by: Steve Suman
Light snow is falling (Monday – shortest daylight day of the year!) and the latest forecast says up to 4 inches is possible. It is not as much as some would like, but it is snow and there is some building accumulation. We should definitely have a white Christmas, but in addition, some very cold weather at the end of the week.
If you travel, watch the forecasts and have emergency equipment in your vehicle “just in case.”
“Colder weather this week has been good for making ice on the Quiet Lakes,” says Pat at Happy Hooker. “Anglers are slowly making their way onto the ice, with thickness varying from 4-6 inches in the shallow bays, but it is not yet ready for travel by snowmobiles or ATVs. Check ice thickness every few steps as you venture out and be sure to take safety equipment with you. A spud bar to check ice thickness, a pair of ice picks, a floatation vest, and ice cleats to keep from slipping due to lack of snow cover.
“Anglers jigging are reporting success in shallow, ice-locked areas. Most fish are on the smaller side, with a bigger fish now and then. Tip-up anglers are using 20-pound nylon to 10-pound monofilament, with a split shot, bright color bead, hook, and walleye suckers and shiner minnows. No matter what depth you target, suspend live bait in the bottom half of the water column. Tip-ups are producing some walleye, northern pike, and bass.
“Walleye anglers are doing well jigging small Buck-Shot Rattling spoons tipped with minnow heads.
“Panfish anglers jigging for crappies, bluegills, and perch report success with small tungsten jigs tipped with plastics.”
Trent at Hayward Bait says ice conditions are improving, but anyone going on the ice should use caution.
“Anglers report many lakes with 4-8 inches of ice, but as you venture farther out, the bigger lakes have as little as 2 inches or less.
“Walleye are moving to around 15-20 feet, though on some lakes you might find them in 5-10 feet. Shiners on tip-ups work well, as do jigging spoons such as Kastmasters tipped with fatheads and rosy reds.
“Northern pike made their way out to that 10-foot range as well. Anglers are working outside weed edges with northern suckers and shiners on tip-ups, as well as jigging Swedish pimples and Mepps Syclops spoons.
“Largemouth bass are around drop-offs and on main lake muck flats in depths from 10-20 feet, depending on the lake. Jigging lipless crankbaits can produce a few fish, as can tip-ups with shiners and sucker minnows.
“Crappie and bluegill are hanging close to ledges and vegetation in 15-25 feet in most lakes. Spoons, jigs, and small lipless crankbaits are all working well.
“Perch are around vegetation in about 10 feet and jigging Skandia jigs and small spoons close to the bottom should produce some bites.”
Carolyn at Anglers All in Ashland says Chequamegon Bay had some skim ice cover, but it disappeared.
“We hope this next cold snap does the trick, but at this time, the inland lakes are getting all the attention.”
This week, DNR fisheries biologist Max Wolter discusses walleye and sauger.
“Walleye get a lot of attention in Wisconsin, often overshadowing their interesting close cousin, the sauger. The body shape of sauger is nearly identical to walleye, but with a smaller maximum size and generally a smaller average size where the two species occur together.
“Sauger are identified by the distinctive black spots on the membrane of the dorsal fin, the saddle-like dark blotches along the back, and lack of a white tip on the lower tail. Sauger specialize in environments that are more turbid, most often rivers, while walleye do better in clearer water. This is very similar to the relationship between two other closely related fish species, white and black crappie.
“Sauger and walleye are close enough genetically to allow natural hybridization, a fish often referred to as a ‘saugeye.’ Identifying a saugeye can be considerably more challenging than telling the difference between the two parent species, as the hybrid will have mixed characteristics.
“Management of sauger in Wisconsin varies based on the location. Some waters manage walleye and sauger with the same size and bag limits. In other waters, there could be a combined bag limit for the two species, but minimum length limits might differ, based on observed growth differences between the two species in that system.
“The sauger ranges throughout most of the Midwest, with the best fishing opportunities occurring in large rivers such as the Mississippi, Ohio, and Missouri. Hybrid saugeye are commonly stocked in large reservoirs in the lower Midwest.”
As of December 15, the DNR’s adjusted preliminary statewide deer harvest total for the 2020 nine-day gun season is 190,573, including 86,041 bucks and 104,532 antlerless deer. Sawyer County hunters registered 1,724 deer, including 877 bucks and 847 antlerless deer.
