September 30, 2010
Ice-fishing is an age-old tradition in the North Country. Here's where you can find some of the best the Badger State has to offer.
By Greg Keefer
There's no telling what you might bring up through the ice when you dip a bait in Wisconsin. Walleyes, northern pike, panfish and more are right at your fingertips wherever you live. Bundle up with several layers of clothing, pack a hot thermos of coffee, and get ready for the action.
Here's a look at where you'll find the state's best hardwater angling this year.
BOOM LAKE FLOWAGE
Anglers in the Rhinelander area have more good ice-fishing on their hands than they can handle. The fishery offers a smorgasbord of northern pike, walleyes, panfish and an occasional largemouth bass.
Walleyes are in the deeper water in the middle of the lake and near fish cribs. They are usually accompanied by big bluegills and crappies with the smaller 'gills closer to the surface.
Northern pike are everywhere. Fish in the 30-inch class are taken, but smaller ones are more common. A Boom Lake pike averages between 25 to 28 inches and if you're on the right part of the flowage, you won't be able to keep a minnow on your hook. The numbers more than make up for the trophy sizes.
Fish cribs in Boom Lake hold plenty of fish throughout the winter.
Use a sonar to locate the cribs and other bottom structure that will be holding walleyes, panfish and largemouth bass. Any green weeds will attract bluegills and crappies and in turn bring in largemouth bass and northerns.
For additional information, contact Mel's Trading Post at (800) 236-6357.
There are so many good lakes in Oneida County that picking just one or two is tough. However, if you have to choose, the Three-Lakes Chain is a must.
According to fisheries biologist John Kubisiak, it's Big Lake that walleye hunters will want to be on.
"There's very strong recruitment on the lake with high numbers of walleyes," Kubisiak said. There's a slot limit on the chain with no minimum length limit. Fish 14 to 18 inches must be released, but so far, the slot limit hasn't really resulted in improved sizes. The chain-wide limit is three walleyes with one over 18 inches, although some lakes have a two-fish bag limit to accommodate tribal spearing.
Black crappies made a strong showing in Fourmile Lake during the 2007 fisheries sampling. Other good crappie lakes are Big Fork, Little Fork, Medicine and Big Stone.
Yellow perch are doing well in Big Stone. Good numbers and nice sizes can be taken through the ice on jigs and minnows.
Northern pike in Laurel and Medicine lakes average between 19 and 20 inches. The population density is low, Kubisiak said, and the largest pike during the survey was 30 inches and was found in Medicine Lake.
Bluegills and pumpkinseeds are where you find them. Any of the lakes offer at least a fair population of panfish.
The lakes total 7,626 acres with 106 miles of shoreline.
For more information, call the DNR in Rhinelander at (715) 365-8919.
VERN WOLF LAKE
Vern Lake is the jewel of the Richard Bong State Recreation Area. It's small at 115 acres, but it's a great place for a family getaway on the ice.
The best fishing is near the fishing pier where the water reaches 11 feet deep, according to park manager John Meyer. The rest of the lake is from 4 to 6 feet deep and a hard freeze will drive the fish to the depths.
Etham Davis of Jalensky's Sports and Marine in Kenosha would tag the lake as primarily a panfish lake.
"I've fished the lake and caught panfish and that's what most of the anglers are there for," Davis said. "There are some largemouths and northern pike as well."
Special regulations are in effect. There is a daily bag limit of one and an 18-inch minimum length on the largemouth bass. One pike over 30 inches may be taken with a limit of three. Pike and bass seasons both run from mid-May through most of February. The daily bag limit in combination for panfish is 10 with no closed season.
A designated urban fishing pond is also available on the property located east of the visitor center in the park.
Trout are stocked in the pond and anyone over 16 must have a trout stamp along with a fishing license. Only one bass or northern pike can be kept, and there is a 10-fish daily bag limit in the aggregate for bluegills, crappies and yellow perch.
The Richard Bong SRA is located on State Highway 142 about eight miles southeast of Burlington. To contact the SRA, call (262) 878-5600. For more information, call Jalensky's Outdoors and Marine at (262) 654-2260.
