The North Woods did not have a white Christmas, but it did have a very wet one (always make sure to enunciate clearly when requesting!), with Christmas Day hitting 51 degrees. Please do not quote me, but it appears the record high in Hayward for December 25 is 45 degrees in 1936 (which is much better than last year’s winter record entries!) Mild temperatures should continue most of this week, but they begin to cool a bit by the weekend and going into the New Year.
“There are mixed reports on ice thickness so far this season. Pre-weekend reports said 4-6 inches on most of the smaller and medium size lakes, open water on some of the bigger lakes, and zero snow cover on the ground.
“Anglers who are fishing with tip-ups set in and around shallow weeds are reporting good action for both bass species and northern pike. Crappie and panfish anglers are doing well around those same shallow weeds.
“Anglers are not traveling too far out or across the lakes, as the ice is just too sketchy. If you venture out, be sure to check the ice every few steps! It sounds repetitive, but right now, it really is necessary on all of our lakes.
“This might be a good time to try the river systems, as it appears most are open. Grab a spinning rod, some small Mepps spinners, and start walking the riverbanks!
“The weather looks to drop below freezing the first of the year and to stay that way, judging from the forecasts.”
Jarrett at Hayward Bait says shorelines are rough due to the warm weather, so be careful getting onto the lakes.
“Ice conditions are different on every lake, and with this warm weather, the conditions can change daily. Some lakes have six inches of ice and some big lakes now have little to no ice. If you go, take a spud bar, icepicks, a pair of ice cleats, and a float suit no matter where you might venture.
“Walleye fishing slowed, but anglers still report success on shallow flats and weedlines. Some are making nice catches on jigging sticks, but most use suckers and shiners under tip-ups. The varied approaches can work differently on different waterbodies. Find fish on weedlines and flats in 4-10 feet during the peak times of dawn and dusk. Fish bite throughout the night, but often shut down during the day.
“Northern pike fishing remains solid for fish less than 30 inches on many lakes. Tip-ups with just about any bait are productive. A couple pike make an excellent fresh fish dinner!
“Crappies and bluegills are still on shallow weedlines, though some crappies are suspending and moving around in lake basins and are not accessible. Waxies and plastics on small jigs work for both species. Use waxies to find the fish and then switch to plastics to avoid messing with re-baiting while the school moves on to other areas.
“Colder temperatures are on the way the first of the year!”
Mike at Jenk’s says the Chippewa Flowage ice is/was generally 5-7 inches, depending on location, and the Flowage has a number of river and creek channels running throughout the lake, resulting in ice thickness that is not uniform.
“When on the ice, please use caution and take the time to know the locations of the river and creek channels. Walk out scenarios are not ideal, but the ice is not currently safe for vehicles. Another issue is that we have had some warm weather and rain that does not make for the best of ice conditions. Anglers can still get out there, but be aware of the ice conditions around you at all times.
“Northern pike anglers are catching fish on northern suckers and shiners under tip-ups. The far west end usually works well for pike, as do areas that are producing good crappie action.
“Crappie fishing is going fairy well on crappie minnows and small jigging spoons. Anglers reports indicate there is a lot of action in front of Chippewa Pines Resort on Blueberry Flats, and in front of Menard’s shoreline off Pine Point if you do not mind walking a bit.”
This week, DNR fisheries biologist Max Wolter expands on walleye results from the fall survey.
“Previously, I provided some general results from our area fall electrofishing surveys. A little more time to crunch numbers provided more insight into what the year held for walleye and muskellunge in our local waters, and what it means for the future.
“Overall, 2023 was not a strong spawning year for local walleye. Lakes such as Round, Grindstone, and the Chippewa Flowage all came in below their long-term average for walleye year class size, though each had at least a small year class, which is better than zero.
“These results are a bit disappointing, since walleye reproduction is often strong after a long and snowy winter. However, many factors need to come together for walleye fry to survive through their first year. Those conditions were apparently present in Sand Lake, which bucked our local trend and produced a very nice year class that we hope will continue to drive the bounce-back in that population.
