How to Hold a Musky (and other info)

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Icing Wisconsin Pike

Here's a great article regarding different lakes to ice big pike from Wisconsin Sportsman.

Icing Wisconsin Pike
Anglers catch northerns throughout the Badger State, but several waters stand out from the rest. Here's where to drill a few holes for big pike this winter.

By Gary F. Martin

Ice-anglers who focus on pike are different from other people. They have unlimited patience, or so it seems. How else can they set tip-ups in the morning and spend all day waiting for flags that might not pop until late afternoon? One pike angler answered that question quite simply: "There's nothing more exciting than a tip-up flag when you're using dead smelt for bait. You know it's a pike!"

Pike anglers have preferences for specific types of pike fishing. Some prefer the fast action of small "hammer-handle" pike lakes. The pike are small, abundant and provide plenty of flags, but trophy fish are rare because there simply isn't enough soft-rayed forage in the lake to support big fish. Pike lakes known for high numbers of fish are not known for producing trophies because competition for food limits growth.

Trophy-pike anglers have exemplary patience. They often fish large, deep lakes that have a few shallow, marshy pike spawning areas and few pike. On the other hand, these lakes have plenty of soft-rayed forage, and produce big pike in the 10- to 20-pound range. Over-fishing ruins the fishing in these lakes, but fortunately the Department of Natural Resources is beginning to manage these waters intensely to provide more quality fish and fishing.

Our state also has plenty of waters that offer a combination of numbers fishing and trophy fishing. Sometimes it's simply a matter of where you drill your holes in a lake that determines whether you catch small or large fish. Here's a rundown on some of our state's best places to ice pike this winter.

Low water levels in the Great Lakes are the suspected cause of poor pike spawning in recent years on Green Bay. Although water levels are rising slowly at present, it will take some time before a good hatch happens and those fish grow large enough to be of interest to anglers. In any event, the pike population in Green Bay is still strong and providing a lot of winter action. This winter, anglers can expect less action on small fish, but good action on larger pike. Thirty-inch pike are considered large fish and are common in Green Bay. Forty-inch fish are not uncommon.

Green Bay gets plenty of attention from pike anglers in winter because the season is open all year. In fact, some of the best trophy fishing is in March after the inland pike season closes. Pike fishing is also best in shallow, nearshore areas, and with the recent mild winters and poor ice, pike fishing is relatively safe. In any event, always call ahead for local ice conditions, especially early and late in the season.

Green Bay pike roam, and that means hot locations vary from day to day. Green Bay's east shore along the Door County peninsula has more structure and bays than the west shore. Winter pike anglers concentrate on shallow bays near Sturgeon Bay, such as Sawyer Harbor, Sand Bay, Riley's Bay and Little Sturgeon Bay. People will be ice-fishing for northerns as soon as the ice is safe for foot travel. Since the fish will be in the shallows that means you don't have to walk very far when the ice is thin.

For Sturgeon Bay area information, call the Door County Chamber of Commerce, 1-800-527-3529, or visit their Web site at

The city of Oconto is the hub for pike anglers on Green Bay's west shore. Popular hotspots include the Little River area, Peshtigo Harbor, Geano's Beach and Long Tail Point. Anywhere a tributary stream enters the bay is often a good place to fish, but caution is required due to fluctuating ice conditions. The west shore has walk-on access when there's safe ice and good drive-on ice fishing access in normal winters with thick ice.

For west shore lodging and travel information, contact the Oconto Area Chamber of Commerce, (920) 834-2255, or visit the Oconto County Tourism Web site at

If we get good, solid ice this winter, another pike hotspot is the southern end of Green Bay and the Fox River near the De Pere Dam. Pike will move up the river to feed on shad and are often caught near the Brown County Fairgrounds or in the shallows of the Duck Creek River. Tip-ups baited with dead smelt, live suckers or golden shiners are the recommended method to catch pike here.

You can inquire about the latest ice conditions and fishing reports by calling Bob's Bait and Tackle at (920) 499-4737, or listen to the fishing hotline at (920) 499-6666. For information on lodging in the Green Bay area, contact the Green Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, (920) 437-8704, or visit their Web site at

The Menominee River is the boundary between Wisconsin and Michigan. It is often overlooked as a pike fishing water, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have good fishing. In fact, it presents the angler with a good mix of both numbers fishing and trophy fishing. The Menominee is ignored because it is remote with few towns along its long course. On the other hand, remote wilderness settings attract some anglers.

