By: Steve Suman
Forecasts for the North Woods vary considerably this week, so let’s go with the best one! Look for colder nights with lows in the mid to low teens, and highs in the mid to upper 30s – and even into the 40s. IF this forecast holds true, most days will be calm, with an abundance of sunshine! Take advantage, as “real” winter weather still lies ahead!
Trent at Hayward Bait says the lakes are starting to ice over, though ice thick enough to support an angler is sparse, and there are still areas of open water. We advise against going on the ice at this time, but if you go, use a spud bar and proper gear to ensure safety.
“Once ice is conducive for fishing, most anglers will target walleye, northern pike, and various panfish, and we have walleye suckers, shiners, rosy reds, spikes, and waxies on hand.
“Walleyes are on humps and ledges and early ice is a good time to jig spoons such as Lindy glow spoons and Tinglers tipped with fatheads. Using tip-ups rigged with small shiners and walleye suckers will allow you time to jig for panfish. If you can get on open water, walleyes are in a wide range of depths, according to reports, with some inside 12 feet and some in 30-40 feet. Walleye suckers work well for open water as well.
“During early ice, northern pike are usually in 8-10 feet and most anglers prefer setting tip-ups with large shiners and northern suckers.
“The open water smallmouth bass bite remains good, with anglers catching fish shallow, in 9-12 feet, and often around river channel mouths. Walleye suckers on jigs are the favorite bait and presentation.
“Crappies are usually cruising main water basins and drop-offs but are occasionally mixed in with bluegills. Angler favorites include Acme Sling Blades, Kastmasters, and tungsten jigs tipped with crappie minnows and fatheads.
“Bluegills can be in various depths depending on the waterbody, available structure, and vegetation, but often in 10-20 feet. Kender K-Rips, Demon Jigs, and tungsten jigs usually make for a fun day on the ice.
“The nine-day gun deer season has closed, and for many, it was a successful season. Opening weekend showed an increase in harvest statewide, 95,257 compared to 93,155 last year, with an increase of nearly 800 in buck harvest. Rut seemed to come a bit early this year, but the secondary rut usually peaks during muzzleloader season.”
This week, DNR fisheries biologist Max Wolter discusses chasing species diversity.
“One thing I appreciate about fishing is that there are so many ways to enjoy the sport. Some anglers chase trophies, some go to bring home food, and some record every trip and make fantastic videos to share and entertain.
“One angle (excuse the pun) that can make fishing interesting is adding new species to your ‘life list.’ Although birders will immediately recognize the term ‘life list,’ anglers do not get bring it up as often in fishing circles. A life list is all the different species you have caught (or observed, for birding) during the course of your life. It can be a fun way to broaden your fishing horizons and develop a deeper understanding of the incredible diversity of freshwater fish in Wisconsin.
“Recently, a life list challenge developed in my own family when my father realized his grandson – with just five precious years under his belt – was quickly catching up to his life list number. Of course, for this kid, having a fish biologist plan all of his fishing trips is a serious advantage! The two of them are both in the low 20s with their lists and are now racing each other to add new fish.
“This has led me to add up my own life list, which is up to 40 Wisconsin species. This is not bad, particularly for someone who does most of his fishing in the northern part of the state. There is considerably more species diversity in southern Wisconsin, especially in the Mississippi River, Lake Michigan, and some other smaller warmwater rivers.
“Still, all of us have a long way to go to catch up to Wisconsin’s multi-species master, John Lyons, a retired Wisconsin DNR researcher.
“During his working days, one of Lyons’ responsibilities was identifying and cataloging every species of fish in the state. In addition, he has played around with ‘micro-fishing,’ using special-order hooks to capture even some of the tiniest minnows.
“A lifelong passion for fishing, a career exploring biodiversity of fish, and some specialized techniques, put an astounding 108 species on Lyons’ Wisconsin life list – undoubtedly, more than most people can even name!”
The ruffed grouse season closing January 3 in the Northern Zone (Zone A) will also conclude a three-year sampling study of West Nile virus (WNV) in ruffed grouse. The DNR asks hunters to use leftover sampling kits distributed in 2018 and 2019, or to pass them on to friends who will fill them. For instructions, visit the ruffed grouse webpage and look under the “disease sampling” tab.
