It seems impossible that mid-January would find conditions such as we have this week. Snow is at a fraction of the norm; lake ice remains inconsistent; and winter recreation is stalled. As of mid-week, there is no opportunity for quality skiing, snowshoeing or snowmobiling in the area. Ice fishing is the sole bright spot and even that is compromised to some degree by areas of thin ice on many lakes. It is, in short, a winter in name only.
The thaw a week ago was bad enough, but coming hand-in-hand with some hard rains over a thin snow base, it proved a disaster to snow-related activity. Going into the weekend, we had sketchy conditions for skiing and snowmobiles; coming out of the weekend, we had virtually nothing left to use. Had we had a thick base layer, we’d have been hurt but not crippled, but the lack of snow over December (which is typically a good month for snowfalls) simply did not leave us any margin to withstand the warm weather and rain.
Skiing in this area is pretty much shot; we have not heard of any trails in the immediate area (and precious few out of the area) that have sufficient cover to ski. The remaining base is icy and dirty, and not suitable to ski on. It will take new snow, a minimum of several inches, to bring the trails back up to any skiable shape.
The same is true of snowmobile trails; they simply are not rideable, according to the reports we’ve gotten. Grooming is impossible and more snow is the only solution.
Ice fishing remains about the only game in town on the outdoors front, and news there is somewhat encouraging. We have seen two consistent threads emerge in the past week when it comes to fishing reports: one is that fishing is improving, and two, there is still a lot of thin ice out there! By this time in January, we normally expect 18 inches and more. This year, we continue to get reports of as little as six inches in some places and hear of vehicles breaking through at an alarming rate. Caution is still very much required.
Northern pike have been very active of late, as have walleyes, with pan fish showing some signs of life. A lot of what we are hearing reminds one of early season fishing with a lot of the larger fish, northerns and walleyes, in shallower water while pan fish are deeper. There is, as is often the case, some inconsistency as some lakes are holding walleyes in deeper water even as others find fish closer to shore.
As one would expect, tip-ups are the best rig to cover ground for both northerns and walleyes, as an angler can place them at various depths to find a pattern. But the best news is that fishing success has improved.
We are hearing of some crappie action in 15 feet or so of water, with bluegills more scattered. The big pan fish bite is most likely several weeks away, though.
The Outdoor Report is provided by the staff of Mel’s Trading Post in downtown Rhinelander.