An argument can be made, and convincingly, that this area has the best snow conditions in the entire state. Or at least as good as any. That seems to be the word from the growing number of out-of-town visitors who have driven here to ski or snowmobile or snowshoe. We simply have very good snow right now, have had it for a few weeks, and with any kind of luck will continue to keep it. Add to that the lengthening hours of daylight and some mild temperatures, and things are looking mighty nice as we go into the first full week of February.
We are seeing a lot of cross-country skiing enthusiasts drive to town to ski the Washburn Lake ski trails. The hills and superb grooming are attractive in any year, but even more so this time around, as downstate skiers scramble to find skiable snow to work themselves into shape for the upcoming American Birkebeiner, now only a few weeks away. The trail system at Washburn has been a real draw. But other trails within a few miles of town offer up very good conditions as well. Cassian Lake, McNaughton Lake and the Northwood Golf Course trails are well known, and have been very good. Add to that CAVOC trails on school district property, and any skier will find exactly what they are looking for.
Snowmobile trails have benefitted from late-arriving snowfalls that have beefed up the solid base. Again, we’re hearing from riders from all over the state who are enjoying the network of trails. Groomers worked overtime last weekend, and even with the mid-week thaw, trails are holding up well. Heavy use in some sections has left certain stretches thin, but overall it’s looking very good for the weekend and upcoming week.
We don’t often mention snowshoeing, but this week we saw a real increase in interest. There are very nice trails starting at the Perch Lake shelter in the Washburn Lake ski/snowshoe trails and they are getting heavy use. We chatted with a couple who’d driven up from Wausau, and were amazed at how much more snow we had here. If trails don’t do it for you, there are a lot of acres in both county and state forests for off-trail snowshoe use.
The snow that has brought very good conditions to the trails has not done any favors for ice fishermen. That snow, when heated with the thaw temperatures this week has, on some lakes, formed a thick layer of slush. Lakes that had been easy to travel across are now sporting a heavy layer of slush, and travel is more difficult. Not only that, but the snow will slow further ice formation, and after all is said and done, there is not nearly as much ice this year as is normal.
Lakes that often sport 30 inches or so of ice by now are holding 8 to 10 inches less than that. And we continue to hear of deep water lakes that, in certain areas, have a mere 6 to 8 inches over the deep water. We’re still leery about ice quality, and think that it’s going to be an early year for ice out.
That same thinner ice may be providing more oxygen to fish. We are certainly seeing crappies and bluegills coming on strong, and doing so earlier in the season than is typical. Walleyes generally slow down now, and that seems to be the case, although we have had some decent catches lately. February typically brings a shift toward better panfish action, even as walleyes become less active. This weekend, slush notwithstanding, looks to bring a fine combination of mild weather, and we think fishing should continue to be good.
The Outdoor Report is provided by the staff of Mel’s Trading Post in downtown Rhinelander.