- Zone 4: 449
- Zone 6: 305
- Zone 7: 165
Fall season in zones 6 and 7 closed Nov. 20. For hunters who are still interested in hunting turkeys during the late season and willing to travel, late fall turkey season in zones 1-5 runs through Jan. 3 and bonus permits remain as follows:
- Zone 1: 4,174
- Zone 3: 3,919
- Zone 4: 1,205
Reminder: December 10 is the deadline to apply for spring turkey harvest permits (as well as bear harvest permits.)
The DNR will release updated harvest numbers for all seasons early this week. However, the current Sawyer County deer harvest total, as of November 23, is 2,040 deer, including 1,218 antlered and 822 antlerless. Current totals (again, as of Nov. 23) include:
- Nine-day gun season: 743 deer (421 antlered, 322 antlerless)
- Archery: 412 deer (244 antlered, 168 antlerless)
- Crossbow: 806 deer (520 antlered, 286 antlerless)
- Youth Deer Hunt Oct. 10-11: 79 deer (33 antlered, 46 antlerless)
As of November 30, no bonus harvest tags are available in Sawyer County, which is also the case for Ashland, Bayfield, Douglas, and Price counties. Barron County has 383 public land and 1,546 private land bonus tags available, Rusk County has 118 public land and 459 private land tags available, and Washburn County has 743 private land tags available. Sales of bonus antlerless deer tags continue at one per person, per day, until the unit sells out or seasons end. Deer authorizations cost $12 for residents, $20 for nonresidents, and $5 for youth younger than age 12.
Through the DNR’s Deer Donation Program, deer hunters can help families in need by donating deer at one of the participating meat processors. Call the participating processor ahead of time to make sure it can accept the deer. Hunters can also donate monetarily directly to the program to help cover venison processing costs. Wisconsin’s Deer Donation Program first began in 2000, and since then, hunters have donated more than 92,000 deer. These donations produced more than 3.7 million pounds of venison distributed to food pantries across the state! For more information, visit the DNR website (www.dnr.wisconsin.gov) and search “Deer Donation Program.”
The DNR’s deer hunter wildlife survey runs from September 12 through January 3. The survey is helping DNR biologists develop a long-term database of hunter observation data to help further understand the abundance and distribution of deer and other wildlife species in the state. During the survey, participating hunters record the hunting date; hours hunted; county; zone; land type; weather conditions; and type/number of animals they observe, entering reports by smartphone, desktop, or mail. The DNR is also requesting trail camera photo submissions of cougar, lynx, moose, wolf, and wolverine to wildlife management. The DNR uses the data for wildlife abundance and distribution information. Annual results are available online in the Deer Hunter Wildlife Survey report.
The DNR is hosting a virtual public meeting Thursday, December 3, starting at 6:30 p.m., to discuss a proposed change to musky regulations on Butternut Lake in Price and Ashland counties, replacing the 28-inch minimum length limit with a 40-inch minimum length limit. For more information, contact Jeff Scheirer at (715) 762-1354.
This is (finally) the final, limited, open water fishing report for this season. Ice fishing reports could begin in the very near future, as the extended forecast indicates some upcoming nighttime lows in the mid teens. Highs should remain in the low to mid 30s through the middle of December. Some anglers are already pushing the ice season, but best to be cautious and wait for safer (though never “safe”) ice conditions. This is a great time to organize ice fishing tackle and equipment!
Walleye fishing is good on breaklines, ledges, and humps, with some fish very deep and some in less than 15 feet. Walleye suckers, fatheads, shiners, and jigging spoons are all good choices at this time.
Northern pike are in depths to 12 feet and action is good to very good on northern suckers and large shiners, regardless of how you fish for them.
Smallmouth fishing is decent to very good, with fish in less than 15 feet and often around the mouths of rivers. Most anglers are using jigs and walleye suckers, plastics, and drop-shot rigs.
Crappies are schooling and moving along drop-offs, breaklines, and deep basins. Crappie minnows, fatheads, and various jigs and jigging spoons are all getting the attention of crappies.
Bluegill fishing is fair to good, but the few anglers fishing for them at this time are “testing” the ice. Look for fish around weeds and structure in mid-depths to more than 20 feet (that is deep, cold water if the ice does not hold!) Waxies, spikes, and plastics on small jigs and teardrops will work in open water or on the (currently too-thin!) ice.
Nov. 29: Mourning dove season closed.
Dec. 21: Winter solstice, the first day of winter – and shortest day of the year!
Jan. 25: Crow season opens.