The forecast for this week is a good one for March in the North Woods, with sunshine, lows in the 20s, and highs in the 40s to upper-50s. Snow sport enthusiasts are seeing the limited usable conditions disappearing quickly. This is a good time to start preparing for the transition to spring and summer activities!
“It is March,” says Pat at Happy Hooker, “there is a lot of melting, and we are well on the way toward spring. We should still have a couple weeks remaining for ice fishing, but the Quiet Lakes are already experiencing deteriorating ice conditions and areas of slush. The rate of ice dissolving depends on temperatures and other weather factors, and shoreline ice deteriorates the fastest, so be careful and check the ice conditions before and as you go.
“Wisconsin’s gamefish season has closed and anglers can no longer harvest species such as walleye, northern pike, and bass. This is a good time to try for some schooling panfish or try to find schools of perch in some shallow back bays. Some anglers are already preparing for an early open water season, so the lakes should be less crowded and with less angling pressure.
“Fishing is fair for roaming schools of panfish, but should improve as we move into spring.
“Crappies will still go for small minnows on a small hook and the best panfish baits are small tungsten jig tipped with waxies and small plastics. Use a slow jigging motion to attract fish to bite. Electronics will help to locate these schools faster, and be prepared to move with the fish once you are on them. Drilling a few holes ahead might help.”
Trent at Hayward Bait says that given the warm weather and sunshine, it appears the ice will not hold much longer.
“Most waterbodies still have about 18 inches of ice, but shorelines are starting to recede and getting to the ice could pose a challenge. From here on out, walking is the best choice for ice anglers and it is a good idea to bring spud bars, ice picks, and other safety equipment.
“Gamefish season ended, but panfish fishing is really coming alive.
“Crappies are aggressive throughout the day, hitting everything from waxies to minnows on jigs and spoons in 20-25 feet, though starting to move to about 15 feet in some lakes.
“Bluegills are hitting best in mornings and about 5 p.m. in the evening, with most anglers finding fish in 20 feet. Tungsten jigs tipped with waxies are good choices when fish get active during those short bite windows. Action tends to slow on most lakes during the day.
“Perch are feeding consistently throughout the day in a wide range of depths. Most reports indicate fish in about 20-30 feet, but some say as shallow as 10 feet, which is consistent with perch moving shallow preparing to spawn. The fish prefer jigs and spoons tipped with waxies and spikes.
“Spring turkey season is just around the corner and there should be little if any snow for the first period. Toms and jakes are still traveling together, but will soon break up and go looking for their own territory. This is a good time to scout those groups and look for areas that could be productive.”
Carolyn at Anglers All in Ashland says there were quite a few Chequamegon Bay anglers enjoying the beautiful weather this past Saturday.
“Although there is still a lot of ice, it is getting candled and looking pretty gray, and beginning to open up at both ends of the breakwall. Travel is now by ATV, snowmobile, or your two legs.
“Fishing reports are mixed, but action is improving as we move towards spring.
“Next up is early stream season on the tributary streams ‑ gear up for those steelhead!”
This week, DNR fisheries biologist Max Wolter discusses DNR surveys and top-end fish size.
“Anglers often ask about the biggest fish we have seen in a lake. The root of this question comes from an assumption that DNR sampling methods would reveal any monstrous fish lurking outside the reach of anglers. When I share the actual data from our surveys, however, the numbers often disappoint those who believe we are finding some previously unseen elite class of fish.
“A recent example involved pulling some Chippewa Flowage data for a lake group. In our surveys of the Chip, we see relatively few smallmouth bass longer than 20 inches, but some people noted they somewhat frequently see fish of this size posted on social media. How could this be?
“Part of the answer comes down to basic math. Our surveys on the Chippewa Flowage often capture 200-300 smallmouth a year, enough to get a good feel for the average size and track trends in abundance through time. These are the important things for us to know for management. In a lake where 20-inch smallmouth are still relatively rare, we should not expect a bunch of them to show up in a sample of that size.
“In a given year, we estimate that anglers catch about 27,000 smallmouth. The average size between the 300 we might survey and the 27,000 caught on hook and line is probably quite similar, but if there are a small number of super-sized fish in a lake, it is a lot more likely some lucky angler will run across them, just as a matter of odds.
“Social media has added an interesting new layer to how we perceive fisheries. Super-sized fish are going to show up on your feed frequently, which might give the impression that those fish are more common than is actually the case. In this way, social media could alter our perception of a fishery.
