Peck: Safe ice by Christmas?
A couple weeks ago I predicted we would be fishing favorite early ice locations by last Wednesday.
Although there is marginally “safe” ice at a couple of truly sheltered venues like the Stoughton ditches and the ‘grade’ up on Lake Wisconsin, other spots like the “triangle” off of Lake Monona and Barber’s Bay on Lake Kegonsa are still places where angels with jigsticks still fear to tread.
A few souls are venturing out on about two inches of ice on select backwaters of the Mississippi from Prairie du Chien to LaCrosse and similar habitats continuing East at latitudes north of I-90, but if a surprise baptism isn’t on your list of favorite things, vector north on I-39 and don’t even think of breaking out the bucket until Wausau is in the rear view mirror.
Snow hurt ice formation
Light snow we experienced last week was a double whammy for hardwater nuts as it cloaked seams between clear ice and less strong, cloudy ice and insulated existing ice from colder overnight temperatures impeding ice formation.
The most recent reference we have to these conditions is 2015, when intrepid anglers finally started light footing out of aforementioned spots a couple of days before Christmas.
Mother Nature certainly isn’t making any ice in southern Wisconsin today. Conditions can change overnight this time of year, but if you’re one prone to playing the odds wish for a pony rather than safe ice on Christmas morn.
In most scenarios procrastination is not a desirable trait. But this year I’m glad there are no mothballs in my Lund and the batteries are still hooked up ready to go. Walleyes are the primary open-water target when December waters we like to fish are still in a liquid state.
The fish are easy to find, hunkered down in deeper river holes where they planned on spending the winter. Getting them to bite is an entirely different issue, as fish metabolism slows considerably when water temperatures are just above the freezing mark.
There are a couple of good wintering holes on Rock River below the Indianford and Beloit dams, but there are more fish with greater chances for success on bigger water like tailwaters of the Dells and Sac dams on the Wisconsin River and similar habitats to the west over on the Mississippi.
Mississippi provides variety
I spend a shameful amount of time fishing the Mississippi because my cabin is just a stone’s throw away. Old Man River is a truly diverse fishery, with over 115 species liable to find your hook.
Sometimes critters other than walleyes, saugers and the occasional pike will bend your rod when probing wintering holes with a jig or blade bait. Catfish tend to congregate in tight pods where they are actually worth targeting. Every now and then a sturgeon or longnose gar cruises by and truly rocks your world.
On Dec. 15, 2015, I hooked into a 72-by-32-inch sturgeon that pulled me around for two hours before a quick photo and release.
Last Sunday my buddy Tom Clearman called about 10 a.m. saying his wife, Bev, had been hooked up with a sturgeon for about 15 minutes and the fight was on. Clearman called back later saying Bev’s tussle lasted 2 hours, 35 minutes before the hook snapped on her jig.
This fish was probably hooked in the tail. Foul hooking is inevitable when probing deeper river holes in cold weather.
Drum, a.k.a. “sheephead” often occupy the same habitats are walleyes. Their cold- water bite is intentional and often aggressive, with bigger specimens sometimes weighing in the double digits.
Several species of gar are present in the Mississippi. These fish are downright mean, with a long beak full of razor sharp teeth, which will quickly destroy a hard-bodied lure.
Earlier this year I guided several parties who were intentionally after gar. The biggest one boated was 52 inches long.
A few days ago a longnose gar a foot shorter than this chomped down on my jig, providing a wild pull for a good 10 minutes before coming in the boat.
With ice fishing prospects anywhere in southern Wisconsin yet to be realized, anything with fins that can provide a wild pull for 10 minutes is welcome.