October 16, 2019
Ice fishing is a favorite season among many anglers. Just because the weather gets incredibly cold, doesn’t mean that the fishing isn’t hot! And without a doubt, the lakes of Wisconsin offer some of the best fishing of the season, which starts just as soon as the lakes freeze over (generally late December or January). It’s common knowledge that nearly a quarter of all fish caught in Wisconsin each year are brought through the ice. Here’s everything you need to know for your Wisconsin ice fishing trip.
Ice fishing is a technique where, simply put, anglers fish frozen lakes, ponds, rivers, or streams. A hole is cut in the ice using either an ice saw, chisel, or an auger (a drilling device used for making holes). Next, remove all the chunks of ice using a skimmer. Most anglers will keep some ice shavings in the hole to limit the light from seeping through. When fish see light they tend to stay away… unless you’re fishing for crappie, they’ll follow the small plankton to the light and your rod. You can either use a single rod or a tip-up, a device which will suspend the bait for you and “tip-up” when a fish takes the bait. This allows anglers to have multiple holes and rods across a span of ice.
Ice fishing is a lot of watching and waiting. The fish move slower so it’s definitely a time to practice your patience. But once you see the bobber move, you’ll know you’ve got some action. When ice fishing for bottom feeders, such as bluegills and perch, try bouncing your bait off the bottom to kick up mud and debris. This signals action to the fish that they’ll want to check out. Or try chumming the hole. Again, the fish will think there’s some activity going on and will want to check it out. Wax worms or ground minnows work great.
The start of ice fishing season varies from year to year and is completely dependant on the thickness of the ice. When the ice is 4 inches thick, humans can walk on the ice safely. Snowmobiles and ATVs can travel across the ice when it reaches 7-12 inches, and full-size trucks should wait until there’s over a foot of ice. It’s very important to check local weather and fishing reports for updates on how thick the ice is before setting out. Here’s a handy tool to understand more about this important factor of ice fishing.
Of course the weather ultimately determines when the lakes freeze over. Typically in Wisconsin there’s a layer of ice around late December or early January. The season lasts as long as there’s safe ice, generally March or April, although there have been years when ice-out happens in May. Wisconsin’s DNR (Department of Natural Resources) defines “ice-out” as the first day that all ice is gone. Each season is different, so it’s important to check with local resources before heading to the lake.
It may not seem like an important detail, but the most vital part of ice fishing is your fishing buddy. Whether you’re going with a group or just your favorite fishing partner: never, EVER ice fish alone. No one ever wants accidents on the ice to occur, but they do. And having a helping hand can mean the difference between life and death. Frostbite and hypothermia are common for those who don’t take precautionary steps. Make sure to fish with at least one other person, and let others know where you will be fishing.
An even better idea, ice fish with a local Wisconsin guide. They’ll have knowledge of the area, know the river or lake currents and dropoffs, and have all the gear you’ll need for the trip. Ice fishing can be dangerous if you’re not aware of what you’re getting into, and having a professional guide right there will make the trip everything you want it to be.
There are thousands of lakes in Wisconsin. And nearly all of them freeze solid each winter. The city of Rhinelander claim the title of Ice Fishing Capital of the World, and we don’t blame them. Nearby Lake Julia, Lake George, and Boom Lake (on the Wisconsin River) each offer great fisheries for ice fishing. Or try Dairyland Reservoir on the Flambeau River in Rusk County, it’s filled with walleye, pike, bass, and more. Another favorite lake to ice fish in Wisconsin is Black Oak Lake in Vilas County. The lake is 564 acres in size and reaches depths of 85 feet. Anglers ice fishing Black Oak Lake will find a variety of fish, including Brown Trout, Lake Trout, Muskie, Northern Pike, Bluegill, Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, and Walleye.
Want to know an inside secret about ice fishing? Because the water temperatures are so cold, the fish are moving slower… making them easier to catch than during the warmer months. That should be incentive enough to grab your gear for a day of ice fishing. Another item for your “pro” list: the camaraderie that comes along with hanging out with buddies waiting for the fish to bite. And ice fishing in 2019 isn’t like it was in the olden days. Now there are RVs specifically built for ice fishing. You can literally drive right to your spot, bring the wheels up, open a hatch and drop your line. We’re living in the future, people… embrace it!
It should go without saying, but be sure to have the right gear and clothing when ice fishing. The right boots, jacket, and hat will go a long way to making your day more comfortable. Augers, ice scoops, a Fishfinder, and buckets are the extra gear that will make your ice fishing excursion a success. Or hire a Professional Wisconsin ice fishing guide, they’ll have everything you need. Check out FishAnywhere to find one near you. Then all you need to do is show up, drop a line, and experience the adrenaline that is ice fishing in Wisconsin!
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