By: Steve Suman
This week’s forecast indicates typical spring conditions in the North Woods, though perhaps a bit cooler than normal. Fresh air and outdoor activities are great for many of us “stuck” at home, but with chances for rain nearly every day, make sure to pick the best times… or wear rain gear. Do not let light rain stop you – and a bonus is the smell of pine permeating the air on these rainy spring days!
“The lakes are becoming very sloppy, with lots of standing water on top, but most are still accessible. Shorelines are going fast, so be especially careful at access points. Use caution with these conditions and stay away from honeycombed and dark ice.
“Panfish anglers should target shallow vegetation in 8-12 feet with waxies and plastics on small jigs. Fish are schooling and there is a competitive bite, which is best in late afternoon. Please do not overharvest, as it can be very easy to do at this time.
“If you are quarantining and not fishing, this is a great time to store ice fishing gear and prepare for open water.
“We all look forward to the day when this crisis passes and we can get back to regular routines. Until then get outside and enjoy the outdoors.”
Trent at Hayward Bait says spring weather is here and there is a wide range of ice conditions on the lakes.
“Some shorelines, rivers, and dams have open water, but most lakes, with one or two exceptions, are not ready for open water fishing. Water temperatures are still in the 30s and fish are going to be in deeper water.
“Catch and release fishing opened for largemouth and smallmouth bass April 1 and dams and rivers are probably your best bet for open water fishing.
“Anglers can fish panfish all year and perch will be in shallower water to spawn. Practice restraint on harvest, as catching fish off beds can drastically affect the future quality of the fishery.
“Turkey season opens soon and the toms are calling and strutting, though the hens do not seem quite ready. The youth turkey hunt is April 11-12 and the first regular season starts April 15. Most of the snow is gone and early season hunters should have good hunting conditions.”
Carolyn at Anglers All in Ashland says Ashland County is under a travel advisory due the “Safer at Home” order and the city of Ashland has closed all city beaches, docks, and piers through May 5. As a result, there will be no smelting at Ashland City public beaches, docks, or piers through May 5. For more information or if you have questions or comments, call the Ashland Parks and Recreation Office at (715) 682-7059 or message on the City of Ashland’s Facebook page.
This week, DNR fisheries biologist Max Wolter discusses frogs in pike stomachs.
“Though I am frequently surprised by things we see in our fisheries surveys, it is rare that something completely puzzles me. However, back in January we saw something that I still cannot fully explain.
“Each winter, we participate in an ice fishing field day with the Northern Waters Environmental School in Hayward, at which the students learn basic ice fishing skills and fish biology. If we catch any harvestable fish, we bring them back to the classroom to teach the students how to fillet and dissect organs. One of the highlights of the whole exercise is seeing what different fish have in their stomachs.
“This year, the kids caught eight northern pike that we filleted and dissected and most had the usual mix of small panfish and minnows in their stomachs. However, one pike had a frog in its stomach – and another had two frogs! Neither pike had fully digested the frogs, indicating they had probably eaten them within the past week.
“Considering that we caught these pike January 17, it seems certain the pike ate these frogs while under the ice. No doubt like many people, I picture hibernating frogs buried in the mud at the bottom of the lake. How these pike could find a frog to eat in winter initially stumped me.
“However, according to Scientific American, frogs do not bury themselves in the mud. Because the frogs still require oxygen, which they get from the water, frogs often sit motionless on top of the lakebed during winter. This makes them vulnerable to pike or any other observant predators that might spot them.”
According to DNR conservation biologist Ryan Brady, spring bird migration is going strong across Wisconsin, with bird numbers and diversity accelerating rapidly statewide. Northern Wisconsin is seeing large numbers of dark-eyed juncos, common grackles, red-winged blackbirds, and American robins, and the first wave of short-distance migrants such as song, fox, and American tree sparrows, golden- and ruby-crowned kinglets, brown creepers, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, northern flickers, winter wrens, eastern bluebirds, and Wilson’s snipe. Waterfowl continue to arrive, but peak is a few weeks off, as ice still dominates many waterbodies. Red-tailed hawk migration is at peak, the first turkey vultures arrived, and bald eagles remain prevalent. Help track the migration by reporting your observations to www.ebird.org/wi.
