Later freeze may allow more anglers to enjoy the first-ice bite; safety is a priority
Anglers are finding that ice is in short supply on most Wisconsin lakes and rivers, delaying the start of their “hard water” season, but likely increasing their chances of getting to fish early ice when the season finally arrives, state fisheries officials say.
“Early ice” can offer some of the best fishing for a lot of species, especially on those lakes that are shallow and weedy. The fish seem to be accessible and biting more early.
This year, everybody can fish for free on Jan. 19 and 20, when Wisconsin celebrates its first winter Free Fishing Weekend. During this weekend, residents and nonresidents alike can fish anywhere in Wisconsin without a license or trout stamp.
The DNR encourages veteran ice anglers to consider taking someone new ice fishing. The new $5 first-time buyer’s license is designed to get more new anglers out on the ice.
Until more lakes and rivers across the state freeze, however, anglers may have to focus on smaller lakes or lakes farther north that have already frozen.
Anglers venturing out on any ice now need to use extreme caution and follow the ice safety tips below whenever they are on the ice.
In many parts of Wisconsin, open water abounds. Where ice has formed or is starting to form, DNR Recreation Safety Chief Todd Schaller encourages anglers to check in with local bait shops “so you know ice conditions before you go,” Schaller says. “That holds true every time you go out, but particularly during early ice.”
He provides these other tips for staying safe on the ice during the coming “hard water” season.
• Dress for the conditions. That means wearing the proper clothing and equipment. Include a U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device (vest or coat) that will help you stay afloat and slow body heat loss should you fall in. Extra mittens and gloves should be standard so there is always a dry pair available.
• Wear ice creepers on boots. These are idea to prevent slips.
• In addition to contacting local sport shops to ask about ice conditions, learn about the water body. Know if the lake has inlets, outlets or narrows that have currents known to thin the ice.
• Do not go out alone. If it’s unavoidable, carry a cell phone and let someone know the destination and the expected return time. Follow that timeline.
• Carry a spud bar to check the ice while walking to new areas during daylight only.
• Carry a couple of spikes and a length of light rope in an easily accessible pocket to help pull yourself or others out of the ice.
• Do not travel in unfamiliar territories at night.
• Watch out for this:
• Look for clear ice. Clear ice is generally stronger than ice with air bubbles in it or with snow on it.
• Watch out for pressure ridges or ice heaves. These can be dangerous due to thin ice and open water and may be an obstruction you may hit with a car, truck or snowmobile.