This is shaping up to be the single best weekend for snowsports this winter. The solid base we have enjoyed is still there, but now topped off with 6 inches of new snow from early this week. Combine that with some moderate temperatures and the typical great trail grooming that area enjoys (and perhaps takes for granted), and ski and snowmobile trails are in very good condition for the weekend.
Snowmobilers have had some tough riding as recently as a few weeks ago. We simply have not had sufficient snows to build conditions that we are used to by mid January. That has changed. Several snowfalls of late, including the one Monday, have trails rated good to very good for this weekend. We believe that Rhinelander area trails will be a joy to ride this week. We are not certain of trails out of this area, as you don’t have to go too far south or east to see a significant drop in snow depth.
Cross-country skiers have had some of the best skiing in the entire state, and that only got better this week. A good snowfall combined with a few days to groom the trails and have them firm up means great skiing this weekend. All area trails should be in good to excellent condition. We continue to get raves on the Washburn Lake system, as well as the trails at Northwood Golf Course, McNaughton and Cassian Lake. Skate and diagonal stride tracks are both looking very good.
It’s been a slim winter for snowshoeing, but that changed this week. Snowshoe opportunities are nearly unlimited in the area, with packed trails and ungroomed backcountry both possible.
On the lakes, ice fishing has enjoyed a good week and, given what looks like a stable weather pattern, should continue as such. Crappies continue to come on strong, while walleyes, bluegills and northern pike all hold steady. Lake ice is not as thick as we’d expect for late January, a time when we often approach the 30 inch thick mark. This year most lakes are in the 20 inch range, but we still receive reports of areas of ice that are very thin, all things considered. Keep that in your mind as you go out, as this year is defying the norms when it comes to ice. Some lakes will probably see some very thin ice much earlier this year than is typical.
Crappies lead the parade this week, with a mix of success on jigs versus tip-downs. You are probably best to rig up a tip-down (use a small minnow for bait) and combine that with a jig tipped with a grub. Crappies like deeper water, but are usually not tight to the bottom, but suspended off the bottom. Find the deep area and then experiment at different depths to see where the fish are.
Walleye action has been good lately but, as we’ve noted before, there aren’t a lot of huge fish. Tip-ups with minnows will be the best tackle to use, but we have noted some variation as to shiners or sucker minnows being most effective on any given lake. Some lakes just seem to produce fish with one, while a neighboring lake will be more productive with the other.
Northern pike have been hot this winter, maybe as good as we’ve seen in recent years, and while they are not a great table fish, they are aggressive and a lot of fun to catch. Most seem to be taken by walleye fishermen, who see a lot of broken line as a result. Serious northern anglers, and there are some, will use a wire leader to give them an edge.
The Outdoor Report is provided by the staff of Mel’s Trading Post in downtown Rhinelander.