Hayward Lakes Outdoor Report 12-19-23

Steve Suman

The current forecast indicates another mild week ahead, with highs mostly in the mid- to upper-30s. There are rain chances for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, though these days include highs in the mid-40s!

The Winter Solstice, the first day of winter, is this Thursday, December 21. This day offers the fewest hours of sunlight of the year, but then the days grow longer (slowly and incrementally, but longer!)

Merry Christmas!

“This current weather in the Quiet Lakes’ area is diminishing the chances for a good ice fishing and snowmobiling season,” says Greg at Happy Hooker. “It rained on and off Friday and the forecast indicates most daytime temperatures above freezing for the near future.

“Fishing has been okay, but it is sketchy and dangerous out on the ice. Most of the lakes had about 3-4 inches of ice, but this warm-up and rain are now thinning it quickly. Please make sure to check the ice thickness as you go!

“Reports indicate most fish are shallow or on the edge from shallow to the basin.

“Walleye anglers are using tip-ups with walleye suckers or shiners.

“Crappie anglers are jigging waxies on small jigs.”

Jarrett at Hayward Bait says ice safety is very important, and while most anglers have been on the ice for a few weeks now, every lake is different when it comes to ice conditions.

“Due to the warm weather, any ice that anglers believed was safe could change as well. Ice thickness differs from having no ice on some of the big lakes to 6 inches of ice on some smaller, more protected lakes. Keep in mind that was before the warm spell and rain. Stay safe on the ice, and no matter where you go, make sure to take a spud bar, pair of ice cleats, icepicks, and a float suit.”

“Walleye fishing slowed some, but anglers still have much of their success on shallow weedlines and flats. Some are catching some good fish on jigging sticks, but most are using tip-ups. Suckers and shiners are working well, but each works differently on different waterbodies. Look for fish on weedlines and flats in 4-10 feet during peak times such as dusk and dawn. Fish bite throughout the night, often shutting down during daytime.

“Northern pike fishing is solid, with anglers on many lakes catching numerous fish less than 30 inches. Most report success with about any kind of bait on tip-ups. If you are hungry for a fresh fish dinner, ice a couple pike. The rich, white meat makes for excellent table fare!

“Crappies and bluegills are accessible on shallow weedlines. For lakes with better ice, anglers will begin to creep out towards the main lake basins to target suspended, roaming crappies. Waxies on small jigs work well for both species, but once you establish the bite and fish locations, switch to plastics to speed the catching process. This helps hold fish to an area longer as you are not futzing around replacing your live bait every other fish.”

This week, DNR fisheries biologist Max Wolter discusses how lateral lines work.

“If you look closely at the side of most freshwater fish, you will see one of their most sophisticated and unique sensory systems: the lateral line. This appears visually as a faint row running lengthwise along the fish. Many anglers might have heard of the lateral line and its role in helping fish capture prey even when visibility is low, but exactly how does it work?

“In fish, the lateral line is actually a series of small pores that in some species are large enough you can stick in the end of a pin. Within each pore is a structure, a neuromast, which is almost like a little hair. Movements or vibrations in the water, even small ones, create pressure changes that neuromasts can detect. This is how fish can tell whether something is moving near them without seeing it.

“Having a lateral line that runs the length of the body on each side allows the fish to determine the location and even movement direction of whatever makes those small vibrations. As a result, fish can make nearly instinctive strikes towards objects nearby without being fully reliant on sight.

“Anglers take advantage of this part of fish behavior by using baits that create lots of enticing vibration. The vibrations from bladed baits such as spinners or wobbling crankbaits add another element to the presentation and might trigger a fish to strike in ways that a purely visual presentation would not.

“Fish in darker water may have even greater reliance on their lateral line system for detecting prey or alerting to the presence of your lure. Lateral lines also alert fish to danger and can cause them to dart away the moment an object enters their area.”

The Sawyer County deer harvest total for this season, as of December 12, is 2,089 deer, including 1,370 antlered and 719 antlerless. These season totals include:

  • Nine-day gun: 1,369 (934 antlered, 435 antlerless)
  • Archery: 185 deer (118 antlered, 67 antlerless)
  • Crossbow: 437 deer (285 antlered, 152 antlerless)
  • Youth Deer Hunt (Oct. 7-8): 31 deer (12 antlered, 19 antlerless)
  • Muzzleloader: 52 deer (21 antlered, 31 antlerless)
  • December antlerless-only: 15 deer (15 antlerless)

Deer hunting continues with archery and crossbow seasons running through Jan. 7. Though neither include Sawyer County or bordering counties, an antlerless-only holiday hunt is Dec. 24-Jan. 1 in select Farmland (Zone 2) counties, and an extended archery season is open Jan. 8-31 in select counties and metro areas.