Lake Six is on the upswing, according to fisheries biologist Jeff Roth. Northern pike anglers should bring plenty of jigging spoons and big minnows when they decide they want to tangle with the big boys.
"We last surveyed Lake Six in 2002 as part of a regulation evaluation," Roth said. "The pike population is doing good and the 26-inch minimum length limit is helping to protect the size structure. The largest fish sampled was 39 inches with a lot of pike in the 26-inch range."
The two-fish bag limit has also been a plus as far as Roth is concerned. Most ice-fishermen are harvesters and do have an effect on the fishery, but it appears the pike population can handle the pressure.
Pumpkinseeds are a real treat. They're growing large and feisty and are a lot of fun on a tip-up. Use a wax worm under a float to tempt these brightly colored panfish.
Largemouth bass are making a good showing on the lake as well.
Lake Six is shaped like a big bowl with a couple of mid-lake weed patches. These would be the top spots to target under the ice.
For more information, contact the DNR in Mercer at (715) 476-7847.
UPPER MISSISSIPPI RIVER
Fishing the big river isn't ice-fishing in the classical sense, but it shouldn't be overlooked, especially when the weather isn't cooperating with safe ice on inland lake
s. There are no openers and the fish are fair game all year long.
The river is loaded with most of the game and panfish you'll find anywhere else, according to Ronald Benjamin, the DNR's Mississippi River fisheries supervisor. If it doesn't swim in the Mississippi, it probably doesn't exist. Growth rates on game fish are at or above the norm for Wisconsin waters.
Most cold-water angling is done below the dams and power plants for walleyes and saugers. The quieter waters provide panfish action, as well as the opportunity for bass and northern pike. Some areas might even offer a channel cat or two.
Ice on the river is notoriously dangerous. Moving water is a poor choice for on-the-ice fishing. Backwater bays, channels, sloughs and protected areas can be excellent places with ice that is thick enough to hold anglers brave enough to venture out.
Practice ice safety, especially on the river. You'll need 3 or 4 inches of solid ice over quiet water. Slushy or honeycombed ice isn't safe under any circumstances. Have picks to help you pull yourself out if you go through the ice and always have a few friends nearby.
Wisconsin's portion of the river spans about 250 river miles and 10 pools.
For more information, contact the DNR in La Crosse at (608) 785-9012.
Dane County fisheries manager Kurt Welke is first in line to point out the great winter fishery on the Madison Chain. These lakes are providing ice-fishermen with exceptional opportunities. Four of the lakes are interconnected on the Yahira River and form the Madison Chain. Mendota Lake covers 9,287 acres, Lake Monona is 3,274 acres, Lake Waubesa spans 2,080 acres, and Kegona Lake is 3,209 acres. Lake Wingra at 345 acres is separate but considered a part of the chain.
These lakes have a range of fertility that allow them to sustain high densities of fish. Most anglers can't believe how good the fishing can be in a metropolitan area. Lake Mendota lies at the head of the chain and is a good walleye lake. Lake Monona is the next lake downstream in the chain and has more fertile water, and so on through Waubesa and Kegona. The last two feature good bluegill populations with chances at a winter bass or two.
The lakes keep pumping out the panfish, walleyes, northerns, bass and catfish year after year. The fishery is one big success story.
Ice-fishermen should check Olin Park and Turville Point for panfish and whatever else may be biting. A ramp is available off Lakeside Road. The combination of deep water and aquatic weedlines are ideal conditions for good winter catches.
Another popular spot on the lake is Squaw Bay on the southeast side. The nearest ramp is off Tonyawatha Trail north of Tecunsen Park.
Wingra has a diversity of depth and structure in spite of its smaller size. There are springs on the south side, and the submerged weeds ring the outside of the lake. There is a little pocket of deep water on the south end of the lake with a distinct weed edge that serves as that little extra something for structure-loving fish.
The railroad trestle at the north edge of Waubesa Lake concentrates baitfish and brings in the predators.
For information, contact the DNR at (608) 273-5946 or the D&S Bait and Tackle at (608) 241-4225.
"This is a lake that has good numbers and better than average sized northern pike," said fisheries biologist Scott Toshner. "The lake is what I would call a sleeper lake for pike."
