners. Jigging anglers are using spoons, Jigging and Rippin Raps, Shiver Minnows, and similar baits, and jigging and dead sticking fatheads and crappie minnows.
Northern pike are active and offering good fishing on weeds, weedlines, weed edges and flats, and around panfish and baitfish concentrations. Northern suckers, walleye suckers, and large shiners under tip-ups set at varied depths are working well.
Crappie fishing is good to very good. Fish are scattered from shallow to deeper water in bays and on weeds, weedlines, cribs, and humps, with some fish suspending. Ice conditions prevent accessing the deeper fish, so target the shallow fish. Baits of choice include crappie minnows, spikes, plastics, and Gulp! baits on small jigs and spoons, with purple, pink, and white the most productive colors. Check the entire water column!
Bluegill and Perch:
Bluegill and perch fishing is good to very good on weeds and weedlines, shallow bays, brush, and other structure. Drill some holes to find fish and then keeping moving to stay on them… or wait for them to come to you. Best baits include small jigs, teardrops, and plain hooks fished with or without waxies, spikes, plastics, and Gulp! baits.
Dec. 16: Goose season closes in North Zone.
Dec. 21: Winter Solstice ‑ first day of winter!
Dec. 24-Jan. 1: Antlerless-only Holiday Hunt ‑ open only in select Zone 2 farmland counties (see regs).
Dec. 25: Christmas Day.
Dec. 25: Period 1 Bobcat hunting and trapping season closes.
Dec. 26: Period 2 Bobcat hunting and trapping season opens.
Jan. 6: Full Wolf Moon.
Jan. 7: Early catch-and-release trout season opens (see regs).
Jan. 7: Pat’s Landing Tipper Tourney, $15/entrant, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. (715-945-2511).
Jan. 8: Seasons close: Archery, crossbow deer; Hungarian Partridge; Ruffed grouse (Zone A); Fisher hunting/trapping.
Jan. 18: Crow season opens.
Jan. 21: Elk Country ATV Club ice fishing contest on Upper Clam Lake, 7 a.m.-3 p.m. (715-681-0866).
Jan. 21-22: Free Fishing Weekend.
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.