by: Steve Suman

A light dusting of snow dropped on Hayward Sunday night/Monday morning, but the forecast indicates that might be it until Friday. Cold nights early in the week will moderate through the week into the weekend, but those cold nights should help build a solid ice base for ice fishing and snowmobiling seasons.

Trent at Hayward Bait says ice is slowly building, with thickness ranging from a half-inch to 5 inches, depending on the waterbody. Make sure to bring ice picks, spud bars, and other safety equipment.

“Walleye anglers report fish are in 2-6 feet on some lakes, but in about 30 feet on some of the bigger lakes – and most lakes do not yet have good ice over those depths. Spoons such as Tinglers and Swedish Pimples are working for jigging, with shiners and suckers on tip-ups successful, too.

“Northern pike are hitting large suckers on tip-ups. The fish are shallow, with most reports saying 2-6 feet, but 8-10 feet is also good.

“Largemouth bass are also in the mix in the shallows, with anglers catching fish on shiners and suckers on tip-ups.

“Crappies are staging in around 25-30 feet on most lakes, though on 10-foot drop-offs on the small lakes. Small spoons and tungsten jigs tipped with waxies and crappie minnows are producing for most anglers. While anglers still report success in shallow water, it seems panfish (and walleye) are pushing deeper on some lakes. Small spoons and tungsten jigs tipped with waxies and crappie minnows are working best.

“Bluegills are in 10-20 feet, depending on the waterbody. If a lake’s maximum depth is only 15 feet, you might be better off fishing in 7-10 feet. Tungsten jigs and waxies are working well.”

At the time of her report, Carolyn at Anglers All in Ashland says Chequamegon Bay had no ice as of yet, though with a little skim ice showing up on a few mornings.

“Water temperatures are still in the high 30s and we are keeping our fingers crossed for cold – and I never thought I would ever say that!

“Anglers trolling in and amongst the Islands are doing great, and shore-casting for brown trout is also productive.

“Inland anglers report 4 inches or so of ice on Ashland and Bayfield county lakes.”

This week, DNR fisheries biologist Max Wolter discusses habitat, niches, and various fishes.

“Habitat is a term most anglers are familiar with and they use it with confidence. Most understand that habitat is a physical space that fish occupy.

“For example, a trout’s specific habitat is a well-oxygenated lake or stream with access to year-round cold water and sufficient food. This differs from a bass’ habitat, which one could define much more broadly, since bass have less specific habitat requirements.

“When most anglers talk about fishing, they are really talking about ‘microhabitats.’ This includes a more specific physical habitat, such as a rock bar, within a larger habitat, such as a lake. Microhabitats can be important to fish seasonally, or at different life stages, but most fish occupy many different microhabitats within their larger habitat.

“Another important concept is an ecological ‘niche.’ A niche is the role an organism holds in its environment. If we take largemouth bass as an example, we might have a small lake where largemouth occupy the niche of top-level predator fish, if no other predators are present in the lake. If there are musky or pike in the lake, however, the bass’ niche changes. In that case, bass would occupy more of a mid-level predator niche, where bass are both predator and prey.

“Both the niche a fish holds and the microhabitat available to the fish influences its behavior and life history. If we go back to our bass example, when in the niche of top predator, bass can feel safe occupying almost any microhabitat they want, and will go where they must to capture prey. On the other hand, when occupying the mid-level predator niche, bass might not occupy certain microhabitats if they sense predation threats from larger fish, perhaps restricting them to dense weed beds.

“The interplay of habitat, niche, and other behaviors is what makes fishing so complex.”

The DNR will host a virtual public meeting Tuesday, January 12, starting at 6:30 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.

Ruffed grouse season closes January 3 in the Northern Zone (Zone A) and this is the final year of a three-year sampling study of West Nile virus (WNV) in ruffed grouse by the DNR (and others). As such, the DNR is asking hunters to make use of any leftover self-sampling kits distributed in 2018 and 2019. It requests that hunters use their kits to submit samples from grouse they harvest this year, or to pass the kits on to friends who will fill them this fall. For detailed kit use instructions, visit the ruffed grouse webpage on the DNR website and look under the “disease sampling” tab.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) will delist the gray wolf from the federal list of endangered species Jan. 4, 2021, returning management to the lower 48 states and tribes. Under Wisconsin law, when delisting occurs, the state’s annual wolf hunting and trapping seasons shall resume. The DNR says the official wolf season will begin Nov. 6, 2021.

The DNR says it has successfully managed gray wolves for decades, will continue to follow the science and laws influencing that management, which includes hunting and trapping, and conduct management in a transparent and deliberative process. The federal delisting provides Wisconsin the ability to implement a conflict abatement program and the DNR works with USDA-Wildlife Services to assess the best management approach on a case-by-case basis.

The most recent monitoring indicates a minimum of 1,034 wolves in Wisconsin, primarily across the northern third of the state and the Central Forest region. For more information, search “wolves” on the DNR website.

