Feb 10, 2018
Turtle Flambeau Flowage (TFF) and Mercer Area
By early January we have safe ice for a lot of people’s favorite pastime, ice fishing. Try bait shops, fishing guides or Chambers of Commerce in areas of your particular destination for current ice reports. Travel on lakes in our area is usually done by ATV's, snowmobiles and sometimes trucks. It is worth noting that, in some years, fishermen coming from the south that are used to being able to travel freely with an ATV, can have problems getting around in the deep snow we often get. By late winter, some years require travel by snowmobiles. Of course there are many lakes to choose from and the body of water I fish mainly, the Turtle Flambeau Flowage, has many access points where there is good fishing that can be reached by walking out pulling a light sled with gear.
Three main species targeted through the ice are walleye, pike and panfish. Pike and walleye are usually fished "up north" with Beaver Dam style tip-ups in which the fish can spool out line. The depth is established with a clip on weight to feel the bottom and the bait is set 6" to a foot off the bottom. My tip-ups are spooled with heavy braided line, a barrel swivel, and attached to the swivel 3 feet of 10 lb. mono with a couple small split shots to weight the line down and a #8 treble hook. The baits of choice are walleye suckers and golden shiners. I also bring extra-large fatheads. Sometimes during the midday, some really nice perch can be caught on the fatheads on tip-ups. If you are getting a lot of flags and no hooked fish, you are probably the victim of small walleye or perch; try downsizing the fatheads and see what happens.
Most of the ice fishing for walleye on the TFF and Mercer area lakes is done in 3-15' of water; shorelines, drop-offs, stump flats and mid-lake humps can be some of the places to try. During the winter with a slow down in metabolism, the feeding window for walleye can be shorter. Often the best action is as the sun is setting or early in the morning. An approach for more action can be to fish shallow bays for pike during the day and relocate the tip-ups late afternoon to more typical walleye spots. Although, oftentimes, pike can be caught during the day while fishing your walleye spots.
The action of catching panfish is more to anglers’ liking. On the TFF crappie fishing is done by many of the people pursuing fish through the ice. Jigging and having tip-ups with fatheads out over the deeper basins in 20-35 feet of water is where most of the fishing is done. In particular, the original Barabou and Bastine basins have good populations of crappies. There are special regulations on the TFF for crappies; 10-inch minimum size and aggregate 10 panfish limit.
There are literally over a hundred lakes within a short drive of Mercer where panfish can be pursued. These lakes are sometimes less daunting than larger bodies of water like the TFF and can be fished more easily by foot travel. Electronics like a flasher unit are helpful. Drilling holes and staying mobile until fish are found is the way to explore a new lake for panfish. Many of these lakes have good populations of perch, blue gills and/or crappies. Electronics are helpful and in addition a couple of jig poles, a drill, small minnows, wax worms, favorite jigging baits, skimmer and a bucket to sit on are all that is needed. If you are new to ice fishing, a benefit to fishing for panfish is that a $500 propane or electric drill isn't necessary. With only a small diameter hole needed, a hand auger or an auger attached to a cordless drill will work fine for these smaller fish.
In addition to myself, Turtle River Trading (715)476-0123 and Donner's Bay (715)476-255 are good contacts for Mercer area conditions.
Stay safe and warm while on the ice. It is a special time of year in the Northwoods.
As we reach the coldest part of the winter season, many of the fish we had targeted during first ice are now on the move to their deeper water haunts. Lowlight conditions are always key for walleye bites on deep water structure. Looking at lake maps, searching for inside corners and rock humps, pays off during this time of the year. I’m also fishing sand grass that holds smaller perch, which walleye can’t resist when on the move in clear water lakes. My walleye arsenal will consist of tip-ups rigged with 10# fluorocarbon leaders and for jigging baits, Northland Buckshot Rattling Spoons in perch pattern. Locating panfish during this period is summed up into fishing running water flowages or any lakes that have inlets and outlets. Once snow levels get deep, sunlight won’t reach the outer weed edges, so I will move out and fish channel breaks for suspended crappies and bluegills. I will also target cribs that I have marked while out open water fishing with my side imaging. Pike will still be hanging around remaining green weeds and I also will have tip-ups set with medium golden shiners when jigging for perch or bluegills.