If you are looking for outside activities to fill these days, consider joining Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s free NestWatch Project. Birds are busy courting, building nests, and preparing to raise their young, and there is a lot to learn by observing these rites of spring. Anyone who finds a bird nest can help scientists by reporting it to the project that serves as a nesting information warehouse. NestWatchers report a nest location, the species using it, number of eggs, and other milestones as adult birds incubate, raise, and fledge young. NestWatch accepts reports from anywhere in the world, enabling scientists to compare birds across their global breeding range. For more information, visit www.nestwatch.org.
Wisconsin’s state parks and trails remain open to the public and the DNR has implemented voluntary registration fees and voluntary admission via self-registration or electronic kiosks. However, it closed all park offices, visitor centers, and non-essential buildings, as well as closed to the public park headquarters, nature centers, research stations, ranger stations, shooting ranges, fish hatcheries, shelters, showers, concessions, and indoor group camp buildings on DNR properties. Restrooms will remain open as long as there are enough resources, cleaning supplies, and personal protective equipment for staff. All campsites remain closed through April 30 and the DNR is not accepting new reservations until further notice. For more information, visit www.dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks.
The annual spring fish and wildlife hearings will go on as scheduled next Monday, April 13, but the DNR has canceled the in-person Spring Hearings and Wisconsin Conservation Congress meetings due to public health concerns. Despite cancellation of the in-person meetings, the DNR is offering the public an online opportunity to offer comments and input on the various natural resources advisory questions. The online link will go live at 7 p.m., April 13, and remain open for three days/72 hours. The DNR will post results as soon as they are available. For more information, visit www.dnr.wi.gov/About/WCC/springhearing.html on the DNR website.
Wisconsin’s Youth Turkey Hunt is this weekend, April 11-12, for youth hunters younger than 16 years of age. Hunters younger than age 12 and youth hunters without hunter safety can participate in the hunt under the Mentored Hunting Program in which a qualified adult must accompany any youth hunter. Youth hunters must possess a valid spring turkey license, stamp, and harvest authorization. These hunters can use a harvest authorization for any period during the youth hunt, but must hunt within the turkey management zone indicated on their harvest authorization. For more information, search “youth turkey hunt” on the DNR website.
The first Sawyer County CDAC meeting is April 6, by conference call, due to public health concerns. The DNR invites hunters, farmers, foresters, and anyone interested in deer management to participate in County Deer Advisory Council meetings. All meetings are open to the public. For meeting dates, times, and phone numbers to participate, visit www.dnr.wi.gov/topic/hunt/cdac.html or call (715) 266-6291.
First, whether you are still ice fishing or looking ahead to open water season, remember that your 2019 fishing license expired Tuesday, March 31, and it is time to renew!
Ice fishing conditions are deteriorating, but still offer lake access. However, late season ice is similar to early season ice in that anglers must use extreme caution when traveling on the lakes – and keep an eye out for changing conditions.
There is a good panfish bite in progress, which should continue until ice-out. In addition, a new rule in effect as of April 1 allows anglers to catch and release bass fish throughout the year. Check the fishing reports from the bait shops (above) for the most current details on fishing success and conditions.
Finally, if smelting is your passion, check the Anglers All report for some disappointing news for this year’s season – the city of Ashland has closed all city beaches, docks, and piers through May 5.
March 28: Trout season opened on designated sections Lake Superior tributaries (see regs).
March 31: Fishing/Hunting licenses expired!
April 11-12: Youth Turkey Hunt.
April 13-16: Spring fish and wildlife hearings (no in-person hearings).
April 15 through July 31: Illegal to allow unleashed dogs to run on DNR lands and FWPAs (see regs).
April 11-12: Youth Turkey Hunt.
April 15-21: Period A.
April 22-28: Period B.
April 29-May 5: Period C.
May 6-12: Period D.
May 13-29: Period E.
May 20-26: Period F.