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LATER START MAY ALLOW MORE ANGLERS TO ENJOY THE "FIRST-ICE BITE"

December 18, 2012

MADISON - 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.

"One advantage of later ice is more people will likely be done with all of their holiday travel and commitments and might still be able to catch the first ice bite," says Mike Staggs, Wisconsin's fisheries director.

"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.

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, Staggs says.

Or, if they haven't put their boat away for the winter, they can try fishing the open water. "Those fish are down there and they are probably in the spots where you'd find them if you were ice fishing," he says. "There is no need to wait for the ice."

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, Staggs says.

"Safety's got to be the top consideration," Staggs says. "After that, we encourage every veteran ice angler to consider taking someone new ice fishing. Our new $5 first-time buyer's license is a great way to get family and friends out on the ice."

Also new 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.

Ice fishing by the numbers

An estimated 590,700 Wisconsinites 16 and over report that they ice fish, up from 479,900 in 2000, according to the most recent National Survey on Recreation and the Environment.

A separate, earlier statewide survey of Wisconsin anglers estimated they caught 14 million fish in the winter and kept close to half of them, or about 6.6 million fish, in 2006-7. That compares to 88 million fish caught across the entire year, and 33 million harvested, or about one-third of the total.

In winter, as in summer, panfish are the most frequently caught, the 2006 survey found. Anglers caught about 11.7 million panfish during the ice fishing season and kept a higher proportion of them, nearly half, than in the open water season. The same pattern held true for walleye, northern pike and bass.

Take steps to prevent going through 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.

How to dress:

Before you go:

When you go:

Watch out for this:

Traditional Panfish Fillets

Submitted by: Kurt Welke of Madison

Ingredients:

  • 12-16 scaled bluegill fillets, rinsed
  • 2 eggs (1 more egg if 16-20 fillets)
  • 2 cups crushed corn flakes
  • Canola oil
  • Sea salt and pepper

Preparation and cooking instructions:

  • Rinse fillets and pat dry on paper towels.
  • Beat eggs in a deep bowl. Add fillets to egg wash and mix so all surfaces are coated.
  • Crush corn flakes in plastic bag or between two sheets of wax paper using a rolling pin. Add crumbs to shallow pie plate. Place dredged fillets in crumbs and coat both sides of the fillets until completed covered.
  • Heat " of oil in deep cast iron skillet until very hot. Put fillets into hot oil (the surface should sizzle immediately). Cook for approximately 2 minutes on each side, maintaining heat. Place on paper towels to drain off excess oil and keep warm in the oven until all fillets are cooked.
  • Add sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.
Veteran fish managers offer fishing tips for pike, panfish and walleye

Panfish, pike and walleye - those are the big three targets in winter, the surveys show. Veteran DNR fish managers Skip Sommerfeldt in Park Falls, Terry Margenau in Spooner and Kurt Welke in Fitchburg pass on their tips for how to catch these fish, including where to fish, baits to use, bait placement and other considerations, on the ice fishing pages of the DNR website (search for fishing and click on the link for ice fishing) .

Welke says that panfish are a great ice fishing target for anglers of all ages. He advises anglers to "use all tools" at their disposal -- fish locators, local online forums, and cell phones once on the ice -- to find the fish - and then to move if the fish aren't biting. "Take a walk and see if others are enjoying any success. Hole-hopping, even small distances, can produce fish," he says.

Most importantly, Welke says, "GO ! Stop wishin' and go fishin'!"

Sommerfeldt goes fishing for walleye just about every chance he can get. He keeps a detailed dairy and last year, fished 87 days of 91 possible and caught 140 walleye, 69 percent of which he released. Read his 2011-12 diary - and see his graphics - chronicling his hard water fishing from last year and previous years on DNR's ice fishing pages.

Margenau doesn't get that walleye fixation. "I've never understood why so many anglers willingly freeze themselves in the coldest part of a winter day (as the sun sets) then gather up their equipment in the dark for a walleye," he says. "Northern pike are the ultimate winter sport fish, the "People's Fish". Any angler worth their salt will admit a northern pike has saved many fishing trips from being a skunk."