The DNR says that as winter approaches, some Wisconsin lakes and ponds have developed a thin layer of ice. It might look solid to the naked eye, but that is not always the case, as there can be cracks and changes in the ice thickness that you will not see until it is too late.

Temperature swings, strong winds, currents, underground springs, and more can all create weak spots in the ice, which is why you should ever consider any ice safe, especially not this early in the season.

Here are a few basic ice safety tips to remember.

  • Carry a charged cell phone. Have a plan in place noting where you will be and when you plan to return.
  • Wear proper clothing and equipment, including life jacket/ float coat, to help stay afloat and maintain body heat.
  • Wear ice creepers on boots to prevent slipping on clear ice.
  • Carry a spud bar to check the ice while walking to new areas.
  • Carry a few spikes and length of rope in an easily accessible pocket to help pull yourself/others out of the water.
  • If you fall in, remain as calm as possible.
  • Call for help while attempting to get out of the water.
  • Anyone attempting to rescue you should use a rope or something similar to keep him/her from falling through.
  • Do not travel in unfamiliar areas or at night.

For more information, search “ice safety” on the DNR website.

Holiday Raffle tickets for $5,550 in cash prizes are still available at the Hayward Information Center and Northern Lakes Cenex & Corner Deli. Tickets cost $10 each. The Chamber draws tickets through December 29 and winning tickets goes back in for future drawings! Visit the HACC website to see the day’s winner. Winners need not be a resident or present to win, and the Chamber will notify winners directly.

For more information, visit the Hayward Chamber website or call (715) 634-8662. Tickets are not mailable.

Fishing Report

Fishing is fair to good, but anglers must using extreme caution when they are moving around on the ice. Sunshine, warm temperatures, and even rain are currently affecting ice conditions. On your way to the lake, visit with your favorite bait shop personnel to get the most current ice conditions, as well as fish locations and preferences. Fish are still mostly shallow, so do not take any unnecessary risks to check deeper areas under very questionable ice.

The DNR is reminding anglers to practice ice safety this winter and that no ice is safe ice. Many factors can affect ice thickness ‑ temperature changes, wind, current, underground springs, and more ‑ and why you should never consider any ice as safe. This is especially true early in this season. If you go, be sure to take a spud bar, pair of ice cleats, icepicks, rope, and PFD/float suit. Let someone know when and where you are going and when to expect your return.


Walleye fishing is fair to good, with best success in late afternoon and into after dark on shallow weedlines and flats out to 12 feet. Anglers are favoring walleye suckers and shiners on tip-ups and jigging sticks, with jigged fatheads also drawing some interest. Quiet fishing will pay dividends.

Northern Pike:

Northern pike action is good to very good, with anglers reporting good numbers of catches of fish up to 30 inches. Look for pike on shallow to mid-depth weeds and weedlines, and near panfish and baitfish concentrations. Northern suckers, walleye suckers, and shiners are the go-to baits at this time, fished on tip-ups and dead sticks. If you are not already doing so, keep a few for the table ‑ they are truly tasty!


Crappie fishing is fair to good on shallow to mid-depth weedlines. It is not advisable to try to access deeper fish until ice conditions show considerable improvement! Fish are suspending and moving. Crappie minnows, waxies, plastics, and Gulp! baits on small jigs, teardrops, and plain hooks are producing with/without bobbers, and fished on tip-ups, tip-downs, and dead sticks.


Bluegill fishing is fair to good. Concentrate on shallow weeds, weedlines, and other cover. Waxies, spikes, mousies, plastics, and Gulp! baits on small jigs, teardrops, and plain hooks fished under bobbers work well. Small minnows and spoons help target bigger fish and avoid the smaller bait bandits.

Upcoming Events

Dec. 16: Goose season closed in Northern Zone.

Dec. 21: Winter Solstice – first day of winter (day with the fewest hours of sunlight ‑ but days begin to grow longer!)

Dec. 22: Elk season closes in Clam Lake Elk Management Zone.

Dec. 24-Jan. 1: Antlerless-only holiday hunt in select Farmland (Zone 2) counties.

Dec. 25: Christmas Day.

Dec. 25: Bobcat hunting and trapping season Period 1 closes.

Dec. 26-Jan. 31: Bobcat hunting and trapping season Period 2 open.

Dec. 26: Full Cold Moon.

Dec. 31: Musky season closes.

Jan. 1: New Year’s Day 2024.

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

Jan. 7: Archery and crossbow deer season closes.

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

Jan. 8-31: Extended archery season in select counties and metro areas (does not include Sawyer/bordering counties).

Jan. 19: Crow season opens.

Jan. 20-21: Free Fishing Weekend.

Jan. 25: Full Wolf Moon.

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.