Good luck and be safe this season on the ice!
Dan Gropengiser, Grop’s Guide Service,
West Central Wisconsin
The Big Chip has long been known as a summer and fall destination for trophy muskies, drawing anglers from around the globe in search of giant fish. Lesser known as a winter destination, “the Chip” is a real sleeper for ice crappies. This may be hands down the top overall producer of numbers of 9 to 12 inch fish in northern Wisconsin. A good number of resorts and hotels around the Flowage stay open to serve you and the lake has well-marked snowmobile trails too.
Look for big schools of crappies to be holding in the basin areas of the lake. Often the top areas have other anglers bunched up around these spots, so finding them isn't all that tough. A variety of jigging presentations catch fish. Make sure you bring soft plastics and waxies and keep an eye on the locator to get your bait in front of the fish.
West of the “Big Chip,” an hour or so away, is another dark water impoundment known for good fishing, the Minong Flowage. This lake is known more for better than average walleye fishing than anything else. Here, the typical northern Wisconsin methods catch plenty of fish. Tip-ups rigged up with shiners or walleye suckers work well here. It helps to get setup well in advance of sunset and then wait the fish out; although early morning can be good too.
A bonus to the walleye is the good bluegill fishing that can be had here too. Fishing the river channels can put you on some nice sized fish.
Good luck and good fishing,
East Central Wisconsin
Lake Winnebago System
The time is here, and first ice has struck here on the Winnebago System! Well, technically, its second “first ice” but we will count this time as the true first ice period. There was a brief cold snap in mid-November that allowed a few diehards to sneak out in some bays and channels for a few days, before disappearing… until now!
The turnover period on the Winnebago System brought some serious year-end open water action to the Upper Wolf. Many walleye were found in areas well north of Winneconne. While it’s safe to say some anglers had some fast-paced action, I am very curious to see what the mid-season hard water action will look like in the walleye area. If conditions allow for safe travel with that boat you just haven’t had the heart to put away yet, I would certainly be looking to the Upper Wolf for one last hurrah.
As of this typing, Lake Butte des Morts was completely frozen over. Looking at the ten-day forecast, we are well below freezing for most days, so I see some panfish action in the near future for anglers who crave that first voyage out, much less those who love the panfish action our system holds.
The normal areas such as Skipper Buds (BDM) and Asylum Bay (Bago) will be busy in no time. The trick to these areas is to be stealthy, yet mobile, while on the hunt for the cruising schools of gills and perch that frequent those areas. As history has gone for me in these areas, by utilizing your electronics to find weed edges, along with weeds that are still “lively,” you will have your most luck at icing some of the pannies with small jigs, brandished with plastics or spikes/waxies.
The south shore of Poygan is looking very rough, as of now. The horrible wind, with freezing temps, created a nasty, jagged shelf. In time, the ice will hopefully smooth out with a warmer day here and there, along with some snow to help things “slick out.” Once that happens, the road to the glory land will be a lot less bumpy. The interesting topic of discussion on the meaning of “glory land” while speaking of Poygan, can be pretty much any water depth. I have caught fish in 2FOW (just under the ice) and up.
As I have said until I’m blue in the face, mobility is the key on our system – moving until we find the fish, which can be anywhere at any given time. Whether Mother Nature provides us with great conditions or not, it will either help or dampen our ability to efficiently and effectively cover water on Poygan, much less the rest of our system.
If I had to sum up how to get a bucket of some nice fish out on the System right now in the most simplest of ways, this is what I would suggest: Have yourself a 28” medium action combo, strung with 6lb fluorocarbon, some Jigging Raps (#3-#5) and small spoons, a tin of spikes for the hesitant bites, and some good walking boots (or a wheeler/snowmobile)… and keep moving!!! Start shallow on Poygan and work deeper, unless you know of a bite. And on Lady Bago, I’d start popping around in the 17-18FOW range until you see that flasher look like a Christmas tree.
While everything I just said could be thrown out the window on any given day, I will have up to date fishing reports rolling in on the OB Outdoors Facebook page so be sure to keep an eye on that! Please be very careful out on the ice, no matter where you find yourself, and let’s make this hard water season the best yet!
