The opening weekend of the game fishing season starts this Saturday and some anglers may need an ice spud to get to their favorite spots.
“We’ve been getting a lot of calls from people coming up for this weekend, wondering how the conditions are,” said Chrissy Peterson, visitor center manager for the Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce. “Everyone is asking if we have any snow and they ask about their favorite lakes, wondering if ice is still an issue.”
And as of the Star Journal’s press time on Thursday, ice was an issue on many bodies of water throughout Oneida County. With warm temperatures early in the week, many lakes did open up but the progress slowed when a cold front moved in Wednesday night that included snow showers and sleet on Thursday and Friday. Bigger deeper, bodies of water, like Fence and Trout lakes in northern Vilas County, were still locked up in ice at the end of the week, while some small, shallow, dark stained lakes were open. “This year, it seems that where a lake is located in the county makes a difference if it will open up by this weekend,” said John Kubisiak, fish biologist for the Department of Natural Resources.
Last Wednesday, lakes like Jennie Weber and Sugar Camp along Hwy. 17 North were open, while ice was a factor on the Rainbow Flowage and smaller lakes in the Cassian area, and in Minocqua and Arbor Vitae. “We are getting reports that most of the river systems are open, including the Wisconsin River here in Rhinelander,” said Peterson. “However, we are also noticing the river systems around here are very high this year.”
For anglers coming to the Northwoods for opening game fish season this weekend, the colder than normal April and first few days of May will play a role on not only where they can fish, but also how these fish will react to bait.
Take, for instance, the walleye. Normally in this area, lakes open up between mid- to late April. By the time opening fish weekend arrives in early May, most walleyes have completed their reproductive cycle. “Walleye spawn in water temperatures between 36 to 60 degrees with about 40 to 45 degrees the optimum temperature,” said Kubisiak. “Fish spawn because of two main factors-the amount of daylight and water temperatures. Even though many lakes in this area have some open water, water temperatures are still pretty cold for walleye to think about spawning.”
Northern pike are some of the earliest fish to spawn and will even do so under ice, while walleyes tend to wait for the right conditions. Many northerns are completing their reproductive process now. Perch spawn in water temperatures between 42 and 50 degrees while other species need warmer water. Crappies spawn in 61 to 68 degree water temps; bass at 55 to 65; and bluegills like temperatures in the 69 to 75 degree range.
Kurt Justice, a fishing guide and owner of Kurt’s Island Sports Shop in Minocqua, is getting lots of calls from anglers wondering about conditions. “As of Thursday, they are still ice fishing on spots on Lake Minocqua,” he said. “Bigger lakes still have between 15 and 16 inches of ice.”
He did note there are some lakes open in this region though, but competition will be tough for anglers looking to launch boats. “Because many lakes still have ice on them, that will concentrate where fishermen can go,” said Justice. This late ice-out is even changing some plans for many anglers. “I’ve had a couple of guiding cancellations and people in the accommodation industry are saying some people are cancelling out also,” he said.
Justice does have some fishing strategies for die-hards who are willing to tough out the conditions. “I would suggest longer type lures that rattle and finding spots along lakes that the ice has gone out several yards, usually on north shores,” he said. “This is especially effective if you fish at night, and reeling the lures in slowly is going to be the most effective.”