December 2011 delivered up a white Christmas, but not much else for fans of snow. The good start to the month was derailed by thaw and rain two weeks ago, and never fully recovered. Thus anyone who counts on snow for their winter recreation ended the early season in a bit of a funk. Predicted snowfalls for late in the pre-New Years week offered little optimism of the much-wished for “significant snowfall” that we need to jump start skiing, snowmobiling and snowshoeing.
Taking stock of what we have (and note that this is written on Thursday so there is a slight chance of change) provides this: cross-county ski trails are lightly covered but mostly skiable; snowmobile trails will be thin; snowshoeing is possible, but only in not-very-deep snow that isn’t ideal.
Cross-country ski trails first: Most have been packed, but as of this date, none have had tracks set in them. Skating is better than stride skiing on the flat, packed trails, but both techniques can be used. The county trails at Cassian and Washburn Lake are getting good reviews (again, better for skate) and the trails at Northwoods Golf Course are generally fair for skate, less than that for stride. The snow on Thursday will improve conditions, but the real breakthrough will come when we have enough snow so that groomers can cut stride tracks.
Snowmobile trails in Oneida County officially opened on Friday, and thus we have no reports based on actual use. We would expect conditions to be fair at best; there is simply not enough snow to provide for a good base. Such base as there is will be firm, and any new snowfalls can improve things quickly, but we really need more than a dusting to get things going well. The best we can offer up is to keep an eye on area trails and hope for more snow.
Any snowmobile use is best limited to marked trails and, especially, marked trails that cross area lakes. Ice formation has been good, and overall conditions on lakes have improved over the past two weeks. However, there are still some lakes that have weak ice in certain areas, especially if there is current below the ice. Snowmobile trails that cross lakes will clearly mark areas that are recommended for travel, and we’d not stray from them.
Ice fishing has improved in the past week on several levels. First off there is more ice to support anglers, and thus more areas of lakes are usable. As noted above, there are still exceptions, and there will continue to be areas on some lakes where ice is not safe. Don’t assume all ice is safe; it is not.
The second factor in ice fishing success is simply with time off over the holiday season combined with mild temperatures, more people are able to spend time fishing. More time on ice usually leads to more fish caught, and that has been the case lately.
We are seeing consistent success on crappies, walleye and northern pike. Crappies usually seek out the deep holes on most lakes, so start there. On deeper lakes that may put crappies at 15 feet or more; shallower lakes will find them in 8 to 12 feet of water. But they are there and success has been good.
Walleyes continue to provide consistent action, with decent catches in terms of numbers of fish landed, although perhaps fewer large fish this year than might be typical. As will be the case all winter long, smooth-running tip-ups rigged with medium size bait will do the trick.
And while northern pike are often overlooked in the rush to catch walleyes and panfish (both considered superior table fare) the big, toothy northerns have been on a tear of late. Lots of fish and some very good size fish have marked the northern fishing lately. They are usually shallow, from 2 to 5 feet in some cases, and have been feeding aggressively on medium size (versus the normal larger size) shiners and suckers.
The Outdoor Report is provided by the staff of Mel’s Trading Post in downtown Rhinelander.