Until next time, “Tight Lines. Stay Dry.”
Bay of Green Bay
First off, use extreme caution on Bay of Green Bay early ice. Green Bay is like no other when it comes to early ice, the currents and winds can make it very unstable and dangerous until the Bay freezes across. Even sheltered bays can be tricky due to current. Make sure to bring all your safety equipment along and have it out and ready.
Your best bets for early ice walleye action are near shore points and drop-offs. Back several weeks ago when the water temps were evenly spread throughout the water columns, the hungry walleye were roaming the shoreline points and breaklines feeding in the morning and evening. They will be found in those same locations still hungry until that winter lull sets in. Jigging spoons and #7 Jigging raps will be great choices to search for schools of active fish. In the morning and evening, target that 10’-20’ break line and look for key underwater points near deeper water.
Whitefish on Green Bay seemed to spawn a little late this fall, so it may take a little time before they begin to show up in their deeper winter haunts. You may have better success looking along the shallow sand flats in the lower Bay for first ice conditions until they move to feed along the deeper rock structure of Green Bay.
Team Outdoors specializes in All-Inclusive group trips, which include a fully guided trip, lodging, private chef services, and all your beverages.
Bob Claus, FinFanatic Charters
South Central Wisconsin
Petenwell and Castle Rock Flowages
This time of year, ice fishing enthusiasts are out in full force on both the Petenwell and Castle Rock Flowages. For the last 3 years, we really haven't been able to get out on the flowages until around the first of the year. Once there is enough ice, most will start fishing shallow backwaters and then work their way out on the lake.
On Petenwell Flowage, most will target walleye out in the main river channel. Fishing with fish tip-ups rigged with medium shiners, 6 inches to 12 inches off the bottom works well. Other fishermen will jig RPMs, Slender Spoons, Swedish Pimples and Jigging Raps. Some anglers will load the treble hooks up with spikes, others use minnow heads and some will fish them plain. The depth most will target is 18 to 20 plus feet. The best places to target are big bends in the river channel, steep drops and large wooded areas.
If targeting panfish, the best place to start out the season is to fish shallow backwaters in 4 to 6 feet of water. As the ice builds, those targeting panfish will start to venture out on the main flowage. One of the first places to target will be the main channel, and also areas with heavy wood cover. The tackle of choice are Slender Spoons, tungsten jigs tipped with plastics, spikes or minnow heads. For the last 10 years, a lot of people have been fishing tip-downs for crappies and perch. For the most part, people will use small rosies tight to the bottom for perch, and for crappies they will fish rosies higher up in the water column 2 to 3 feet off the bottom.
I often have people call and ask about access points where they can head out from to get on the lake. On the west shore of Petenwell Flowage, lots of fishermen will access from Wilderness Park boat launch and Long View boat launch. There are a few people that will use 10th street. On the east side of lake, people will access off the Lure Bar, Little Monroe and Petenwell County Park. Many people also ask if there are bait shops close by? Yes, both the east and west side of the lake have bait.
On Castle Rock Flowage, for those targeting walleye, most will fish the main channel along the old high line poles area and out in the channel on the east side of the lake. Tactics will be the same as on Petenwell. Most will use tip-ups with small to medium shiners and fatheads 6" to 12" off the bottom. When targeting walleye, you’re going to want to make up a monofilament leader. I like to use a 12-pound, 2 foot long leader, a swivel between the tip-up line and monofilament with one spit shot, two glow beads, and a small treble. For those jigging for walleye, most will fish slender spoons, jigging raps, rpms and Swedish pimples tipped with minnow heads, spikes, or even plain.
For the people targeting panfish, the place to start will be deep wood in the main channel. You will want to jig right down in the timber with small tugsten jigs tipped with plastics or bait. Anglers that are fishing panfish out on the flats and deep holes, use slender spoons and Swedish Pimples loaded up with spikes and minnow heads. For those looking for access points on Castle Rock, most use the west shore and will head off the Dirty Turtle. Although, some guys will come off the Buck Horn Bridge boat launch. And a few will access off to the south by the Italian Supper Club and Juneau County Park. On the east side, access can be found off Carlson’s Beach.
