by: Steve Suman
The forecast indicates we could have some lake effect “shovel-able” snow Thursday and Friday this week. Otherwise, temperatures continue in the 20s and 30s for highs and single-digit to the 20s for lows. The weather is great for outdoor recreation, but minimal snow makes pursuit of some activities challenging!
This weekend is Free Ice Fishing Weekend (no license requirement). Check below for more information.
“There are reports of slush building under the snow, depending on the lake you are fishing or snowmobiling, and that means waterproof boots for anglers and no stopping for snowmobilers.
“Some anglers are flirting with undersized walleyes, though a few report some larger fish, but not big numbers. Walleye suckers and medium shiners set on weed edges and gravel/sandy drop-offs in 8-12 feet are working well, as are jigging spoons and plain hooks tipped with minnows. The best bites are in morning and late afternoon hours.
“Northern pike anglers are catching fish on tips-ups set on weed edges in 8-12 feet.
“Panfish anglers fishing the back bays with teardrops tipped with soft plastics and waxies are catching a few crappies and a lot of small perch. The panfish bite is slowing, but hopefully will stabilize with the more consistent weather.”
Trent at Hayward Bait says consistent temperatures in the 20s and not much sun keeps ice thickness steady, but does little to improve it.
“Driving vehicles on lakes is still not a good idea, but it should be okay to take out ATVs and snowmobiles on most lakes, except the large lakes with deep basins.
“Early mornings and late afternoons offer the best bite windows for most species. You might have to keep on the move – don’t be afraid to leave inactive fish to search for better opportunities.
“Walleye depths vary, with most in 10-20 feet on drop-offs, ledges, and bars with transitions from weeds to sand. Use medium shiners and walleye suckers on tip-ups and jigging spoons tipped with minnows.
“Northern pike are close to vegetation in 10-15 feet. Depending on the lake, large shiners and northern suckers on tip-ups are the favorites.
“Largemouth bass are on breaklines and weed edges in lake basins, hitting jigging spoons and live bait under tip-ups.
“Crappies are in 20-30 feet, with main lake basins best. Fish are hitting chicken jigs, Skandia jigs, and Kastmaster spoons.
“Bluegills are hitting Demon lead and Skandia tungsten jigs.
“Perch are in 15-25 feet, on mixed structure, including weeds to sandy bottom transitions, humps, and muck. Tungsten jigs, Kender K-Rips, and T-Rips all trigger strikes.”
Carolyn at Anglers All in Ashland says the Ashland side of Chequamegon Bay is holding up pretty well, with 8-9 inches of ice, though you will find little pockets of less ice.
“Fishing on the Ashland side is producing a mixed bag of northern pike, walleye, perch, and an occasional trout and whitefish.
“The Washburn side has about 6 inches of ice, but has more areas of less ice. The predominant catch is splake, with brown trout and whitefish showing up, too.”
This week, DNR fisheries biologist Max Wolter offers tips for ice fishing with kids.
“Our 5-year-old is nuts about fishing, and the two-year-old recently decided she thinks it is pretty cool, so I’m getting a lot of experience ice fishing with small kids.
“Here are some tips, gained through blood, sweat, and tears, which might help you have successful fishing trips with little ones.
“Expanding your target species is a great move with young kids. If you go all-in on one species, you are more likely to have a bust trip. Find areas such as shallow weed flats that hold multiple species of panfish and predators. Often, you will not know what is biting on a given day until you get there.
“Diverse approaches help, too. Jigging after setting tip-ups is the optimal arrangement. When fishing with the kids, I use smaller minnows on our tip-ups. If you worry about catching snake pike and perch – that is exactly the point. Getting flags to pop up as often as possible keeps the kids interested, even if some flags are false alarms.
“Today’s pop-up shacks are a real boon when fishing with kids, as getting them out of the wind can greatly extend the trip. We always keep our shack filled with snacks, which certainly helps.
“Although flashers are all the rage among panfish anglers, I would argue that an underwater camera is a better tool for fishing with kids. Showing them what’s down there, or better yet, proving that there are fish down there, is both educational and motivating for young anglers.
“Finally, embrace the silliness. If you are fishing tip-ups, you have two hands free to do something else to pass time. Some of my best memories of early ice fishing trips are skating around and playing pond hockey while waiting for flags to pop. Make a fort, throw a ball around – our lakes are really just giant athletic fields in the winter!”
The DNR is hosting a virtual public meeting Tuesday, January 12, from 6:30-8:30 p.m., to discuss updates to the Wisconsin Walleye Management Plan. Meeting participation requires pre-registration. For more information, contact Max Wolter at (715) 634-7429. An online survey is available at www.surveymonkey.com/r/QDRQ7Q9.
