Winter arrived a week before the Winter Solstice (Dec. 21) and official start of winter, and in a surly mood! This area received more than 20 inches of extremely wet, heavy snow in three or more storms that took down power lines, trees, and limbs, and leaving some people still without power. While the snow is mostly great news for snowmobilers and skiers, such storms require MAJOR clean-up efforts to make trails safe and passable. These efforts are in progress, but as of Monday, Dec. 19, snowmobile trails remain closed (see report below) and only a few ski trails open for skiing.
The local crews do a fast and phenomenal job of cleaning up after such storms ‑ it is not their first rodeo ‑ so please check back often for updates!
“If you head out, use caution, as there is a mess on top of good ice. In addition, be mindful that some lakes did not have good ice at the start. Be safe on the ice, as this snow will make travel difficult and create some hazards. Very cold temperatures that started Sunday night should help the ice situation.
“Due to the weather, only a few anglers are fishing. Most species are still relating to shallow structure and have not moved to the basins.
“Walleyes are currently in and around shallow structure and it is mainly a weed bite. Tip-ups, bigger spoons, and baits such as Jigging Raps and Hyper Glides and Hyper Hammers are good choices right now.
“Northern pike action is good on shallow structure. Use suckers and shiners under tip-ups set on weed edges.
“Crappie, bluegill, and perch are in the same areas as the bigger fish, with most fish around shallow weeds ‑ and that is still the ‘safest’ ice. Anglers using smaller jigs and spoons are icing some nice panfish.”
Jarrett at Hayward Bait says ice conditions are not good after the area recently received more than 12 inches of snow.
“The little ice we had certainly will not increase for the next few days. Fortunately, we have bitter cold temperatures on the way during this week before Christmas, which should lock up some of the snow and slush sitting atop the ice.
“Walleye fishing is okay and fish are still in shallow areas, with 3-10 feet the magical depth. The daytime bite is slow, but there are multiple reports of nice fish coming in as evening approaches and at sundown, all on setlines.
“Northern pike fishing is good and anglers are catching fish in the same areas as walleye. Pike are daytime creatures, however, and have poor vision in the dark hours. Sunny days that allow more light to penetrate under the ice are good for pike anglers setting lines with big suckers and shiners.
“Crappies are in many various areas between shallow weeds and deep basins. Anglers are still unable to reach most basins, but they are starting to venture out on foot with what they can carry. Towards the beginning of winter, fish will primarily be near the bottom, often suspending in the lower 10 feet of the water column.
“Bluegills are shallow or in mid-depth basins in 10-20 feet. Much like walleye, prime time hours apply for crappie and bluegill, with the peak bite just before dark. Fish are catchable with small baits during daylight hours, but at dusk, do not hesitate to up-size your presentations for big bulls.”
This week, DNR fisheries biologist Max Wolter discusses the results of fall surveys.
“The DNR and partners such as the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission annually conduct more than 200 fall surveys to assess walleye reproductive success. Most of these surveys take place in the north each year, including quite a few in Sawyer County. We expect results to vary considerably from one lake to the next.
“Some lakes have struggled with natural recruitment for more than a decade, while some maintain strong levels almost annually. There are also differences from one year to the next, and it appears 2022 was one of the best years our local walleye populations have had in some time.
“Some of our regular producers, such as Round and Windigo, had very solid numbers, despite some challenging survey conditions. Sand Lake had a nice size year class that it needed after a few years of lower-than-expected numbers.
“The Chippewa Flowage also tacked on a solid year class, following two good year classes in 2020 and 2021.
“Grindstone Lake stole the show, with one of the largest year classes observed anywhere in northern Wisconsin and well above the average for our area. That points to more good walleye fishing in Grindstone, which absorbs a lot of fishing pressure.
“It is not all sunshine and roses on the walleye front, however. Lakes such as Nelson, Chetac, Sissabagama, and Lost Land/Teal continue to show very low natural reproduction. These are all stocked lakes and we see varying levels of stocking success.
“Darker waterbodies typically support better stocking survival than the clearer ones.
“Managing walleye recruitment, both natural and stocked, will continue to be a big emphasis for our local fisheries efforts.”