“People are less likely to post a photo of an average size fish ‑ and even less likely to post a photo of their empty hands on a day they got skunked!”
The DNR and Wisconsin Conservation Congress (WCC) will hold the 2021 Spring Hearings April 12, beginning at 7 p.m. Once again, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, they will hold the hearings online. The public has the opportunity to provide input online on proposed natural resources rule changes from the DNR, and advisory questions from the Natural Resources Board (NRB) and WCC. The online input webpage will go live at 7 p.m. April 12, remain open for three days (72 hours), and the DNR will post results when they are available.
The rules and advisory questions from Fisheries, Wildlife, NRB, and Wisconsin Conservation Congress are available for preview online. The public can also recommend changes by submitting citizen resolutions online. The DNR must receive all citizen resolutions by 5 p.m. April 5. People who complete the online input form (April 12-15) will see resolutions submitted indicating the individuals reside in that county.
According to DNR fisheries biologist Max Wolter, fisheries questions 1, 4, 13, 14, and 21 have local implications to Sawyer County, noting that question 1 relates to a small section of the Flambeau River that passes through the county and affects no other Sawyer County waterbody. Question 14 relates to the Namekagon River downstream from Trego, though still might be of some local interest.
Typically, county residents have the option to run for a seat on the WCC and elect delegates to represent their county’s views. Due to the ongoing pandemic, however, the WCC has canceled the 2021 elections and extended the terms of each WCC delegate by another year.
Starting at 10 a.m. Monday, March 15, the DNR will begin sales of remaining spring turkey harvest authorizations for the 2021 spring wild turkey season. Sales are on a first-come, first-served basis, one authorization per day, with each zone having a designated sales date. Monday is Zone 1, Tuesday Zone 2, Wednesday Zone 3, Thursday Zone 4, and Friday zones 5 and 7 (no authorizations remain for Zone 6). All remaining bonus authorizations go on sale at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 20. Hunters can purchase authorizations through authorized license sales agents and the Online Licensing Center. Remaining authorizations cost $10 for residents and $15 for nonresidents. Sales will continue until all zones sell out or the season ends. Please note that purchaser must have a spring turkey license and stamp.
SNOWMOBILE TRAIL REPORT
The March 15 HLVCB snowmobile trail report notes that for all practical purposes the Sawyer County Snowmobile Trail System has closed for the season. Please respect the landowner’s property and stay off closed trails. Thank you to all landowners and snowmobile club members who make our Sawyer County trails possible!
Gamefish season closed March 7, but anglers can still target both largemouth and smallmouth bass for catch-and-release fishing ‑ but not for harvest! In addition, early catch and release inland trout season is open through April 30.
Panfish fishing is good, but make sure to check the ice carefully if you venture onto it. Ice conditions are decent, but quickly deteriorating, so be sure to take safety equipment.
The 2020-21 fishing and hunting licenses expire March 31 and new licenses are now available through license vendors, the Online Licensing Center, and at DNR service centers (when open).
Crappie fishing is good to very good, with fish offering all-day action. They are in schools and moving in 12-28 feet, depending on the lake, so plan to move with the schools for the best success. Crappies are hitting a wide variety of baits, including minnows, waxies, spikes, and plastics on small jigs, teardrops, plain hooks, and spoons.
Bluegill fishing is good most of the day, with best action in morning and early evening hours. Look for fish in 15-22 feet and move with the schools. Small jigs, teardrops, and spoons tipped with waxies, spikes, and plastics are all effective.
Perch action is good to very good as fish are starting to move toward shallower spawning areas, though some are still in depths out to 30 feet. Baits of choice include waxies, spikes, minnows/minnow heads, and plastics on jigs and spoons, jigged in a non-aggressive manner.
March 14: Daylight Saving Time began (are you running an hour behind since the weekend?)
March 20: Crow season closes.
March 31: 2020-21 hunting/fishing licenses expire.
April 12: WCC Virtual Spring Hearings begin at 7 p.m. and remain open for 72 hours.
April 17-18: Youth turkey hunt.
April 21-27: Period A spring turkey season.
April 28-May 4: Period B spring turkey season.
May 5-11: Period C spring turkey season.
For more information on area events and activities, visit the Hayward Lakes Visitor and Convention Bureau and Hayward Area Chamber of Commerce websites, view the Calendar of Events, or call (715) 634-8662 or 800-724-2992.