The January 8 Birkie Trail conditions report says trail conditions are good, but not enough snow for a re-groom of the greater Birkie Trail. The Birkie Trail Crew groomed the artificial snow loops at Birkie Trail Head and the loops at OO. The best skiing is north of Fire Tower Trailhead. Skiing at Birkie Trailhead is open from 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Do not ski outside these hours, as groomers might be on the trail. Skiing any part of the Birkie Trail System December through March requires a Birkie Trail Ski Pass.
Free Ice Fishing Weekend is this weekend, Saturday and Sunday January 16-17. All waters of the state are open to fishing without a license, though all usual regulations remain in force. If you are new to fishing or have not purchased a fishing license in 10 years, get a “First-time buyer – Welcome back” resident license for only $5!
Northland Area Builders Association (NABA) will host its 11th Annual Ice Fishing Event at Nelson Lake Landing Saturday, January 16, from 8 a.m.-2 p.m., during Free Ice Fishing Weekend. The first 40 kids to register get a free tip-up! The entry fee is $10 for adults and $5 for children 14 and younger. Raffle prize drawings start at 2 p.m. For more information, call (715) 558-2097.
Elk Country ATV Club is hosting its 13th Annual Ice fishing contest on Upper Clam Lake Saturday, January 16, from 8 a.m.-3 p.m., with raffle prize drawings throughout the day. For more information, call (715) 794-2298.
SNOWMOBILE 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. 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 WI resident to be an AWSC member.
When riding Sawyer County trails this winter, stop and “Snap a Selfie” with any AWSC signs you see along the way. Posting photos with #sledsawyer2020 on Facebook and Instagram enters you in a March drawing and you could win up to $500! Enter as often as you want! The contest runs through Feb. 28.
The January 11 HLVCB snowmobile trail report says Sawyer County trails are open, groomed, and in fair condition, with a base of 6-8 inches. Trails are holding nicely, with riders surprised how good the trails have held up from Chippewa Flowage to the north. There are some rocks, some inside corners have washboard, and trails along highways are brown, but once in the woods, trails are quite good and offer breathtaking sights with everything encased in frost!
Crews have staked most lakes, except for LCO, which has some large gray areas. Always ride the staked trails. Wandering off trail can lead to open spots, stumps, rocks, heaves, fish houses, tip-ups, and berms from plowed ice roads.
Washburn and Bayfield county trails are open, Barron trails partially open, and Ashland, Price, and Rusk trails closed.
The January 8 Travel Wisconsin snowmobile trail report for the Cable/Namakagon area says trails are open and groomed, with a base of 1-4 inches. Trails are rideable, but in poor condition. Though the stick trail is up on Lake Namakagon, there is still thin ice near shorelines and open water areas near bridges.
Walleye fishing is fair to good, depending on the lake and time of day. Best fishing is in early morning and late afternoon into dark. Weed edges, ledges, bars, drop-offs, gravel, sand, and transition areas in 8-25 feet are holding walleye. Top baits and presentation include walleye suckers and medium shiners on tip-ups, and minnows on jigging spoons and plain hooks.
Northern pike fishing is good to very good. Concentrate on weeds and weed edges in 6-18 feet and near panfish. Northern suckers and large shiners under tip-ups are the preferred baits.
Largemouth bass fishing is fair, with fish in 10-22 feet on weed edges, breaklines, drop-offs, muck flats, and main lake basins. Jigging spoons are producing, though many catches are by anglers using live bait tip-ups for walleye and northern pike and those jigging for panfish.
Crappie action is fair to good, with most success in main lake basins in 15-30 feet. Anglers are having success with waxies and plastics on teardrops, chicken jigs, Skandia jigs, and Kastmaster spoons.
Bluegill fishing is fair to good, with fish on weeds, points, ledges, drop-offs, muck flats, and in lake basins in 8-20 feet. Best offerings include waxies, spikes, and plastics on small jigs such as Demon lead and Skandia tungsten jigs, and spoons.
Perch fishing is fair to decent. Fish are in 8-25 feet on weeds, sandy humps, transition areas, muck bottoms, and in shallower back bays. Waxies, plastics, and small minnows on tungsten jigs and teardrops are producing some interest.
Jan. 4-31: Extended archery/crossbow season in valid farmland units (see regulations).
Jan. 16-17: Free Ice Fishing Weekend statewide – no fishing license requirement!
Jan. 16-24: International Snowmobile Safety Week.
Jan. 25: Crow season opens.
Jan. 30: 2021 Seeley Hills Classic (715-634-5025).