Winter returns to the North Woods just in time for the American Birkebeiner Ski Race week February 22-26. The forecast predicts up to 20 inches of snow through Wednesday evening, and more in the following days. Temperatures in the next week include highs from 12 to 32 degrees and lows from -10 to 10 degrees, with strong winds. Bundle up!
“It appears Quiet Lakes’ fishing will get very good just as the gamefish season closes,” says Greg at Happy Hooker, “and the timing always seems impeccable! A winter storm will bring some snow, which could be a good thing for ice travel, as rain last week knocked down snow cover to bare ice.
“Walleye fishing is tough. First ice was good, but tapered off dramatically. Anglers are fishing basins with tools such as live scope to find schools. Jigging spoons with rattle, flash, and noise call in fish from a distance. Fish weed edges with those baits, and with walleye suckers and shiners on tip-ups and dead-sticks.
“Northern pike are haunting weedy bays and open water. Suckers and shiners under tip-ups on weed pockets, edges, and points will get some flags. Dawn and dusk are best, but tip-ups during the day also catch fish.
“Crappie fishing is good for fish suspending in basins. The go-to approach is waxies and plastics on small tungsten jigs that drop fast. Electronics help eliminate water not holding fish and schools move all day. Some anglers camp and wait for the fish to return; others hole hop to stay on them.
“Bluegill and perch fishing is good for anglers willing to walk a bit. Some small, lesser-known lakes offer good fish, and less fishing pressure. No matter the lake, the same tactics apply. Use waxies and plastics on small jigs for bluegills; small spoons with crappie minnow heads or bodies for perch. Start around shallow weeds. If you do not find fish, work deeper edges.”
Jarrett at Hayward Bait says two weeks remain for gamefish season!
“Walleye fishing remains slow, with many anglers targeting fish in 15-25 feet. Fish are primarily active in quiet areas during low light periods. Anglers take many fish on tip-ups, but some catch fish with jigging spoons with minnow heads or lively fatheads on dead-sticks.
“Northern pike are active, with the best bite on live bait under tip-ups. Later in winter, anglers will find success with large dead baits. With oxygen levels decreasing in many lakes, weaker fish will perish and offer opportunities for keen-nosed pike looking for dead fish in the mud. Keep your live bait or dead bait near the bottom.
“Crappies are schooled in main lake basins, but some reports say fish are locating on basin drop-offs near remaining weedlines. Most anglers start with small jigs tipped with waxies, but what is the biggest bait with which you have ever started? Starting with big baits can be very effective for crappies! Select for the biggest and most aggressive fish – then switch to a smaller bait for finicky fish.
“No reports on bluegills, as most panfish anglers currently target crappie and perch.
“Perch fishing is kicking off with fish feeding on mud flats. Small insect imitations work for finicky fish, but many anglers set tip-ups, tip-downs, and dead-sticks for jumbo perch. The trick is holding the school’s attention after pulling a fish from it. Keeping a secondary rod ready to drop after catching a fish will hold the school’s attention long enough to catch a few more fish.”
This week, DNR fisheries biologist Max Wolter continues his discussion of lake classes and fish abundance.
“Previously, I wrote about how the DNR Fisheries categorizes our waters into ‘lake classes.’ We assign these classes based on a lake’s fishery characteristics, clarity, and temperature, along with a few other variables. Any given species might excel in some lake classes, while being less common in others.
“For example, the average catch rates of black crappie in DNR surveys are highest in the ‘Warm-Dark’ and ‘Cool-Dark’ lake classes. Crappies do well in ‘dark’ water, which is often more productive from a nutrient standpoint. Catch rates for bluegill and largemouth bass are highest in the ‘Warm-clear’ lake classes. Warm temperatures are particularly important for these two ‘warm-water’ species, and clear water suits them just fine.
“Walleye are most abundant in the ‘Two-story’, ‘Cool-dark’, and ‘Cool-clear’ lake classes, in that order. The common thread between all three of these classes is cold or cooler water, which walleye prefer. Muskellunge, similarly, are most abundant in ‘Two-story’ and ‘Cool-dark’ lakes.
“An interesting final example is our two most common bullhead species, yellow and black, the most abundant in our ‘Harsh’ class of lakes. This should come as no surprise, as we know this lake class has frequent winterkills that might greatly limit the abundance of other species, leaving plenty of opportunities and habitat for the hardy bullhead species to thrive.
“Anglers identifying some of these important lake characteristics can learn a great deal about the opportunities new water might provide. Fortunately, some, such as water clarity, are visible right off the end of the dock at the boat landing.”
