Mid-January looms and most telling is that through this weekend, we’ve had more days with temps over freezing than below zero. Once again, another strange month on the weather front. Days of snow? It’s been a while since we’ve seen anything of substance. All of which leads to one more week of an already strange winter and an all-too-often compromised winter sports scene. About the only outside activity that has gone as scheduled has been the various Polar Bear plunges into January water, hardly an activity that will involve many residents of the North.
Let’s start with the only bright spot, however dim it may be: ice fishing. Ice has been building gradually and with it an increase in the number of anglers getting out. Ice is still inconsistent and we continue to hear of 6 inches or less in some areas on local lakes. We also continue to hear of any number of vehicles and ice shelters going through too-thin ice. Yes, it’s mid-January but no, not all ice is safe.
What is most notable in the past week has been a significant uptick in the number of walleyes and northerns taken. Both are staples of early ice, but both have been very slow this year. This week brought reports, not a lot of them but far more than earlier, of good takes. Walleyes seem to be in an early season pattern on many lakes, with anglers finding them in shallower water than typical of January; three to five feet on some lakes.
That shallow water action is not the norm for January, but then again, this January is hardly living up to any normal expectations. And we need to note that we’ve also heard of fish in deeper water, 15 to 20 feet, on other lakes. It all comes down to the individual lake and the necessity to search for fish and not assume they are where they usually are in winter.
Northern pike have also come on strong after a no-show so far for most lakes. Northerns can liven up an outing with some very aggressive runs against the spool and provide good table fare for those who can either fillet out the Y-bones or know a good recipe for pickling them.
Pan fish have been slow but steady, and this week we’ve seen reports of fish in mid depths where they often lurk in the short days of January.
So that’s the story there; good fishing and we hope it gets better.
Now on to snow sports, and the story there remains grim. There is simply not much snow and unless we get a snowfall between mid-week (when this is written) and the weekend, trails will remain thin.
Skiers can get by on less snow and we are finding some skiing in the area-none of it exceptional, but a fair amount of it skiable. The key to any trail is finding areas in more open woodlands where what little snow we’ve gotten can reach the ground. Avoid heavy pines, as there is precious little snow there. We have seen fair ski conditions locally at Washburn Lake, Northwood Golf Course and McNaughton Lake. But avoid the areas in the pines.
Snowmobile trails are thin and beaten up, and will stay that way until such time as we get snow.
The Outdoor Report is provided by the staff of Mel’s Trading Post in downtown Rhinelander.