The forecast for this week shows temperatures colder and closer to the January average, particularly nighttime lows. It indicates a brief warm-up Wednesday and Thursday, and with the best chances for snowfall next weekend. Keep an eye on the forecast, however – it can change in a matter of minutes! Despite minimal snow cover, abundant recreational opportunities continue, though perhaps not with conditions expected in January.
“Ice thickness on the Quiet Lakes varies from lake to lake, and some lakes have scattered areas of slush,” says Pat at Happy Hooker. “Anglers report 8-12 inches, still not safe enough for vehicles, and there are reports of a couple breakthroughs.
“Snowmobiles and ATVs are the only vehicles that should be on the lakes at this time
“As for fishing, there is an upturn in the bite and anglers report some good catches of almost all species. The lakes offer plenty of action – you just have to try something different, and it is important to spread out and seek new areas. We have passed the ‘new ice’ stage and hard-fished community spots now hold many picky fish.
“Walleye anglers are catching fish, but action gets a little more challenging every day.
“Many good panfish bites are due to anglers fishing areas of less-pressured fish. A couple different baits work well for crappie, bluegill, and perch. One method is a hook, live bait, split shot, and slip bobber. If you cannot get fish to commit, try small tungsten jigs with waxies. Do not be surprised to hook a random bass or pike when panfish fishing.
“Set up on the side of mid-lake humps and other structure in late afternoons, and low light periods are important for the next several weeks.”
Trent at Hayward Bait says fishing has improved over the past week, but mid-day can still be slow.
“Sunrise and afternoon from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. offer the best bite windows. Ice conditions are about the same, with 8-12 inches on most lakes.
“Walleye action is getting better, with best action in 4-6 feet on some lakes and 18-20 feet on others. Medium shiners and walleye suckers on tip-ups work well, and some anglers do okay jigging spoons and large profile jigs on weedlines, bowls, and steep banks.
“Northern pike are around vegetation in 10 feet, but increasingly in 20 feet in main basins and muck flats. Large shiners and northern suckers on tip-ups provide good action throughout the day.
“Largemouth bass are hitting walleye and pike tip-ups and baits jigged for panfish. They cover a range of depths and structure, and not too selective about baits. Some anglers are hooking smallmouth bass on shiners and suckers on tip-ups in 4-8 feet.
“Crappies are in main basins in 20-25 feet, suspending 1-5 feet off bottom. Small Northland Forage Minnow spoons and tungsten jigs tipped with waxies and spikes work well.
“Bluegills are in 20 feet in main basins, close to bottom, but rise to feed. Tip waxies and spikes on tungsten jigs, Skandia glow jigs, and Bimbo Skunks.
“Perch are hitting fatheads on tip-ups and minnows on jigs. You can find them on sand bottoms near vegetation, sandbars, and flats.
“Some big, deep lakes still have thin ice on the main basins, and recent warm and rainy weather worsened the slush. Though we are in mid-January, ice conditions are not conducive for driving out vehicles, and people should proceed with caution, even with ATVs, snowmobiles, and walking.”
Carolyn at Anglers All in Ashland says they hope for a cold snap, as the weather created a lot of sloppy ice.
“Some anglers are taking out machines and report up to 9 inches in some places on the Ashland side. Be aware there is only 6 inches or less in many areas and as you move towards channel drop-offs, so be sure to check your way with an ice bar. Travel to Houghton Point is iffy.
“Ashland side anglers are catching a mixed bag including northern pike, walleye, whitefish, splake, brown trout, and perch. Best fishing is in early morning and late afternoon.
“The Washburn side of the Bay has less ice, 3-5 inches, but there can be only 2 inches right next to it.”
This week, DNR fisheries biologist Max Wolter discusses the 2021 Chippewa Flowage Pike Improvement Project.
“In 2019, a collection of local organizations put together the Chippewa Flowage Pike Improvement Project, with the goal to promote increasing harvest of the small northern pike abundant in the Flowage. When pike abundance is high, pike size tends to be poor, and can create problems for other species, such as muskellunge.
“Due to the high angling interest on the Chippewa Flowage, we determined angler harvest was one of the most effective ways to reduce pike density. Though we have not yet fully evaluated the 2019 Pike Improvement Project, we hope to report on those results soon.
“The Pike Improvement Project was popular enough that it is returning for 2021, with a similar overall structure. Anglers who harvest small pike can visit a participating business such as a resort, bait shop, etc., and fill out a raffle ticket, with each pike good for one ticket. Anglers should be aware all regular season and bag limits still apply.
