Just like the Dog Days of summer, we’re settling into the depths of winter. This is when winter can get LONG in northern Wisconsin, and you have to get outside to keep cabin fever from setting in. We’ve got plenty of snow for snowmobiling, snowshoeing, & skiing, and plenty of ice with great travel conditions for fishing. Our game fish season wraps up this weekend on inland waters, but you’ll still be able to chase pan fish as long as ice conditions hold up. The game fish season on Chequamegon Bay stays open throughout the winter so you’ll have plenty of opportunities out there until ice out. Erik Thue, Josh Teigen, Kyle Sorensen, and Aron Kastern are all getting after it, and here’s what they have to say about our current ice and fishing conditions.
Hayward Area lakes
Erik Thue from Catch & Capture has been drilling lots of holes for big groups lately focusing on a solid pan fish bite that’s been consistent for him throughout the winter. Crappies and gills are still concentrated in 20′ – 30′ basins on most lakes, and even deeper on others. Erik points out that anglers really need to be conscious of how deep they’re fishing in regard to fish mortality. Fish pulled up out of water over 20′ will not always release well, especially at this time of year when oxygen levels can get low. The deeper they are, the higher the mortality rate. There’s no sense needlessly killing a bunch of fish after you get enough for a meal. Tungsten jigs & light spoons are “go to” baits on aggressive days, but dial it back with lead jigs like the Bait Rigs Cobra when fish get stubborn. Basin fish will start to migrate shallower on some lakes as March wears on, so don’t be afraid to check out some skinnier water if the fish you’ve been on disappear. If you’re heading out for the final days of the pike season this weekend, Erik’s key presentation is a light fluorocarbon or wire leader with a good treble hook and a small plastic or blade as a teaser. Tip that hook with a lively sucker or shiner, and set a good spread of tip ups near weeds at the mouths of shallow bays where they will begin congregating before they move in to spawn at ice out. The walleye bite has really been limited to low light windows in the morning and evening. If you’re going to target eyes one last time before the season closes, try focusing your efforts along soft to hard bottom transitions where mud meets sand or gravel. 20′ – 30′ of water can be a good place to look. These transitions serve as travel corridors when weed lines die off in late winter, and good electronics can help you pinpoint likely areas to set tip ups and use jig spoons, rattle baits, etc.
Josh Teigen pitched in his thoughts on the inland lakes reporting no slush, easy traveling, and overall great conditions with 2′ – 3′ of ice on most lakes. He’s still seeing pan fish concentrated in the basins, but pike are definitely on to move toward shallower water close to shallow bays. He suggest focusing your efforts in 10′ – 12′. Any remaining green weeds you can find will be a bonus. With a warm up on the way this weekend, melting ice could put some big gators on the feed. Check out the size of this big girl that was iced by one of Josh’s customers. You get one more crack at them on the inland lakes this weekend ice heads!
Aron Kastern from Unlimited Trophy Outfitters has nothing but good stuff to report from the big lake. He says the bay itself is locked in with at least 20″ of ice from Washburn to Ashland and fantastic travel conditions with no snow to deal with. The bay has earned a reputation as a great mixed bag fishery this time of year, and it continues to produce catches of everything from perch, walleyes, and pike to trout, salmon, whitefish, eelpout, and sturgeon. Take your pick! Aron describes the bite right now as typical with a good perch bite taking place on the Ashland side in front of second landing with a move till you find them approach targeting scattered weed beds. You’ll also find a few walleyes and pike mixed in. If your interested in something different, try around the lighthouse for a chance to wrestle with some eelpout or sturgeon. Hold on when you sink a hook into these critters. If your focus is trout, salmon, or whitefish, the Washburn side of the bay is your best bet. Check out steep breaks focusing on points and turns in contours, but don’t be afraid to look shallow in less than 20′ as well on some days. There’s a few pressure cracks to watch out for north of Washburn with 15″ – 18″ of ice from Houghton Point to Long Island. Regardless of what you’re fishing on the bay, the approach is usually straightforward. Small to medium jigging spoons tipped with minnows or waxies will bring in aggressive fish, and set lines or tip ups rigged with live shiners, fatheads, or suckers will get bonus action. If you get into a school of smelt, there’s nothing better than a live one under a tip up for bigger fish. Aron’s crew has recently been focusing on the lake trout bite around the inner Apostle Islands, but he doesn’t recommend anyone try to navigate this ice right now without a guide. The ice formation is really inconsistent, and things could change rapidly with warm temps that are in the forecast. Yes those big lakers are a ton of fun, but they aren’t worth the risk when conditions aren’t right. Check out this monster eelpout. Whether you call them eelpout, burbot, or lawyers, one thing is for sure… They’re sure fun to catch!
Kyle Sorensen from Fin Works Guide Service has been on a roll this ice season terrorizing trout and salmon on Chequamegon Bay. His sweet spot for lake trout has been 90′ of water using Vibratos. Lakers are without a doubt some of the most aggressive fish in Lake Superior and can provide some of the best big fish action you’ll ever have if you dial in a pattern. Kyle definitely has ’em dialed in, and I don’t think the trout will miss him when the ice finally leaves. Check out this sweet shot of a cool fish he caught and released last week.
Ever see a what 15″ crappie looks like? It’s about as big as they get in the lakes up north, and not many break that mark. In fact I’ve only seen a handful in that range during my time on the water. Check out this hub cap of a fish Shane Sipsas from Iron River put on the ice a few weeks ago. It’s a solid 15″ fish, and it wasn’t the only magnum he and his crew caught that evening. Nice work Shane!
Days are noticeably getting longer, and if you believe the weather man a trend of warming weather is coming our way. Sounds like a perfect reason to get on the ice, drill a few holes, and catch some fish. Stay tuned, and we’ll keep you posted as we inch our way toward spring. Until then, I’ll be waiting for an invitation to the fish fry!