Late fall turkey season runs through Jan. 3 in zones 1-5 and remaining bonus permits are available as follows:

  • Zone 1: 4,127
  • Zone 3: 3,856
  • Zone 4: 1,180

Hunters can purchase bonus turkey authorizations at one per person, per day, which are available through the Online Licensing Center and license sales agents until the unit sells out or season ends. Bonus authorizations cost $10 for residents and $15 for nonresidents.

As of December 8, the DNR’s preliminary statewide deer harvest total for the 2020 nine-day gun season is 190,495, including 86,006 bucks and 104,489 antlerless deer. Sawyer County hunters registered 1,724 deer, including 877 bucks and 847 antlerless deer. Current Sawyer County deer harvest totals for other deer seasons are as follows:

  • Archery: 421 deer (248 antlered, 173 antlerless)
  • Crossbow: 818 deer (526 antlered, 292 antlerless)
  • Muzzleloader season: 55 deer (24 antlered, 31 antlerless)
  • October Youth Deer Hunt: 79 deer (33 antlered, 46 antlerless)

As of Monday December 14, no report was available for the four-day December antlerless-only season.

Through the Deer Donation Program, hunters can help families in need by donating deer at participating meat processors. Call ahead to make sure the processor can accept the deer. Since the Deer Donation Program began in 2000, hunters have donated more than 92,000 deer, with more than 3.7 million pounds of venison distributed to food pantries across the state. For more information, visit the www.dnr.wisconsin.gov and search “Deer Donation Program.”

According to the December 14 Birkie Trail conditions report posted by the Birkie Trail Crew, crewmembers were heavy into snow production that night. They groomed the loops at Birkie Trail Head, and with the touch of fresh snow, skiing should be really good. Get out and enjoy! Note: A Birkie Trail Ski Pass is required December through March to ski on any part of the American Birkebeiner Trail System.

The Saturday, Dec 19 A Lure of Lights on Main Street in Hayward will include Round 2 of the Hot Chocolate Crawl from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., a fire pit and s’mores from 12-4 p.m., and a live Nativity at First Lutheran Church. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/ALureOfLights.

FISHING REPORT

Some anglers are getting on the ice – we hope safely and selectively – and finding ice depths to about 6 inches. Cold nights this week, with little to no snow cover, should grow the ice quickly. Just remember that ice building goes by the current weather conditions, not by the calendar!

Walleye anglers are finding fish from shallow to deep, with fish moving to deeper water, but most ice over the deeper water is not yet safe for travel. (Keep in mind “safe” is usually a matter of perspective or opinion.) Walleye suckers and shiners on tip-ups, as well as Swedish Pimples, Tinglers, Jigging Raps, and other jigging, spoon, and blade baits, are all producing action. Anglers should be aware walleye season on the Chippewa Flowage closed November 30. In addition, though musky season closes December 31, there are restrictions on “how” you fish for them, so check the regulations!

Northern pike are mostly in shallow water out to about 15 feet, with good action on northern suckers on tip-ups. Some anglers are also trying jigging baits while they wait for a flag.

Anglers might not be targeting largemouth bass at this time, but they are catching some bass all the same. Most are incidental catches on shiners and sucker minnows on tip-ups set over shallower water.

Crappies in the big lakes are in deep water out to about 30 feet, hitting crappie minnows and small tungsten jigs and spoons tipped with waxies, spikes, crappie minnows, and plastics. Look for fish on mid-depth drop-offs and breaklines in about 12 feet on the smaller lakes. Keep moving (while checking ice thickness!) until you find them.

Bluegill fishing is good in depths shallower than for crappies, from 5-22 feet, with the lake you fish determining the depth. Waxies, spikes, plastics, and Gulp! baits on small jigs, teardrops, and plain hooks are all producing fish. A small minnow can work well for larger ‘gills.

Upcoming Events

Dec. 16: Goose season closes in Northern Zone (see regs).

Dec. 19: A Lure of Lights – Main Street Hayward.

Dec. 21: Winter solstice, the first day of winter – and shortest day of the year!

Dec. 24-Jan. 1: Antlerless-only Holiday Hunt (see regs).

Dec. 25: Bobcat season Period 1 closes (see regs).

Dec. 26-Jan. 31: Bobcat season Period 2 opens (see regs).

Dec. 31: Musky season closes in northern and southern zones (see special regs on open water fishing!).

Jan. 3: Seasons Close: Ruffed grouse in Zone A; Pheasant; Hungarian partridge; Fisher trapping (see regs).

Jan. 3: Fall turkey season closes in zones 1-5.

Jan. 12: DNR walleye management plan virtual meeting; begins at 6:30 p.m. Requires pre-registration. Contact Max Wolter (715-634-7429).

Jan. 25: Crow season opens.

Jan. 31: Seasons Close: Squirrel; Bobcat Period 2.

 

For more information on area events and activities, visit the Hayward Lakes Visitor and Convention Bureau website, view the Calendar of Events, or call 800-724-2992.