“This year, there is added emphasis on harvesting pike less than 24 inches, the most abundant size in the lake. By thinning these smaller pike, we hope to see bigger pike in the future and a healthier balance to the overall fishery.”
As of January 5, the DNR’s statewide deer harvest total for all season is 331,127 deer (156,423 antlered, 174,704 antlerless). The Sawyer County deer harvest totals for all deer seasons is 3,281 (1,756 antlered, 1,525 antlerless).
An extended archery and crossbow season is open Jan. 4-31 in select farmland zone units.
The January 18 Birkie Trail conditions report says the trail crew groomed from OO north to Birkie Trail Head on the Birkie Classic Trail early this morning and will later today work on the Skate Trail from OO north to Fire Tower Trail Head. 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 on the Birkie Trail System December through March requires a Birkie Trail Ski Pass.
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 Wisconsin resident to be an AWSC member.
When riding Sawyer County snowmobile trails this winter, make sure to stop and “Snap a Selfie” with any AWSC signs you see along the way. Posting photos with #sledsawyer2020 on Facebook or Instagram enters you in a March drawing in which you could win up to $500 – and you can enter as often as you want! The contest runs through Feb. 28.
The January 17 HLVCB Sawyer County snowmobile trail report says there was a lot of traffic this past weekend and yesterday the snow was slushy, some trails were good, some were fair, and some had icy spots and/or kicked-up rocks. We need the trails to freeze and then groom them to see how they are holding up, and then need cold temperatures and fresh snow. Monday, during business hours, we will speak to groomers, clubs, businesses, and riders to get the most accurate consensus and then update the report. We want you to trust this information to make the decision to ride and plan rides on good trails. Please be patient, as Sawyer is a large county and we are checking on hundreds of miles of trails!
The January 15 Travel Wisconsin snowmobile trail report for Washburn County says trails are open, groomed, in poor condition, with a base of 1-5 inches. Trails are in early-season condition, with some not groomed. Please use caution on area lakes, as ice conditions vary on each lake and are not completely safe at this time. Exercise caution and watch for active trail grooming and maintenance.
Fishing is good for most species, with prime bite windows early morning and late afternoon into dark. Ice depths vary from nearly none to more than 12 inches, so checking as you go is critical, regardless of your travel mode of choice. There is no shortage of slush, but very cold temperatures this week should firm conditions.
Walleye action is fair to good and improving. Depths and locations vary from lake to lake, with fish on weeds and weedlines, steep banks, breaklines, and in basins and bowls, in depths from quite shallow out to 22 feet. The best offerings include walleye suckers and medium shiners on tip-ups and large jigs, and jigging spoons.
Northern pike fishing is good to very good and fish are around weeds, weed edges, and panfish on muck flats and in lake basins in less than 8 feet to more than 22 feet. Northern suckers and large shiners are working very well.
Ice anglers continue to catch largemouth bass, some by intent, and some as incidental catches. The bass are hitting baits on tip-ups set for walleye and pike, and baits anglers are jigging for panfish.
Crappie fishing is good in 18-28 feet in main lake basins and on mid-lake humps, with fish suspending a few feet off bottom, and best fishing in late afternoon to dark. The most productive baits include crappie minnows, waxies, and spikes on jigs and plain hooks under slip-bobbers, and jigging spoons.
Bluegill fishing is fair to good. Fish are near the bottom in 22 feet in main lake basins, on mid-lake humps, and other structure. Traditional bluegill baits are all working, including waxies, spikes, and plastics tipped on lead and tungsten jigs, teardrops, and plain hooks.
Perch fishing is fair to good, with fish near weeds and/or on humps, sandy bottoms, bars, and flats. Top baits include fatheads on tip-ups, jigs and minnows, and waxies and plastics on jigs and plain hooks, with/without slip bobbers.
Jan. 16-24: International Snowmobile Safety Week.
Jan. 25: Crow season opens.
Jan. 30: 2021 Seeley Hills Classic (715-634-5025).
Jan. 30: Birkie Tour (715-634-5025).
Through Jan. 31: Extended archery/crossbow season in valid farmland units (see regulations).
Feb. 13: 39th annual Lions Pre-Birkie XC Ski Race (715-558-6251).
Feb. 24-28: American Birkebeiner (715-634-5025).
Feb. 28: Cottontail rabbit season closes.
March 20: Crow season closes.
March 31: 2020-21 hunting/fishing licenses expire.