A week of gloomy weather has done little to brighten the spirits of anyone with any enthusiasm for winter sport. The snow-eating fog and above-freezing temperatures have done serious damage to snow cover. That same combination has done no good for ice conditions on area lakes. Bottom line is that going into the week before Christmas, winter sports are at a near standstill. That’s not what we want to report, but it’s where things are.
Skiers and snowmobilers both have seen trail conditions go from marginal to poor. We had some cross-country skiing as recently as last Sunday, but the warm weather left trails soft and wet, and any freeze will result in icy conditions. Skiers need less snow than snowmobilers, so if it’s bad for the one, it’s worse for the other. Snowmobile trails are, as of midweek, a long way from being usable.
All of which leads to ice fishing, and there the story is only marginally better. Early season ice is always a fickle thing, and this week has only reinforced that. Near zero temperatures last week gave rise to some optimism; warm weather this week put the kibosh on that. We had reports of some fish, mostly walleyes, being caught. We had nearly as many reports of anglers falling through too-thin ice.
We’re advising extreme caution on any ice. Yes, we know that some areas are very good with 5+ inches of ice. We know also that other areas, often nearby, are far too thin for safe travel. So bottom line is the same as it is every season: Do not assume any ice is safe until you test it for thickness and soundness. The time-honored method of using an ice spud to check is thickness at every few steps still works. Safe ice and unsafe ice pretty much look the same from above! Test ice, and test it often. In this warming weather of the past week, ice that was passable last week may not be so this time out.
Having noted all that, walleye fishing has been OK, usually in shallower water (where ice is generally thicker). Deep water fishing is simply not a good idea right now, as ice is usually thinner there. We’d also stay off any lakes or flowages where currents keep ice to thin. Crappies were in deeper water late in the open water season, and we suspect they still are. We also think ice will be marginal over deeper water, and we’d hold off.
That all leaves late grouse and deer archery seasons running, and those two activities have not been affected by the warm weather. Deer are still moving, and grouse are into their winter pattern of staying close to heavy cover, except for early morning and late afternoon when they move to browse.
All in all we need a good dose of cold weather and snow to set things up for the holiday ahead.
The Outdoor Report is provided by the staff of Mel’s Trading Post in Rhinelander.