The Sawyer County deer harvest total, as of December 13, is 3,101 deer, including 1,969 antlered and 1,132 antlerless. These totals include:
- Archery: 294 deer (190 antlered, 104 antlerless)
- Crossbow: 670 deer (435 antlered, 235 antlerless)
- Youth Deer Hunt: 54 deer (26 antlered, 28 antlerless)
- Nine-day gun deer season: 1,937 deer (1,254 antlered, 683 antlerless)
- Muzzleloader: 95 deer (64 antlered, 31 antlerless)
- December Antlerless-only hunt: 51 deer
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 December 18 HLVCB snowmobile trail report says that Sawyer County trails remain closed due to the current down/low hanging debris conditions. For the safety of everyone, Sawyer County Forestry, in conjunction with the Sawyer County Snowmobile & ATV Alliance Board of Directors, decided to close trails temporarily, effective immediately, while crews work to make for a safe season. Thank you for your understanding, and please check back for updates.
The DNR is urging snowmobilers to sled safe this season, to operate within their limits, and stay sober on the trails. In the early months of 2022, there were 14 fatal snowmobile crashes, with 10 involving alcohol. Alcohol affects your risk perception and reaction time. If you choose to consume alcohol, wait until after you have returned home safely – it could save your life.
Here, the DNR offers some early-season ice safety reminders:
- Remember that ice is never completely safe under any conditions.
- Contact local sport shops about ice conditions on lakes or rivers you want to cross.
- Wear proper clothing/equipment. Should you fall through the ice, a life jacket/float coat helps retain body heat.
- Do not travel in unfamiliar areas and slow down during night travel.
- Know if the lake has inlets, outlets, or narrows with currents that can thin the ice.
- Watch for pressure ridges or ice buckling that can be dangerous due to thin ice and open water.
Anyone with information regarding natural resource violations, including unsafe snowmobile operation, may confidentially report by calling or texting the Violation Hotline at 1-800-TIP-WDNR or 1-800-847-9367. The hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Trained staff relay the information to conservation wardens. People can also file online reports.
Wet, heavy snow fell on the Hayward area at least three times last week, dropping 20 inches or more in total. The storms took out power, broke down trees, made a mess, and the effects linger. The deep, heavy snow is affecting ice conditions, access, and safety. Anglers are getting out, though travel conditions are poor, but fortunately, most fish are in shallower areas with the “better” ice (hint: not all ice was good before the storms). Frigid temperatures this week, with single- to double-digit subzero lows, combined with winds to 30 mph some days, make safety THE priority. Subzero temperatures will help with ice building, but it will not happen overnight.
As always, talk with your favorite bait shop personnel about ice safety and fishing conditions.
Walleye action is fair to good, with the best fishing during the low light hours from late evening through sunset into after dark. Fish are around weeds and baitfish in depths to 12 feet. Anglers are doing well using walleye suckers, shiners, and fatheads under tip-ups, as well as jigging spoons, Jigging Raps, and similar baits.
Northern pike action is good to very good, and pike provide an all-day bite, which can be a trip saver. Sunny days can be excellent, unlike for some other predatory fish. Pike are in and around shallow weeds and panfish and baitfish concentrations in depths to 12 feet. Use sucker minnows and large shiners under tip-ups set on weed edges.
Crappie fishing is good to very good, with fish spread from shallow weed areas out to deep basins. Look for most fish to hold near the bottom and/or to suspend less than 10 feet from the bottom. Use your electronics to check the entire water column. Crappie minnows, fatheads, waxies, plastics, and Gulp! baits on small jigs, spoons, and plain hooks all work.
Bluegill and Perch:
Bluegill and perch fishing is good, with the major bite window in late evening to just before dark. Fish are somewhat scattered from shallow weeds to basins in 8-22 feet. Waxies, spikes, small minnows, plastics, and Gulp! baits on small jigs, teardrops, and plain hooks, and small spoons, are all drawing the attention of panfish.
Dec. 16: Goose season closed in North Zone.
Dec. 21: Winter Solstice ‑ first day of winter!
Dec. 25: Christmas Day.
Jan. 6: Full Wolf Moon.
Jan. 18: Crow season opens.
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.