River Currents

by Free Speech on December 18, 2009

Lodi, WI~

Lodi Valley News serving Lodi, WI & the Lake Wisconsin area with local information since Earth Day 2008.

Lodi, WI

Early Ice Fishing in Southern Wisconsin and the Madison Area

A nice 10" 'gill from the Madison Chain

A nice 10" 'gill from the Madison Chain

The warmer than normal November had ice anglers worrying about when there would be ice on area waters. With the way the weather was going, I didn’t think there would be “good’ ice until at least Christmas. But, the recent frigid blast has angler’s already venturing out on area waters. Wisconsinites love a few things this time of year; first and foremost they love the Green Bay Packers and their second love is ice fishing. The average date that Lake Monona freezes over is usually near the end of December and in 5 years of the last decade the ice wasn’t safe until January. Last weekend, there were many anglers out on Monona Bay and the Brittingham Park area. There were at least a hundred anglers out Sunday afternoon when the packer game finished.

Personally, I’m waiting till the ice is a little thicker, in the 3 to 4 inch range, before I “hit’ the local waters. The vision of fresh bluegill and crappie fillets frying in a cast iron pan is so inviting, but I’m not as daring and bold as I once was and am waiting for thicker ice. Anglers love to be the first one on the ice because fishing is usually good in many areas early before the fish migrate to deeper water structure later in the winter. Now, the fish and I mean most panfish, walleyes, and northern pike are in the same location as they were before the ice formed. The key if possible is to find green weeds because most fish will be close to these spots.

Safety is the most important thing when fishing the first ice of the year! The weather this week looks good with another cold front coming in by mid-week which should continue the ice building process. Use good judgment when going ice fishing because any fish isn’t worth going through the ice for. Here are a few important tips to remember when fishing the year’s first ice:

1) Make sure that there is at least 3 to 4 inches of good ice where you plan to fish.
Stay away from dangerous spots like, spring holes, feeder creeks, and warm water discharges (M.G. and E. on Lake Monona).
3) Always have a pair of ice picks around your neck in case you should go through the water. They allow you to pull yourself up and onto the ice if the worst should happen. If you are unsure of the thickness of the ice, wear a life jacket. My advice is if you are not sure of the thickness of the ice, don’t go on it and wait a few more days. The fishing locations that I’m going to recommend are for shallow water fish. Most panfish, walleyes, and pike will be in water that is 10 feet or less this time of the year.
4) Don’t ever go fishing alone. It’s always better to go fishing with a buddy. If you do fish alone, be sure to tell someone where you’re going and bring a cell phone along in a zip-lock bag for emergencies.
5) Early ice is not a time to bring children and dogs on the ice. Wait a week or two for thicker ice.
6) Stay away from crowds and large concentration of fishermen because the ice is not thick enough for the weight. Staying away from people can also improve your fishing because too many anglers make too much noise and spook shallow water fish. When fishing shallow water, be as quiet and stealth as possible.
7) If there is a path from other anglers try to stay on their path because they have blazed the trail for you.

Here a few good “spots” that produce all season long and are some of the first locations for the avid ice angler. These are no secret locations, but they are locations where you can and should be able to catch some tasty fillets for the pan! Close to the Madison area, the “Triangle” area around Brittingham Park and Monona Bay is good for medium size bluegills and crappies. The biggest fish of the year are usually caught early in the season and you’ll have to sort thru the fish as the winter progresses for keepers. Lake Monona’s bays are always a good place to start your fishing. Lake Wingra also is frozen over and is a good location for smaller panfish. The action can be hot, but the size of the fish is small with a 7 inch bluegill being a good one. Later in the winter, this is always a good location to bring the children because the fish usually are active. Lake Waubesa is a good early location for bluegills and the south end good for northern pike on tip-ups. Lake Kegonsa is another good area lake, but it contains numerous springs which can make things tricky. I’d wait a few weeks before fishing this lake. Big Lake Mendota is always the last lake to freeze which is around the first of the new year and even later.

Lake Mendota does have some small bays and lagoons that freeze-over early and can be great for early bluegills, crappies, and the occasional walleye or pike. These locations that I fish early on Lake Mendota are; Marshall Park, on the far west-end of the lake, has a lagoon where the boat landing is and can be very good early in the winter, Warner Bay and the Warner Park Lagoon on the north-east side of Mendota is a good, early panfish location, and the Cherokee Marsh, just north of the “big lake” has bluegills, crappies, and walleyes the first few weeks of ice. Try jigging for panfish in all these areas and also set up a tip-up for gamefish. Remember, you may use three lines in Wisconsin. So, take advantage of this regulation.

Duffy Kopf and Jim Kloth at last winter's Yahara Fishing Clubs youth event.

Duffy Kopf and Jim Kloth at last winter's Yahara Fishing Clubs youth event.

If you head north on Highway 12, you come to Indian Lake, which is west of Highway 12 and off Highway 19. The panfish are small, but there are plenty of them. This is another spot to take the kids later in the season because they will catch fish and that is what is important. Children need action to keep their attention and get them “hooked on fishing.” There also is Fish and Crystal Lakes farther out Highway 12 near Roxbury and Highway Y. Crystal Lake has largemouth bass, perch, crappies, and bluegills all of good size. Crystal Lake should be good this winter because the work and lack of access this summer prevented many from fishing the lake. Use minnows on tip-ups for the largemouth bass. Fish Lake has about the same fishery as Crystal Lake, but it also has northern pike and muskies too. The muskies are reaching the legal 34 inch size minimum, but release them for others to catch. The first month of the ice season is usually the best fishing on these lakes.

The sloughs and backwaters of the Wisconsin River freeze early, but these areas must be carefully watched because of moving water and springs. Helena, Jones, Rainbow, and Badger Sloughs, along Highway 60 and Highway 14, all have good fishing with populations of panfish and pike.

Some other good locations to try are White Mound Lake near Plain, Devils Lake close to Baraboo, and Gallus Slough, just north of Lake Wisconsin. All of these lakes have good fishing for most species with Devils Lake having brown trout that can be caught jigging or on tip-ups. Gallus Slough can have the biggest bluegills in the area.

Today, as I write anglers are again fishing Madison’s Triangle, Cherokee Marsh, Whalen’s Grade, and Gallus Slough. Most of the fishermen and women are catching fish. The key word is to be CAREFUL! Dress warm and be safe.

Contacts: Gary Engberg Outdoors, www.garyengbergoutdoors. com
D and S Bait, Madison, (608)-241-4225.
Wilderness Fish and Game, Sauk City, WI. (608)-643-2433.
Guide Wally Banfi, (608)-644-9823.

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