Remember both Castle Rock and Petenwell are flowages, At times there can be some very large ice shoves and cracks (Do not cross them at any time). Play it safe. If it doesn’t look good, stay off or away. Don’t be the first and don't go alone.
If I see any dangerous areas, I will post them on my Facebook page- Green Water Walleyes Guide Service and on lake-link.com.
Hope everyone has a safe hard water season! See you on the ice!!
Check out our Facebook Page Green Water Walleyes Guide Service and feel free to give it a “like.” For booking of guide trips and more information on ice and bodies of water; check us out on lake-link.com
Madison Area Lakes
Madison lakes offer great fishing for panfish in both shallow and deep water. Underwater cameras are great for scouting and are well worth the money if you plan to spend a lot of time on the ice. When fishing shallow, scouting for weed cover usually pays off. If a lot of dead weeds are present, however, the dissolved oxygen levels may get disrupted, which may push fish out to deeper water. When fishing deep, crappies and bluegills can be found suspended in various areas, but spots near sharp breaks or humps seem to hold fish consistently. Try starting around 20’ and systematically work your way deeper until fish are found. For perch, look in deeper areas of these lakes. It’s usually no secret where the hot spots are located. ACME Tackle tungsten jigs, tipped with spikes or waxies, are perfect for panfish and will get your bait back down into the strike zone quickly. Northland Tackle bloodworm jigs are also a great bait for finicky panfish. For deep water, UV glow jigs can make a big difference.
Lake Koshkonong is quite low due to winter draw down, but fishing remains average. The stained water typically clears up in the winter and although daytime walleye are commonly caught, the night bite can really turn on. Walleye tend to roam the lake and can randomly be caught anywhere. But, the areas near the Rock River inlet, Vinnie Ha Ha and Stinkers Bay have produced well in the past. Tip-ups rigged with fluorocarbon leaders and fathead minnows or chubs work well for walleye. Make sure your tip-up spools line off with ease, otherwise fish will quickly drop the bait if they feel resistance. If you’re looking for pike, try the shallow bays near marsh areas or creek inlets. These areas are especially good later in the season as pike start staging prior to their spawning ritual. Try tip-ups rigged with Northland predator rigs and suckers or Beaver Dam Liquid Steel leaders tipped with large shiners work very well. With brutal winter temps, it’s even more important to get any fish you plan to release back into the water as soon as possible. The soft tissue, such as gills and eyes can freeze very quickly.
Captain Adam Walton
Big Muskego Lake
The "main lake" area is a good bet for those looking to get on a good pike bite using tip-ups. This water is relatively shallow and stealth is the key. I like to use a fluorocarbon leader with a small treble hook. Above the hook, use a split shot just big enough to keep your medium golden shiner in the strike zone. Set your tip-ups off the cattail points or in any of the natural "funnel" areas. You may even pick up a nice largemouth bass as well. Early in the season jig for perch and bluegills while waiting for your flags to pop. Once the channel between the main lake and Bass' Bay freezes and is safe for travel, try fishing Bass' Bay. The crappie will be suspended over the deeper basin of the bay and offer a great nighttime bite. The weedbeds are full of hungry bluegills. A small tungsten jug tipped with spikes or plastic tail will catch both bluegills and crappie. There are numerous pike and bass in the bay that will keep your flags flying. Again use the fluorocarbon leader and small hooks tipped with medium shiners.
Lake Michigan, Oak Creek, WI
While most will be on the ice, there is still an opportunity to get back in the boat. During those mid-winter warm ups, you'll find excellent brown trout action at the Oak Creek power plant. Brown trout congregate in the warm water discharges putting the feedbag on. Use a single hook and a split shot tipped with a fathead. Anchor just outside one of the discharges and cast into the current and let your bait drift along and wait for the unmistakable thump of a big brown. Small spoons like Cast Masters and Little Cleo's work well too. Plastics on jigs and Rapala Rippin’ Raps are also deadly. You can also troll spoons and crankbaits like Flicker Shads in 12-18 feet of water successfully. Later in the winter coho salmon will start to show up. Don't forget to bring rock salt for the launch ramps as they tend to get iced up.