For all seasons combined, Sawyer County totals as of December 15 are 3,185 deer, including 1,722 bucks, 1463 antlerless. Sawyer County deer harvest totals for individual deer seasons as of December 15 are as follows:
- Archery: 423 deer (249 antlered, 174 antlerless)
- Crossbow: 829 deer (528 antlered, 301 antlerless)
- Muzzleloader season: 69 deer (35 antlered, 34 antlerless)
- Four-day December antlerless-only season: 61 deer (antlerless)
- October Youth Deer Hunt: 79 deer (33 antlered, 46 antlerless)
According to the December 21 Birkie Trail conditions report, the area received about two inches of fresh snow. Crewmembers did a quick groom to freshen the tracks, after grooming Birkie Trailhead loops on Saturday night, and the trail is in very good condition. Skiing at Birkie Trailhead is open from 7 a.m.-9 p.m. A Birkie Trail Ski Pass is required December through March to ski any part of the Birkie Trail System.
SNOWMOBILE TRAIL REPORT
The DNR reminds snowmobilers to make sure their snowmobile has a current registration and displays a valid snowmobile trail pass required to operate on all public snowmobile trails. You can renew registrations and order trail passes online. Members of the Association of Wisconsin Snowmobile Clubs (AWSC) can purchase discounted passes directly from www.awsc.org. You do not need to be a WI resident to be an AWSC member.
As the North Woods waits (patiently?) for snow depths to increase, the December 21 HLVCB Snowmobile Trail Report offers the following information about trail openings and snowmobiling in Sawyer County. The county trails go through different properties with different opening and closing times and policies.
Flambeau State Forest bases trail openings on conditions. Chequamegon National Forest requires an adequate snow base and does not have a set opening. The Forest notifies the Alliance and we update the information immediately. Snow trails close April 1 unless conditions change.
Many trails in the center of Sawyer County cross private property. Some landowners hunt and close trails on their property until deer season ends. If other trails are open and you encounter a closed gate to private property, never go around it. We are grateful these landowners allow us on their land and must be respectful. Stay on the trail, do not leave garbage (including belt parts), remember there are noise laws – and if you exceed the limit, leave the sled at home.
Numerous Sawyer County trails cross lakes and swamps that must freeze before crews can stake and open trails. Some private property trails lead to swamps, and without adequate ice, the trail gates remain closed for safety.
While on Sawyer County trails this winter, make sure you stop and “Snap a Selfie” with any AWSC signs you see posted along the way. Posting photos with #sledsawyer2020 on Facebook or Instagram enters you in a March drawing and you could win $500! Enter as often as you want. The contest runs through Feb. 28.
Anglers report ice depths up to 8 inches – but also as thin as 2 inches or less in some areas. This week should see some good ice growth, but it is not there yet! As always, use caution and common sense. There are unconfirmed reports of a vehicle going (partially) through ice on an area lake. This winter’s ice fishing is off to a late start, but plenty of season remains – and sometimes there is late spring ice fishing!
Once again, anglers should be aware walleye season on the Chippewa Flowage closed November 30 and musky season closes statewide December 31. Make sure to check the revised regulations on “how” you can fish for them!
Walleye fishing is fair to very good. Depths vary by time and lake, from as shallow 5 feet out to 25 feet and deeper. Walleye suckers and shiners on tip-ups, as well as jigging spoons such as Kastmasters and Buck-Shot Rattle spoons tipped with fatheads, rosy reds, and minnow heads are all effective offerings.
Northern pike fishing is good to very good. Pike are in and around weeds, weed edges, and concentrations of baitfish and panfish (imagine that) in 6-14 feet. Northern suckers and shiners on tip-ups are working well, as are jigging baits such as Mepps Syclops spoons, Swedish Pimples, and Jigging Raps.
The largemouth bass ice bite continues to be good. Look for them in 8-25 feet (lake dependent) on drop-offs and main lake muck flats. Sucker minnows and shiners on tip-ups and jigs, and lipless crankbaits, are all producing action.
Crappie and bluegill are on drop-offs and weeds in 10-25 feet. The most productive baits include crappie minnows, small tungsten jigs tipped with live bait and plastics, small spoons, and small lipless crankbaits.
Anglers are catching perch around weeds and other vegetation in 6-15 feet. Jigging near the bottom with small spoons and tungsten jigs tipped with plastics, waxies, and minnow heads work well.
Dec. 21: Winter solstice, the first day of winter – and shortest day of the year!
Jan. 16-17: Free Ice Fishing Weekend statewide – no fishing license required!
Jan. 16: Elk Country ATV Club Annual Ice fishing contest, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. (715-794-2298).
Jan. 16-24: International Snowmobile Safety Week.
Jan. 25: Crow season opens.