MADISON – Ice fishing opportunities are going to come early and often this season, good news for the growing number of ice anglers drilling down into this favorite winter sport, state fisheries officials say.
“The colder weather in recent weeks has frozen smaller lakes much earlier than last year, so we’re looking forward to a nice, long season,” says Mike Staggs, Wisconsin’s fisheries director. “There are an abundance of great places to fish across the state and even more time for anglers to hit their favorite hot spots and try some new locations.”
Staggs reported people fishing on a back bay of Delavan Lake in Walworth County on Thanksgiving, and conservation wardens and fish biologists are reporting seeing anglers ice fishing on smaller lakes, bays and backwaters in many parts of Wisconsin.
“The ice season is already underway up here, as I’ve seen anglers on the ice for almost a week now,” says Skip Sommerfeldt, a DNR fisheries biologist based in Park Falls in Price County and an avid ice angler. “I haven’t made it out yet – as I stayed busy with deer season and then a short vacation with the family. But that will change this afternoon (Dec. 2) – as my tip-ups and minnows are ready for the late afternoon bite.”
An estimated 590,700 Wisconsinites 16 and over report they ice fish, up from 479,900 in 2000, according to the most recent National Survey on Recreation and the Environment, a federally funded survey.
Staggs thinks the growth reflects in part that ice fishing is a low-cost way to try fishing or for veteran open water anglers to extend the fishing season. “It’s as easy as drilling a hole — or finding a hole someone else left behind — and using some basic equipment to catch some fish for dinner,” he says.
Add to that simple appeal the fact that better technology — lighter, warmer ice houses and better, safer heaters and outerwear – is making it more comfortable to be out on the ice longer.
Early ice fishing and ice safety tips
Early ice offers some of the season’s best fishing, but also a need for extreme caution due to ice conditions (or lack thereof.) Wisconsin recreation safety wardens sent out their list of top safety tips for the ice fishing season on Dec. 2.
Steve Avelallemant, fisheries supervisor for northern Wisconsin, says that early ice fishing can be some of the best fishing for walleye and northern pike. “Especially on shallow lakes, where the fish seem to be accessible and biting more earlier in the hard water season,” he says.
Fishing pressure nearly triples in December in Wisconsin after lakes freeze over, based on results from a 2006-7 statewide mail survey of anglers. Anglers reported spending about 1,589,000 hours in December alone in that year, up from 624,000 hours in November, the survey showed.
Panfish, northern pike and walleye are most frequently caught in the winter, with 11.7 million, 866,000, and 750,000, respectively, based on the mail survey results.
Find helpful tips for fishing for panfish, walleye and northern pike from fisheries biologists Kurt Welke, Skip Sommerfeldt and Terry Margenau on the ice fishing pages of the DNR website. Find also links to ice safety information, to tips for getting started ice fishing, and how to have a fun and successful ice fishing outing with the kids.