He favors pike because they are common in Wisconsin, found in more than 2,000 inland lakes, rivers, and flowages as well as in the Mississippi River and the bays of Lakes Michigan and Superior. They can provide trophy opportunities, but more importantly in his mind, food. "Northern pike fillets in a skillet are second to none," he says, and advises people to check DNR's website for proper filleting techniques to remove those troublesome "Y" bones.

"Northern pike are active and bite all day. Show up at noon and you are good to go. No more of that putzing around in the dark. You should be on your way home by then."

He also advises parents that pike are the perfect winter fish for kids. "Drill a few holes in the ice, put in some tip-ups, sit back and have a cup of coffee, let the kids play, and when a flag goes up, everybody runs. That's good living in a Wisconsin winter."

Take steps to prevent going through 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."

"Tell someone where you're going and when you'll be back, carry a cell phone, and go prepared with some basic equipment to help yourself or others should something happen, like wearing a float coat or carrying picks and a rope," he says.

More ice tips can be found on Wisconsin's ice fishing page.

Check the fish consumption advisory and try these healthy recipes

Because more anglers keep and eat the fish they catch during the winter, DNR recommends that anglers check the fish consumption advice for the water they want to fish to reduce their exposure to mercury and other environmental contaminants found in the fish.

Check DNR's new online query tool for specific advice for a lake or river, or find general consumption advice and view the full fish consumption advice booklet by going online to DNR website, dnr.wi.gov and searching for fish consumption advice.

And try this bluegill recipe found in "Healthy Dishes with Wisconsin Fishes," a cookbook of recipes submitted by anglers that will be available for free online in Spring 2013. The cookbook will be previewed in the February 2013 issue of DNR's Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.

$5 license for first-timers and other discounted options

New this year anglers who have never purchased a fishing license -- or who haven't purchased one in 10 years -- can get a discounted "first time buyers" license. Lawmakers created the discounted license earlier this year and both residents and non-residents can take advantage of this opportunity. Residents' discounted annual license is $5 and non-residents' is $25.75.

People buying this discounted license can get recognition for the person who introduced them to fishing. Wisconsin residents who have been designated as a recruiter three or more times within one license year are eligible for a discount on the license of their choice the next year.

Also, for the second year, anglers can buy a one-day fishing license that allows them to take someone out to try fishing, and if they like it, the purchase price of that one-day license will be credited toward purchase of an annual license. The one day license is $8 for residents and $10 for nonresidents.

The one-day license is good until midnight on the day it is purchased. People can buy these new licenses and the 20 other different fishing licenses DNR offers in three convenient ways: through the Online Licensing Center on the DNR website, at all authorized license agents, at DNR Service Centers (Hours for service centers vary; check the DNR website for service center days and hours of operation; DNR Service Centers are not open on Saturdays), or by calling toll-free 1-877-LICENSE (1-877-945-4236).

Wisconsin residents and nonresidents 16 years old or older need a fishing license to fish in any waters of the state. Residents born before Jan. 1, 1927, do not need a license and resident members of the U.S. Armed Forces on active duty are entitled to obtain a free fishing license when on furlough or leave.

First free fishing weekend set for Jan. 19 and 20, 2013

Also new this year, everybody can fish for free on Jan. 19 and 20, 2013, 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. This includes all inland waters and Wisconsin's side of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River. Other fishing rules apply, such as limits on the number and size of fish you can keep, and any closed season for species, such as for musky.

Follow rules to prevent spreading fish diseases

Ice anglers eager to start the hard water season are reminded to take steps to prevent spreading VHS and other fish diseases and aquatic invasive species, including buying bait from Wisconsin bait dealers and following other bait rules, such as using leftover minnows only on the same waterbody if water or fish were added to the bait container.

Viral hemorrhagic septicemia, a virus that can infect several dozen fish species and cause them to bleed to death, was confirmed in 2010 in fish from Lake Superior. The disease has now been confirmed in all of the Great Lakes.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Kurt Welke (608) 273-5946; Terry Margenau (715) 635-4162; Skip Sommerfeldt (715) 762-1357

Last Revised: Tuesday, December 18, 2012




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