Those of us who live in Wisconsin have two things that we love to do in the winter; one is to watch the Green Bay Packers on television (and this is a good year for that) and the other is to ice fish. The Packers are great this year, so most people are overjoyed. Now, we are all looking for a prolonged cold spell to turn the open water and thin ice into hard ice at least 4-6 inches thick. I took a drive Sunday before the Packer game to see if any of the early ice fishing locations were being fished. Yes, the recent colder weather and cold nights have ice in some area locations. I did see anglers out fishing on numerous lake and sloughs to my surprise. I wouldn’t suggest anyone go ice fishing quite yet, but soon there will be enough ice to fish many local lakes.The locations where there were anglers fishing Sunday morning were; the Triangle area near Brittingham Park, Cherokee Marsh, the Stoughton Ditches, and up my way on a few of the backwaters of the Wisconsin River like Badger and Rainbow Slough. I’m sure that there was 2-3 inches of ice, but I’d need at least 4 inches to fish and I prefer to have 6 inches of ice. Safety is one of the most important things to keep in mind when ice fishing. I also would suggest that you wear a life jacket on early ice for added safety. Despite the anglers on the ice fishing this morning, it was over 40 degrees today and as I write it’s still above the freezing mark. So, all I can say is use your head and wait a few more days or even week to be safe!
The upcoming weather has temperatures above freezing every day till Thursday or Friday. Here are a few early pointers or tips for fishing “first ice” or early ice; 1) Make sure that there is 4 inches of good ice unless you’re one of the anglers who has to be the first one out fishing. 2) Stay away from spring holes, feeder creeks or streams, and warm water discharges because they are usually the cause of unsafe ice and are always very dangerous locations. 3) Always bring a pair of ice picks in case the worst should happen and you go thru the ice into the water. The picks can help you pull yourself out of the water and as I earlier said wearing a life jacket is not a bad option. If you’re unsure of the ice, then stay off of it. All of the locations or “spots” that I’m going to mention are for shallow water fish during the first few weeks of the ice season. You will find most fish in shallow water this time of the season before they migrate too their mid lake structure where available. Perch are an exception because they are most likely in deeper water. 4) Don’t go fishing alone. Always try to fish with a “buddy” this time of the year and this is not the time for young children and dogs. If you fish alone, bring a call phone protected in a zip lock bag and tell someone where you are going to be. 5) Stay away from the crowds and larger concentration of anglers. Crowds make too much noise and will spook fish in water this shallow. Your fishing will improve if you fish alone and find your “own” fish. Finding active fish is not difficult on the Madison Chain and most area waters early in the ice fishing season. But, when fishing shallow water be as stealth and quiet as possible. 6) If there is a path from other fishermen stay on it because someone has walked the trail ahead of you.
Here are some early season “hotspots” or good locations for fishing early ice. Most of these spots I fish myself this time of the year. In the Madison area, the Triangle around Brittingham Park and Monona Bay is very good for early bluegills and a few crappies. Lately just before freeze-up, muskies were being caught from shore as they gorged on the bluegills in shallows inside the Triangle area. You have to sort through the ‘gills to get your keepers, but the early ice fishing often gives the largest fish of any species of the winter. The bays on Lake Monona are good early and are always a good place to start your fishing. Another Chain Lake, Lake Wingra, is small and shallow and has a good supply of medium to small bluegills. This is a great location later in the year to take your children because it is a place where they will catch fish. This a wonderful way to introduce children to fishing, but make it fun and have some other activities for the slower periods of fishing. This is a great way to get children “hooked on fishing.” Lake Waubesa is good early producer of panfish and northern pike particularly at the north end on tip-ups. Lake Kegonsa has many springs, so I’d wait a few more weeks after a solid freeze-up to be safe. Big Lake Mendota is always the last of the Madison Chain of Lakes to freeze, so don’t worry about chasing those perch for quite a while. But, Mendota has some small bays and lagoons that freeze early and can be great for all panfish and the occasional pike. A few of these little bays or lagoons are; Marshall Park on the west end of Lake Mendota because it freezes early and can produce both bluegills and crappies, Warner Bay and Warner park on Mendota’s north-east side attracts panfish on first ice, and Cherokee Marsh, located just north of Mendota freezes fast (there were fishermen on it Sunday). Expect to catch, bluegills, crappies, and even walleyes the first month of ice. Jig for panfish and have a couple tip-ups out for walleyes and pike.
If you drive north of Madison on Highway 12, turn left or west on Highway 19 and take it to Indian Lake which is a County Park with parking and an aerator to keep some of the lake open. The bluegills are small with a few keepers, but it freezes early, produces fish, and is another location to take them children to catch fish and have fun. Keep heading west on Highway 12 till you come to Highway Y which will take you to Fish and Crystal Lakes which are outside Sauk City. Crystal Lake has largemouth, perch, crappies, and bluegills with many good sized fish. Use tip-ups with minnows or shiners for the bass. The water is till extremely high and I’m not sure how this will affect the fishing. These are usually good fishing lakes early in the season, but both were still open this past Sunday with the exception of some shoreline ice.
The sloughs and backwaters of the Wisconsin River between Sauk City and Spring Green offer some good fishing off Highway 60. Try Badger, Jones, Rainbow, and Helena Marsh. There were anglers fishing these locations Sunday morning. All these waters freeze early and have good populations of panfish and pike.
The other lakes to check out early in the season include; White Mound Lake near Plain, Devils Lake near Baraboo, and Gallus Slough, just north of Lake Wisconsin. These are all good and varied lakes with Gallus slough freezing first because of its shallow depth. Devils Lake is good fro jigging brown trout and always put out a tip-up for the big northern pike that are caught every winter. Dress warm and always be safe when on the ice. Article by Gary Engberg Outdoors.