“To be clear, we fully expect a low or missed year class here or there in even the healthiest walleye populations. The depressed results for some of our usual producers is not concerning, unless poor results continue for several more years.
“Round, Grindstone, and the Chippewa Flowage all had strong year classes in recent years, fish that anglers will be catching as the fish mature into an adult population.
“Musky results on the Chippewa Flowage in 2023 were generally more positive. Our catch rate of natural born muskellunge fingerlings was the highest we have observed since 2008. Those natural born fish, plus a lot of stocked fish, will hopefully create some trophies a decade or two down the road.”
The Sawyer County deer harvest total for this season, as of December 19, is 2,091 deer, including 1,371 antlered and 720 antlerless. These season totals include:
- Nine-day gun: 1,369 deer (934 antlered, 435antlerless)
- Archery: 186 deer (118 antlered, 68antlerless)
- Crossbow: 438 deer (286 antlered, 152 antlerless)
- Youth 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 an antlerless-only holiday hunt Dec. 24-Jan. 1 in select Farmland (Zone 2) counties. The hunt allows all weapon types and only antlerless deer are legal for harvest. Make sure to review current regulations.
The past week and weekend took a toll on ice conditions in the Hayward area and anglers should take extra precautions with those changing conditions. Ice that was “good” yesterday might very well not be good the next day. Rain fell all day and through the night Sunday, and similar circumstances are in the works for Monday (high 51 degrees). This weather shifts ice development from the usual expectations for this time of year.
Reports before this past weekend indicated ice thickness from zero to seven inches, depending on the lake and location on the lake, so expect less and check with each step. Some of the lakes are again showing open water! Most species are still accessible in shallower weed areas, so no reason to test fate deeper. Start the New Year safe and dry!
The DNR encourages anglers to practice ice safety, especially this winter. It notes that many factors can affect ice thickness, including temperature changes, wind, currents, underground springs, and more. Never consider any ice as safe. This is particularly true this season. Make sure to take a spud bar, pair of ice cleats, icepicks, rope, PFD/float suit, and charged cell phone. Tell someone you know when and where you are going and when to expect your return.
The Wisconsin musky season closes statewide December 31. The gamefish season continues through March 3, 2024. Annual 2023-24 fishing licenses are valid through March 31, 2024. There is a continuous open season for panfish.
The 2024 early catch and release trout fishing season opens January 6 (first Saturday in January) and continues through May 3. Make sure to review the trout regulations for details, such as open waters.
Walleye fishing slowed somewhat, but anglers are still reporting some success. The best bite windows are in very early morning and late evening into dark hours. Look for shallow flats and weedlines in 3-12 feet. Walleye suckers, shiners, and fatheads on tip-ups and jigging rods are all catching fish. Less on-ice noise and disturbance equals more fish.
Northern pike action is good to very good for anglers who are fishing on shallow to mid-depth weeds and weedlines, as well as concentrations of baitfish and panfish. Northern suckers, walleye suckers, and shiners on tip-ups and dead sticks are all effective for pike.
Largemouth and smallmouth bass:
Bass are not usually a top target during ice fishing season, but anglers fishing primarily for other species with tip-ups set in and on shallow weedlines are catching some nice bass.
Crappie fishing is good in and around shallow weeds and weedlines, and for fish suspending and/or on the move. Baits of choice include crappie minnows, waxies, plastics, and Gulp! baits on small jigs, teardrops, and plain hooks fished on tip-ups, tip-downs, and dead sticks, with small spoons also productive.
Bluegill fishing is good for fish holding to shallower weeds, weedlines, and other thicker cover. Waxies, spikes, mousies, plastics, and small Gulp! baits on small jigs, teardrops, and plain hooks, with without bobbers, do the job. Small minnows, plastics, and spoons draw bigger fish and they deter the small bait thieves.
Dec. 25: Christmas Day.
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. 7: Seasons close: Ruffed grouse in Zone A; Pheasant; Hungarian partridge; Fisher trapping; Turkey (Zones 1-5).
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.