Fishing's 4th Season Has Arrived

By Ted Peck - December 1, 2008
Fishing's 4th season howled into southern Wisconsin just after Thanksgiving, snap-freezing open water into walkable ice statewide virtually overnight. Most years the five-gallon bucket brigade migrates from sheltered areas like the "ditches" near Stoughton to Cherokee Marsh, Whalen's Grade, and sheltered bays of Madison lakes over a period of several weeks as the two inches of clear ice considered "safe" by hardwater anglers appears in these popular winter spots. Puckaway was covered with skim ice even before Thanksgiving.

This year Wisconsin's ice angling fraternity has a buffet of options to choose from, a good 10 days before even the most avid have their gear dug out of a back corner of the garage and fully mission capable. Some backwaters over on the Mississippi which are typically negotiated with tentative steps around Christmas already sport nearly two inches of good ice. Sloughs around Far Nuf, backwaters to the north like Big Missouri at Prairie du Chien on Pool 10, Visager's Landing, Green Lake and Cold Springs on Pool 9 and at Stoddard on Pool 8 all have relatively "safe" ice and are attracting small cadres of ice anglers.There have been a few rigs parked along Highway 82, with folks hoofin' it a mile back to Chain-O-Lakes. This is a great spot to chase pike with tip-ups.

This is good news for veteran ice anglers but creates quite a pickle for novices and poseurs as the casual reporting network of co-workers and buddies some use to locate the hottest bite are spread out virtually statewide instead of being concentrated over just a couple of fisheries. The first week or 10 days that ice initially covers a popular winter spot generally provides some of the hottest fishing action of the entire hardwater season. Therein lays a possible pickle for all concerned.

Most years the ice fishing caravan can follow the hot bite of first ice action well into the next year with vast, deep lakes like Mendota and Big Green usually freezing over solid sometime between New Year's Day and Superbowl Sunday. We may return to more seasonable weather conditions between now and then, but many are tuning up their deep water perch jerkin' gear and lake trout tackle-just in case.

My whippy deepwater perch rods are tangled in a Gordian knot in the back of the pole barn where they got pitched last April in a frenzy to get out after open water walleyes. A small tackle box full of pricey little ice jigs and lures tailored for this specific type of angling illustrate the painful adage "rust never sleeps".

Like America before Pearl Harbor or Korea, Wisconsin's ice fishing forces were caught essentially unprepared, faced with the dilemma of either erecting the family Christmas tree and completing obligatory shopping or getting the short rods ready to slap fish on the ice while the short window of first ice action remains open.

Koshkonong may be a lake to watch this winter as well. Multiple year classes of walleyes-including some fish that are wall-worthy are swimming in this Jefferson-Rock County lake right now.

Those traversing the Madison lakes via ATV and snowmobile must have floatation approved by the Dane County Sheriff. Floatation is not mandatory on Kegonsa and Waubesa. But it's a good idea no matter where you fish. Personal floatation in the form of a PFD and carrying Res-Q-Piks to pull yourself out after an unscheduled dunking are more important than any other gear to ready for the season now at hand.

While you're at it, wrap 50 feet of quarter-inch nylon rope in the grooves near the top of your ice fishing bucket, securing it with a piece of duct tape. Ice seldom freezes at uniform thickness. The snap-freeze scenario which is now reality holds tremendous potential for human tip-up impersonations. If a buddy falls thru the ice quick rescue is critical. It only takes a few seconds to dump gear and fish out of a rope- rigged bucket to serve as a functional life ring. If the water is only chest deep you hold tremendous negotiation potential for tackle and other considerations before making the toss.

You're already at the right place for planning early ice fishing adventures in Wisconsin. A couple of clicks on this website will get you to Wisconsin fishing reports. Although it has been said that ice anglers aren't born liars-but learn quicker than most folks-most of the information you'll see posted in fishing reports is reliable. For these fishing reports to have value there must be give and take. This doesn't mean somebody else does the posting and you quietly take advantage of the information.

All buckets get heavier when more folks help out by posting accurate information. See ya out there on the ice and right here before the next trip!

Author Ted Peck
Ted Peck
Cap'n Ted Peck has over 30 yrs. guiding experience, specializing in multi-species fishing on Pool 9-10 of the Mississippi from Genoa, Wi. to Prairie du Chien. Cap'n Ted is a pro staffer for Lund, Northland Tackle, MinnKota, Bill Lewis Lures, Evinrude, Uncle Josh, HT Enterprises and Custom Jigs & Spins. When not guiding Cap'n Ted communicates the outdoors experience via newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and through seminars. This work has taken him all over the midwest, Canada and beyond... but he always returns to the upper Mississippi which he considers the most diverse fishery in North America. Click here for more info on Ted's guide service. Cap'n Ted's new book Mississippi Musings with the Old Guide is a personal account of his long career as a professional fishing guide on Old Man River.