Big pike are a possibility year 'round on this beautiful Bayfield County lake. Namakagon is fertile and maintains good populations of northern pike and the panfish they feed on. Make your holes larger than normal. It's too late to make your hole bigger when you have one of these water wolves on the line.
Under-the-ice conditions call for a big chub or a slow-moving jig to tempt pike. Northerns feed all winter long and are always looking for a coldwater meal that looks lethargic and easy to catch.
For those looking for pike of a different sort, the lake has one of the best walleye fisheries in the region. According to Toshner, the adult walleye densities are above both regional and statewide averages and exceed the management objectives for lakes with a naturally reproducing walleye fishery. There is no size limit, but only one walleye over 14 inches may be kept daily. The regulation has been a success story. It centers the harvest on the most abundant part of the population without negatively affecting the number of adult fish.
"We're hoping to see even more improvement in the size structure of Namakagon walleyes in the future due to the regulation," Toshner said.
The 'eyes will hang low on rock humps in up to 30 feet of water, according to Toshner. Local guides have reported 60-fish days.
For additional information, contact the DNR at (715) 635-4162.
Lake Wissota is another good walleye lake that can yield nice-sized 'eyes.
According to fisheries biologist Joseph Kurz, the lake has improved in both the numbers of walleyes and the numbers of larger fish. There is no shortage of fish under the slot size and the fish reaching 20 inches are becoming more numerous.
"One thing I've learned about Lake Wissota walleyes is that the bigger ones aren't very far from vegetation," Kurz said.
Yellow perch, crappies and bluegills round out the offering. Larval baits, small minnows and tiny ice jigs can pick up a nice batch of panfish. When using jigs for the walleyes, select colors that mimic the panfish.
Walleyes are under a 14- to 18-inch protected slot limit.
Lake Wissota covers 6,300 acres. It can be accessed via the Lake Wissota State Park on County Highway O in Chippewa County.
For additional information, contact the DNR at (715) 726-7884 or the state park at (715) 382-4574.
RED CEDAR CHAIN OF LAKES
Barron And Washburn Counties
"The Red Cedar and Balsam lakes are the better walleye lakes in the chain and have had consistent walleye natural reproduction over the past several decades," fisheries biologist Heath Benike said. "In addition to the natural reproduction, supplemental fry stocking has been done by the local Walleyes for Tomorrow chapter and the Red Cedar Lakes Association. That's helped the population over the years."
A 2005 fish survey showed a decrease in the population, Benike said. The good news is that the population goal is four fish per acre and the reason the population is down is probably the result of good c
atches by walleye anglers.
To reduce the number of walleyes taken out of the chain, the DNR implemented an 18-inch minimum length limit. The 2004 and 2005 year-classes will be from 14 to 19 inches. There's plenty of good action this year.
Bluegills, crappies, northern pike and yellow perch are spread throughout the Red Cedar, Balsam and Hemlock lakes in the shallower water. Walleyes are in the depths.
Minnows, ice jigs and small jigging spoons produce well. Larval baits are always a good bet for the panfish and might even take a walleye.
For more information, contact the Northern Region at (715) 637-6864.
A chain of lakes usually links several types of fisheries all up into one bundle and that's certainly the case here. The Minocqua Chain offers every kind of winter fishing you're looking for.
Bluegills and crappies are also popular through-the-ice targets. School House Bay and Stack's Bay are the typical hotspots, according to fisheries supervisor Mike Vogelsang. If you can find similar locations of shallow water and weed cover, you may be onto panfish all winter long.
The walleye fishery here is good with the potential for a trophy fish or two, Vogelsang said. Ciscos are present in good numbers and lock in the trophy potential. The 15-inch minimum length limit keeps the fish in the system until they reach those bigger sizes. The Minocqua and Kawaguesaga lakes hold the most trophy walleye potential.
Live bait is the best way to go. The walleyes under the ice may have already been caught and released before and are more likely to take a lightly hooked minnow than an unnaturally spinning or swooping artificial bait.
For more information, call the DNR at (715) 365-8919.
For information on where to stay, contact the Wisconsin Department of Tourism at (800) 432-8747 .