The DNR’s Great Waters Photo and Writing Project Contest is accepting entries through April 1. The DNR will use selected photos and writings in the next Wisconsin’s Great Waters Calendar and other DNR publications, webpages, and displays. Submit your best photos of the Mississippi River, Lake Michigan, or Lake Superior, and your best writings for the contest. The contest needs photos from all seasons. Visit the website to view photo and writing winners from past contests. For more information, visit dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/GreatLakes/Contest.html.
The American Birkebeiner Ski Race week is February 22-26 and the event will affect Hayward area traffic patterns. To view parking information, hospitality zones, areas of interest, and road and street closures, visit the Birkie website and click on Getting Around During Birkie Week. For information, call (715) 634-5025.
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 February 17 HLVCB snowmobile trail report says Sawyer County trails are open, groomed, and in good condition, with a base of 8-12 inches. Wooded trails are flat, but with many icy spots. View groomed trails on the GTS app. Rain and warm weather made hard and icy trail surfaces, so ride with extreme caution. Make sure to get sleds into some snow and keep your machine cool. All lakes remain staked for riding, with the exception of Lake Hayward.
The February 17 Travel Wisconsin snowmobile trail report for Washburn County says trails are open, groomed, and in fair condition, with a base of 8-12 inches. Ride with caution and stay on designated trails.
The February 17 Travel Wisconsin snowmobile trail report for the Clam Lake/Ashland County area says trails are open, groomed, and in fair condition, with a base of 8-12 inches. Be prepared for icy corners, hills, intersections, and bare spots. A one-mile segment of Trail 8 near Clam Lake shares Forest Road 336 with vehicle traffic. Please ride at the posted speed, in the same direction as traffic.
The February 20 Travel Wisconsin snowmobile trail report for Rusk County says trails are open, groomed, and in poor condition, with a base of 8-12 inches. All trails are open and rideable, but very icy and riders will have trouble keeping sleds cool without studs and ice scratchers. Expect groomers running throughout the latter half of the week.
The February 20 Travel Wisconsin Birkie cross-country ski trail report says the American Birkebeiner Trail remains closed Feb. 19-26 as crews prepare for the race. Visit www.birkie.com for open trails. Skiing any part of the Birkie Trail System December through March requires a Birkie Trail Ski Pass. An All-Access Snow Pass is required to ski on the snowmaking loop. For information, call (715) 634-5025.
The warm temperatures and sunshine somewhat improved travel conditions by taking down the snow cover on the lakes, but creepers (or ice skates!) became a necessity. A return to cold temperatures and possibly considerable new snow this week could move things back to square one. Some snow is okay, but we do NOT need another two feet of it!
The general inland gamefish season closes March 5, less than two weeks distant. Go now, or start planning for ice fishing season next year!
Walleye action is slow to fair, but some anglers continue to catch fish. The fish are in/on deep basins, holes, and weed edges in the daytime. In low light conditions of early morning and evening into dark, they move to shallower flats to feed. Walleye suckers, shiners, and fatheads on tip-ups, dead-sticks, jigs, and jigging spoons/baits are all producing catches.
Northern pike action is good to very good, with early morning and late afternoon hours most productive. Fish are around weeds, weedlines, weed edges, points, and wherever there are panfish and baitfish concentrations. Northern suckers and shiners on tip-ups are working, and dead bait on the bottom will soon be effective as well.
Crappie fishing is very good for anglers who can locate the schools, and electronics make doing so easier. Fish are suspending, and on the move, in deep basins, drop-offs, and weedlines. Set up shop and wait for their return, or try to stick with them as they move. Baits of choice include crappie minnows, waxies, spikes, plastics, and Gulp! baits on small tungsten jigs and teardrops.
Bluegill fishing is fair to good around shallow to mid-depth weeds and weed edges with waxies, spikes, plastics, and Gulp! baits on small jigs and teardrops.
Perch fishing is improving as the fish move to deep weed edges and mud flats. Best offerings include crappie minnows, minnow bodies, minnow heads, and insect imitations on small spoons and jigs, and crappie minnows on tip-ups, tip-downs, and dead-sticks.
Feb. 15: Seasons closed: Fox, Raccoon hunting/trapping; Coyote trapping.
Feb. 22-26: American Birkebeiner Ski Race week (715-634-5025).
Feb. 28: Cottontail rabbit season closes.
March 5: General inland fishing season closes.
March 5: Seasons close: Mink; Muskrat trapping.
March 6: Full Worm Moon.
March 10: Women Fish Crappie Weekend at Deerfoot Lodge & Resort 10 a.m.-3 p.m. (715) 462-3328).
March 11: Fat Bike Birkie (715-634-5025).
March 12: Daylight Saving Time begins at 2 a.m. (turn clocks ahead one hour).
March 18: Shamrock Shuffle 1K and 5K runs, Hayward Main Street, 11:45 a.m.-2 p.m., free raffle after race.
March 20: Crow season closes.
Through May 5: Early catch-and-release trout season open (see regs).
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.