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Rainbow Flowage Early Ice Walleye's

By Captain Marty Papke - December 1, 2004

No doubt about when those nightly temps start dropping below the freezing mark in middle to late November Ice Anglers start getting that "itch" to catch some early Ice Eye's! The Rainbow Flowage located in Oneida County in between Lake Tomahawk/Minocqua and Rhinelander, Wisconsin.

A little over 2000 acres of stained waters (due to the Wisconsin River's entrance from the north) this chunk of water generally varies in water levels because of the water variations needed through the Wisconsin River watershed or called the Wisconsin Valley Improvement Company. This organization governs the water level on the Wisconsin River and all reservoirs up and down the great Wisconsin River system.

Located just out of the town of Lake Tomahawk, Wisconsin several 2. 8 miles off County Road D and by coming out of the Woodruff, Minocqua, Wisconsin area out County Road J there is many accesses to this waterway. Maximum water depths of about 28 feet and having a bottom structure containing mostly have sand, muck and gravel. Some good areas of weed cover also are present with tobacco cabbage, coontail weeds along with grasses.

Good start areas for "early ice" Stormy Camp and Oxbow Bays with the fast drops off the western shorelines generally ice-up the first, Swamp Creek also is a good area for setting tip-ups and spending sometime jigging. As ice thickens other sets would be working the waters off the Pickerel lake inlet. Off this inlet lies an old stump field with water depths to 20 feet holding fish throughout the year but seems especially good during the ice season. A good topographic map can assist in finding and seeing these places more readily as you'll see off to the west of this stump field you'll find a "super" rock bar coming up into 10 feet of water. This area is especially good for early morning and evening fishing sets.

Let's look at how we'll set up on this water for catching some Walleye. Using Frabill's Pro Thermal tip-ups we will have them spooled with Dacron tip-up line and generally using a mono leader of eight pound test, several split shots will hold the bait down and on the business end a sharp live bait hook (might try one of the colored ones,) red is our choice most of the time.

Lively golden or silver shiners in the 3 to 4 inch length is the best, I prefer this size of bait believing sometimes the larger ones tend to not be what these early season biting Ice Walleye want as they still are feeding up before the long winter ahead.

Drill enough holes right away to cover a good area, noise in these shallower waters can and does spook fish at times. Doing your homework prior to ice up and many times you can have much of this information on a handheld GPS and can locate some prime areas quickly. Lowrance's I-Finder Pro is an unique unit and capable of taking Navionic chips taking to your favorite fishing and hunting spots as well allowing to mark places we've been successful.

Wisconsin anglers can have 3 lines out per fisherman and many times several tip-ups and a jigging rod can be used. Jigging for "early ice" Walleye's also is a very productive method of catching! Many good lures are available but my favorites would be Rapala's jigging Rap, Baydenoc Lures Swedish Pimple and a plain lead-head jig tipped with either a nose or tail hooked lively minnow. While jigging I tend to use a smaller minnow for this type of fishing. It's always a good idea when getting live bait to get a variety of sized bait, as some day's fish are just "fussy!" Jigging presentations and probably the most consistent patterns are "slow and methodical!" In setting up for your fishing we'll many times drill several holes close enough so we can work from area to area while jigging and having tip-ups set that many times the jigging attracts them too. This is nothing new and special and been talked about many times but seemingly is forgotten once on the water.

This too is the most common mistake fisherman make while ice fishing and that is be mobile like on open-water. New ice and its about being quiet while moving to the next ice hole but remembering during the winter months fish sometimes just don't move as fast as during warm weather months. Changing baits often too can help catch more fish, sometimes after a minnow has been hooked for sometime it just looses some of its effectiveness, placing a fresh lively minnow can many days make the difference in catching a few more fish. These less effective minnows can be cut in pieces and used for tipping on your jigs as being an attractive. "Hard-water" fishing and "Open-water" is much the same and should be looked that way. Mobility although limited at times still is important and while fishing a lake on the ice it's best at times to splitting places up with morning, day and evening areas to concentrate on. At times key areas can be all day spots and a walleye area with the right structure (sand, gravel, weeds and other cover) can be a good morning bite and retreating to deeper waters produces as well and moving back into the shallows in the evening again. Hotspots like these can be key in your Ice success.

The Rainbow Flowage is a good pick for your "early ice" fishing to beginning the season and continues to be so throughout the winter fishing season. Not only Walleye, but also some great panfishing with large crappies, perch and bluegill also being caught at this hard-water time! Northern Pike also offer the angler activity throughout the entire day when planning an all day fishing adventure. Average size maybe small to some but many Northern Pike are between 18 and 25 inches and lots of fun!

Early ice fishing and something often not talked about much is being comfortable on the ice meaning both warm and safe. Early ice many times means lack of snow and ice is "slippery" so getting some good boot cleats or chains helps to moving around safely.

The right clothes; layers are the best and starting with the right layers can make for a great day on the ice. Cotton and silk under wears, several pair of socks, fleeces are great and making sure the top layer is possibly a Gortex that breaks the winds of winter but yet can breath. Caps and hats are so important as most all the heat we loose is through our head. Foot protection depends on each person and nothing can end a fishing trip on the ice quicker than cold feet! Might want to change socks during the day once, works for me!

Some great early Ice Fishing fun is just weeks away and we can get you on the waters in Northern Wisconsin and show you another type of great adventure!

Check out one of our Ice Fishing Shore Lunches and sitting around a shoreline campfire makes for a great family day of learning more about the art of "Ice Fishing!" Looking for an Ice Adventure and contact us at: 800-708-2347 For your bait and tackle needs give Capt. Hook's a call in Lake Tomahawk at: 715-277-2405

Author Captain Marty Papke

Captain Marty Papke
Captain Marty Papke is the owner of Little Bay De Noc Fishing Charters. Captain Papke wears many hats as a full-time fishing educator, communicator and guide. Marty authors dozens of articles annually for fishing publications, and is frequently used as a source of information by other outdoor writers. You can get a hold of Marty at 1-800-708-2347 or email him at [email protected]. You can also get more information about his guide service by visiting
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