Fishing has been decent this past week with the consistent weather. Most anglers are reporting fishable ice on all area waters and we have been finding the same.
We are still not confident for cars or trucks on the ice, especially with warm temperatures continuing. Lots of snowmobiles, ATVs and UTV machines have been safely operating on inland lakes. But please check your own ice as you go out, and check it often.
Recent snows also have caused slush problems on some larger lakes. So it is important to try and stick to well-traveled trails to keep from getting stuck. If you find yourself spitting up water under the machine, it is best to punch it and not stop. Also, avoid sharp shoreline breaks, points, bridges, inlets/outlets and narrows areas with natural funneling. These spots can hold deadly thin ice.
I want to share a few important items I always have in tow or connected to my machine. The first item and arguably the most important is my Nebulus Floatation Device. I hope I never have to deploy it, but it is good insurance. I also bring a PFD in conjunction with my float suite, a rope, ice spikes and a spud bar.
When traveling by machine, it is also especially important to let someone know your game plan and when you plan to be back on shore. Also make sure your machine is running tip-top and that you have all legal tabs/stickers/registration/insurance up to date. Now to our weekly fishing report:
Usually this time of year we don't see a lot of open water angling on Lake Superior but some fishermen have been taking advantage of the mild winter temps and chasing some near-shore trout and salmon. Successful reports have been minimal, but it's hard to blame an angler that tries. I've always said that one Lake Superior fish can change your life.
Some lucky anglers have been getting a few fish to turn on the North Shore using casting and jigging techniques. For the ice anglers, we have finally started to infiltrate the near shore bites in Chequamegon Bay. Ice in the Ashland area is the safest bet with anywhere from 5 to 8 inches. A plus to fishing closer to Ashland is you have the opportunity to catch many different species including perch, pike, walleye, whitefish, burbot, trout and salmon. Our best success has been in and around 20 feet of water jigging aggressively with meat tipped spoons.
In the SW corner and up toward Washburn, ice gets very inconsistent. Who knows if we will see a good ice year at this point? It is highly encouraged if you decide to try Chequamegon Bay, plan on walking out. I like my Smitty Sled (old downhill skis bolted to a sled system), it is an awesome tool for pulling gear.
The St. Louis River continues to see a fair amount of traffic from Superior Bay all the way to Fond du Lac. I still have yet to see a machine on the ice, but I can't be in all areas at one time. I imagine some panfish gurus have been machine traveling the back bays, but I would be careful. The shoreland points as well as many other areas always have bad ice. Many walleyes have been coming in the shallow flats of 5-7 feet of water. It continues to be important and get creative with presentations and also space yourself from other anglers.
It never fails to amaze me how many people take to the harbor areas, when there are thousands of other productive acres of water. Believe me when I say, the fish movements don't change much because it is winter. Make sure to keep a dead-stick or set-line on standby and check it often. Minnow shakedowns (a term we use when waking up a lethargic minnow) should happen often.
Inland lakes in Wisconsin have been putting out plenty of action, you just have to try something different. It is also important to spread out and seek out new areas for new bites. We are past the stages of new ice, so those community spots that have been hammered on will hold a lot of picky fish.
Many of our panfish bites are on account of being in areas of less pressured fish. A couple different baits have been working well for both crappies and sunnies. First go-to is the old fashioned simple hook and live bait, split shot and slip bobber. If I can't get fish to commit to that, I tend to go with the common small jigging patterns of a tungsten and wax worm. Don't be surprised to lock up with random bass and pike when hunting panfish. Walleyes are still being caught, but getting a little bit harder everyday.
Low light periods are important for the next several weeks. I prefer to set up on the side of mid-lake humps or other structure, rip an obnoxious bait and have a dead stick nearby.
Jarrid Houston of South Range is a fishing guide (houstonsguideservice.com) on Minnesota and Wisconsin inland waters, the St. Louis River and, in winter, on Lake Superior.