Christmas weekend in the North Woods blessed us with clear skies and sunshine ‑ somewhat deceiving when viewed from a warm and protected indoor environment. Temperatures ranged from -9 degrees to 5 degrees, with strong winds blowing snow and hindering travel. This week brings a warming trend, with high temperatures reaching into the upper 30s late in the week, though with varied types of precipitation.
“Bitter cold temperatures surely helped the Quiet Lakes’ ice conditions,” says Greg at Happy Hooker, “but from what we are hearing, there is a fair amount of slush between the snowpack and ice.
“Ice travel on anything other than a tracked machine is still not safe on some lakes and will not be easy. Before the wet/heavy snow last week, lakes such as Round, Grindstone, and LCO had only about 3 inches of good ice. Smaller lakes such as Lost Land, Teal, and Ghost had almost 9 inches at the last report. The Sawyer County Snowmobile Alliance Facebook page has regular updating on ice conditions. They monitor lake ice thickness all the time and it is a great resource to check ice safety.
“Fishing reports have been sparse, as most anglers do not want to deal with ice travel conditions right now.
“Walleyes will transition to deeper water now that the first-ice bite is over, but we have not heard of any type of bite lately. Soft bottom basins are a good choice, as smaller bugs and other offerings will keep walleyes close. Jigging baits should be the ticket, replacing tip-ups and bigger spoons.
“Northern pike could be anywhere in the water column, as snow cover is blocking much of the sunlight, killing off any remaining weed growth. Pike are predators, and if baitfish are in the weeds, pike will be there, too. If baitfish are in the basins, pike will be nearby. They might relate to points adjacent to basins, mid-lake humps in the basins, or rocky bars, etc. Tip-ups rigged with suckers or shiners is the go-to ‑ just adapt to the location you are fishing. Set rigs a bit deeper when in basins, and above the weeds if fishing those spots.
“Crappies are starting to roam the basins and anglers need to get small jigs down to them. Tip the jigs with waxies, plastics, or bloodworms. The fish will school and move a bit, so you have to be mobile to stay with them. The current lack of fishing pressure should keep them aggressively eating baits.
“Bluegills are some of the last fish to stay in shallow areas, as that is the area they prefer. Work weeds with waxies and plastics on small jigs.
“Perch can be roaming basins or stacked in the weeds, and weeds offer ample food and cover from predators. It appears perch prefer small spoons to jigs. Tip the jigs with minnow heads or tails and start jigging!”
Jarrett at Hayward Bait says two feet of snow, severe cold, wind, the holiday season, and ice conditions all over the place have negatively affected ice fishing for the past week or so.
“Some good, cold weather for a few days has helped to start the freezing of snow and slush sitting on the ice. However, there are still many pockets of slush and many ways to come off the ice while soaking wet, so make sure you take some dry clothes for after your jaunt on the ice. There are NO consistent reports on ice thickness throughout any lakes, so if you go, take a buddy and a spud bar!
“We are still early in the ice fishing season, but the sheer amount of snow on the ice has darkened shallow water conditions where you would normally find walleye and northern pike. This darkened water will cause the die-off of remaining weeds that harbor baitfish, forcing the baitfish to leave. In most waterbodies, this will cause walleye and pike to slide into deeper water or onto slightly deeper structure. Tip-ups still do the trick, with only a few fish catches coming on jigging techniques. Shiners and suckers left alone in a quiet space should prove effective.
“Crappies, too, have most likely moved to the basins due to the snow cover, but those deep water areas are NOT safe for anglers.”
This week, DNR fisheries biologist Max Wolter discusses bird predation on fish.
“Researching wild animals comes with lots of challenges, many of which are unanticipated when planning studies. For example, take a series of studies on endangered suckers out west.
“Researchers were interested in how often predators, namely pelicans, were eating two rare sucker species. Since many of the suckers had tags, researchers tried to get an idea of how many suckers the pelicans were eating by scanning for tags at the pelicans’ colony. That’s right ‑ the researchers went to where all the pelicans defecated and scanned around for the tags that were once in the suckers.
“Observations of the pelicans’ behavior, however, led researchers to understand that their estimate of predation on suckers using this method was not fully accurate. Some pelicans were using the restroom elsewhere, which could mean they were dropping more tags in other places and therefore not found.
