As lake ice slowly thickens, more fishing shacks are showing up on area lakes. So are more vehicles – something that probably isn’t advisable in most cases.
Jay Esse of Rollie and Helen’s Musky Shop in Minocqua said some good fishing action can be found, but that one needs to stay vigilant about safety when planning time atop the ice.
“Ice right now is mostly six to twelve inches – less in spots,” Esse said. “It’s been a mild winter so we’re not putting on ice like I think a lot of people expect, especially if they’re going our for the first time or coming in from out of town.”
Esse thinks many areas just are not ready for the weight of a vehicle.
“We’ve all heard a few news stories where vehicles have been going through,” he said. “You should not drive a vehicle on six inches of ice ... that’s stupid.”
Esse said he drives past Big Arbor Vitae every day, and has watched the level of activity increase.
“I’m seeing, on Big Arbor Vitae ... it looks like [anglers] have really ventured out. I’ve even seen some vehicles on the main lake, but late last week there was only six inches of ice on the main lake ... unadvisable to drive on.”
Esse noted that on many lakes, the bays are safer.
“The protected bays in lakes ... they froze first, and when the main lakes stayed opened when we had a warm stretch, some of the bays stayed locked up,” he said. “If you’re going out on lakes like that – Big Arbor Vitae for example – if you went out on that bay and drilled some holes, you might go, ‘Wow, lots of ice. Looks good.’ Out on the main lake it’s a different story.”
And lake to lake varies. A patron told Esse that Blue Lake (southwest of Minocqua) only has about five or six inches of ice as of early this week. He had seen no vehicles on the ice there yet.
The lack of snow is not generally regarded as a positive in the Northwoods, but it has made conditions nice for hard water anglers.
“It couldn’t be better for moving around,” Esse said. “For foot traffic on lakes it’s just perfect. There’s enough ice that it’s safe enough to walk on in almost all cases, I would expect now. And there’s just enough snow where it’s easy to move.”
And some fish are biting.
“I’ve been hearing good panfish reports, especially on bluegill,” Esse said. “And pretty good walleye reports. They’re picking some up during the day, but best time has been real early mornings – like that first hour of light, between seven and eight o’clock.”
Esse said most walleye anglers have been buying medium golden shiners. Medium to large shiners are taking northern pike.
“A lot of people that are getting into walleyes – especially in the morning if they’re on a lake that has pike in it too – that’s when they’re getting into the quality pike as well,” Esse said.
“Usually on the deeper weed lines ... more the 8- to 10-foot stuff, where the deep weeds end, versus ... the shallower weeds,” he added.
“A lot of times the big fish come off the little bit deeper edges than the real shallow 3- to 4-foot stuff.”
Saturday, Jan. 12 tournaments
Amvets Post 724 Annual Ice Fishing Tournament: 8 a.m.-3 p.m., registration 7 a.m.-10 a.m., Lake Nokomis boat landing, County Highway N. Amvets Post 724 annual ice fishing tournament on Lake Nokomis. Adults, $10, children under 12, $5. All proceeds support military members and programs. For more information call 715-493-3176.
Mercer School Senior Class Annual Ice Fishing Tournament: 8 a.m.-6 p.m., Fisherman’s Landing, Turtle Flambeau Flowage, Mercer. Prizes, raffles, food, separate kid’s category. Register at the landing. $10 or three for $25, kids 10 and under free.
Free fishing weekend Jan. 19-20
Do you know someone that wants to try out ice fishing, but isn’t sure enough to purchase a license? The free fishing weekend might be just the impetus needed.
New this year, the DNR announced that anyone can fish for free Jan. 19 and 20, when Wisconsin has its first winter Free Fishing Weekend.
During this weekend, residents and nonresidents alike can fish anywhere in Wisconsin without a license or trout stamp. This includes all inland waters and Wisconsin’s side of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River.
Other fishing rules apply, such as limits on the number and size of fish you can keep, and any closed season for species, such as for muskie.
Lake Tom Family Fisheree Feb. 16
The seventh annual Lake Tomahawk Family Fisheree will be held Feb. 16, 9 a.m.-3-p.m., at the Lake Tomahawk boat landing in Lake Tomahawk.
There will be food and door prizes. The cost is $5 per hole; kids under 6 fish for free. Call Gary Drossart at 715-370-4652 for more information.
Craig Turk may be reached at email@example.com