Jan 22, 2013

Ice Fishing Lac Vieux Desert And Beyond

Ice fishing on Lac Vieux Desert, located in northeastern Vilas County, can be some of the best ice fishing you'll find in the state. 

If you're going to travel there, you've got to know how to say it, so I'd like to start this out with a helpful tip: Pronunciation. This lake got its name from a translation of a Native American name meaning "old garden" or "planting grounds." Early French fur trappers began calling the lake "Lac Vieux Desert" (pronounced: lock view DES-air) or "Lake in the Clearing." It can seem quite the mouthful to pronounce this name if you're unfamiliar with it so just do what us locals do, we call it "LVD."

Winter on LVD is a totally different world than on other frozen waters around the state. Due to its moderate size (4260 acres) and its relatively round shape, encountering ground blizzards on sunny days or whiteouts during snowstorms is a fairly common occurrence. I've gotten turned around on this lake more than once and ended up not where I was actually headed. Have I spooked you yet? No? Good, because this lake is what I call a "fish factory." It is a well known lake and as such it's fished fairly heavy in the winter. Nonetheless, LVD produces fish in good numbers year after year, summer or winter. I have been many places ice fishing over the years and very few lakes get the designation "fish factory" in my definition. LVD has a maximum depth of 38 ft but the vast majority of it is in the 10-12 ft range and shallower. This mean depth of 10-12 ft leads to huge weedy areas being able to grow during the open water season and is the main reason, I believe, this lake produces so many fish; huge areas of favorable habitat for all species of fish. To me, the sheer size of LVD has always been its main challenge. It isn't a tough lake to fish structurally, it’s the large area of weed beds to search through that makes this lake seem daunting, 4200 square acres of water, remember?

The winter angler on LVD will mainly be after two or three species: walleye, black crappie, and northern pike. Panfishing on LVD includes perch and bluegill but the crappies are the species of panfish that seem to thrive and fish being caught in the 10-16 in. size are common. Now that'll make a good fish fry! The walleye fishing on LVD is also some of the better in the area, the lake regularly gives up 17-20 in. fish and always produces a few trophies in the 28-30 in. range every year. The northern pike on LVD are a family fisherman’s dream. Put out your tip-ups and let the kids run for flags all day. It's not uncommon to go thru 4 dozen shiners on a day the pike are on a rampage. The kids will have a hoot and they're great eating! Most LVD pike will run 18-30 in., giving anybody fishing for them a great fight.

How do I go about catching these fish? For the walleye and pike, I'm a tip-up guy. I use small to medium Emerald Shiners on #4 short shank single hooks with 3 ft of 6 lb mono for a leader underneath all my tip-ups. When panfishing, I like jigging small Rat Finkes tipped with a wax worm and you can't beat using a couple "tip-downs" with a little minnow for those crappies while you're jigging (you're allowed 3 lines). For walleye and crappie think low light periods and night time, for pike think daylight hours.

I've had fun telling you about ice fishing on LVD but to limit your ice fishing to LVD would be a huge mistake. With 1318 lakes in Vilas County there's much more exploring to be done for avid ice anglers. What type of winter fishing experience are you looking for? What species of fish would you like to target? Do you have transportation on the ice or are you on foot? There are these and many more questions to ask when considering any of the lakes in our area. For instance, if you don't care about keeping any walleyes and just want to catch and release, I'd send you to Escanaba Lake. Of course you can practice catch and release on any lake, but this lake has special regulations and odds are you'll have a hoot catching nicer sized walleyes there. On a downside, access can be an issue on Escanaba and you'll probably want a snow machine or four-wheeler to get out where you need to be. The other side of the coin would be, the Eagle River Chain of Lakes or North Twin Lake. Both of these waters offer walleye fishing that can be done short distances from public landings, meaning some sort of transportation isn't an absolute "must have."

Are you the adventure type of ice angler? There are numerous small lakes that can be packed into. Take warning, it's a workout tromping through deep snow pulling a sled full of gear but it can be well worth the effort. Some of our best bluegill fishing can be had this way and the "hot" lakes change every year. Getting info on current good panfishing lakes can be much like fitting the proverbial "square peg into a round hole" theory. Panfish anglers tend to be very protective of areas they've come across, and rightfully so, they can be fished out in a very short period of time. This is why "hot" panfish lakes are different every year. The bite will slow on lake "X" and the hunt for a new "hot" lake begins all over again.

As I mentioned above, fishing for northern pike through the ice can be a great family affair and an excellent way to introduce young anglers to ice fishing. Almost all of our area lakes contain northern pike but some are known "action" waters. Lakes such as LVD, the Eagle River Chain, the Three Lakes Chain, can be good places to start looking for pike action. This is also the easiest fishing through the ice because it doesn't really involve a ton of equipment or require rocket scientist type of research. Get 3 tip-ups, a dozen shiners, and find some shallow weeds under the ice. Set your minnow just above the weeds... and you're fishing for pike!

Ice fishing safety tips:

  • When possible always fish with a friend, besides helping in an emergency, a friend comes in very handy setting up/taking down equipment and hauling everything around.
  • Carry a "spud" bar to check the ice in front of you as you walk.
  • Wear a life vest under your jacket.
  • Carry ice picks in an easily accessible pocket, they'll save your life.
  • Exercise common sense, it's the best preventive equipment you have, and if heeded you won't have to use any of the above mentioned items.

I hope this information gets you started in the fast growing sport of ice fishing or if already an accomplished ice angler, gives you some ideas for a new type of ice fishing adventure.


Muskie Matt has been fishing across Northern Wisconsin for 40 years and operates RFRG Outdoors Guide Service with his friends and fellow guides Peter Stoltman and Kevin Stahl. Check their website: RFRGoutdoors.com

They are always happy to answer questions so feel free to call or write anytime.