“Needing to adapt, the researchers designed a new study. In this case, they intentionally fed the pelicans more than 400 tagged, non-endangered suckers. After a while, they went to the nesting colonies to scan for these specific tags. From this effort, researchers were able to estimate that only 47 percent of the tags from suckers eaten by pelicans were winding up at their spawning colonies, with the other 53 percent deposited elsewhere.
“This might seem like a lot of work to learn about the bathroom habits of birds, but with this information the researchers were able to correct their past estimates of bird predation on these rare fishes.
“This is a great example of how research has to adapt, and how sometimes fisheries work is as odd and unpredictable as trying to figure out where birds do their business!”
The Sawyer County deer harvest total, as of December 20, is 3,119 deer, including 1,979 antlered and 1,140 antlerless. These totals include:
- Archery: 299 deer (193 antlered, 106 antlerless)
- Crossbow: 681 deer (442 antlered, 239 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: 53 deer
An antlerless-only Holiday Hunt open only in select Zone 2 farmland counties is open Dec. 24 through Jan. 1, and archery and crossbow seasons run through January 8.
For current Birkie Trail conditions, view the trail conditions map at www.birkie.com/trail on the Birkie website. The American Birkebeiner week is February 22-26, with other events in January and early February. Skiing any part of the Birkie Trail System December through March requires a Birkie Trail Ski Pass.
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 HLVCB snowmobile trail report ‑ as of December 21 ‑ says Sawyer County snowmobile trails remain closed. This follows a joint decision between the Sawyer County Snowmobile & ATV Alliance Board of Directors and Sawyer County Forestry due to safety concerns. They reached this decision due to excessive wet, heavy snow and downed and/or low hanging debris causing unsafe and/or impassable conditions.
This decision did not come lightly; our volunteers are passionate riders who want to ride and/or are business owners who know this sport drives our economy. Trails will reopen as soon as possible, but no timeline is in place.
More details are available at https://haywardlakes.com/trails/snowmobile-trail-conditions.
Please check back midweek for an update ‑ and thank you for your understanding!
The December 23 Travel Wisconsin snowmobile trail report for the Cable area says trails are cleared, open, rolled, and groomed, with a base of 4-8 inches.
Lake ice conditions and access remain a huge issue in the Hayward area. Most lakes have layers of ice and slush under heavy snow cover. Mild temperatures in the mid- to upper-30s late this week, with rain possible, could improve the situation ‑ or worsen it. At present, snowmobile trails remain closed. For the most current conditions, check with your favorite bait shop personnel (they have a serious stake in return customers!) and snowmobile trail reports. Whatever you decide (note most of the season lies ahead) take recommended safety equipment and use extreme caution!
Walleye fishing is somewhat quiet, as fish have moved to deeper water where ice conditions are unsafe for anglers. If you can find shallow weeds on bars, humps, rock, and along shorelines with reasonable ice thickness, try fishing from late afternoon into after dark. Shiner and suckers on tip-ups work well, though spoons and jigging baits also catch fish.
Northern pike fishing is good, though heavy snow cover on the ice prevents sun penetration, causing weeds to die, which affects pike location, and in turn, angler access. Unsafe ice conditions prevent anglers from venturing over deeper water, but anglers continue to catch pike on weeds, humps, bars, and around baitfish and panfish concentrations. Best action is with suckers and shiners on tip-ups, though jigging baits are also catching fish.
Crappie fishing is fair around shallow weeds for anglers using crappie minnows, waxies, plastics, and bloodworms on small jigs, teardrops, and plain hooks. Some fish moved to deep basins, but those areas are NOT safe for angler access. Conditions will improve eventually, but for now, do not take unnecessary risks!
Bluegill and Perch:
Bluegill and perch fishing is fair to good, with both species in and around shallow weeds and other structure where they find food and protection. Waxies, spikes, plastics, and Gulp! baits on small jigs, teardrops, and plain hooks, work well for both bluegill and perch, with minnow heads and tails on jigs and spoons attractive to perch.
Dec. 25: Period 1 Bobcat hunting and trapping season closed.
Dec. 26: Period 2 Bobcat hunting and trapping season opened.
Jan. 6: Full Wolf Moon.
Jan. 7: Early catch-and-release trout season opens (see regs).
Jan. 7: Pat’s Landing Tipper Tourney, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., entry fee $20 (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. 21-22: Free Fishing Weekend.
Jan. 21: Northland Area Builders Association Ice Fishing Contest (715-296-7881).
Jan. 21: Elk Country ATV Club ‑ ice fishing contest on Upper Clam Lake, 7 a.m.-3 p.m. (715-681-0866).
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.