The many miles of river flowing from Niagara to Marinette offer the angler both river fishing and lake/flowage fishing. Backwaters and sloughs freeze up long before the main river and give ice-fishermen great angling opportunities sometimes as early as late November.

A license from either Wisconsin or Michigan is required to fish here, and the season for northerns closes on March 1, 2003 on these boundaries waters. Since the river is off the beaten path, access is best located by use of topographical maps or official county maps that show fire lanes and unpaved roads. Much of the land along the river is open to the public.

For information on current conditions or fishing reports, contact Driftwood Sport Shop in Amberg, (715) 759-5421. If you're interested in hiring a guide, contact Mike Mladenik in Crivitz at (715) 854-2055, or you can visit his Web site at for e-mail contact information and current fishing reports. These two sources can also give you information on dining and lodging establishments while you are fishing in the area.

Last year the first reports of fishable ice on Green Lake County's Lake Puckaway came in late December. Anglers who ventured out on what locals sometimes call the "Dead Sea" because of the long fishless spells caught some fish. While Puckaway is managed as quality water by the DNR, anglers report a lot of action with pike in the 20- to 30-inch range, and quite a few legal fish are caught, too. The minimum length limit is 32 inches, with a one-fish daily bag.

There are several excellent boat launches on the south side of the lake that provide ice-fishing access to this 5,000-acre lake, and one launch on the north side. Caution is advised, since the Fox River flows through "Puck" and ice conditions can vary from location to location, especially during mild winters.

According to the DNR, there are several good year-classes of pike in Lake Puckaway providing good fishing right now. The downside is that Puck has a good forage base and sometimes the pike are not willing to bite simply because they're not hungry. In winter, pike anglers need to concentrate on the weedbeds. Setting depth is no problem at all when the water is shallow, although local anglers recommend mixing your depths until fish are caught. Then set all your baits at that depth.

You can get information on lodging and guide services from the Green Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, 1-800-253-7354, or visit their Web site at

Although the lakes that make up the Winnebago Chain (Winnebago, Butte des Morts, Winneconne and Poygan) are usually known as walleye waters, they offer good northern pike fishing, too. These lakes are located in the 26-inch two-fish per day and March 1 closure zone. They're close to the heavily populated Fox Valley metropolitan area, but there's plenty of surface area to spread out the angling pressure. Numerous shallow, weedy areas attract forage and northerns.

Winter pike anglers can access any of these lakes at public boat ramps. However, fishermen are cautioned to be careful on the first ice of the season because it can be dangerous on these big windswept waters. Shallow weedy bays and shoreline areas see safe ice first, and that's where most of the pike will be throughout the winter.

Fortunately, the area has many bait shops and guide services that can provide up-to-date ice conditions and fishing reports. For more information on the Winnebago Chain, contact the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce, (920) 303-2266, or log on to

Whether you call it Geneva Lake or Lake Geneva, this popular Walworth County water body of over 5,000 acres has a mean depth of 61 feet and has real trophy pike.

Winter access is available at one of the many boat ramps. The Geneva Lake pike limit is one fish per day with a minimum length of 32 inches. Local anglers prefer live suckers as their winter pike bait. The lake has been a southern Wisconsin pike favorite for many years, and with good reason. It holds a good population of northerns. Forty-inch fish are not unheard of, and there is plenty of action on tip-ups from smaller fish.

A cisco forage base means Geneva pike have growth potential, but this also means that many of the large pike will hold on the steep breaks where they can ambush the ciscoes. Williams Bay is a good place to try if you are new to the lake. It's both a popular and productive location. The bay is located off Highway 36 and several boat ramps provide easy lake access. It has everything the pike and anglers are looking for.

Geneva holds a good perch population too, and they also serve as pike snacks. Any area where panfishermen are getting perch can also be a good location to try for pike.

For more information on Geneva Lake, contact the Geneva Lake West Chamber of Commerce, (262) 275-9300, or visit the city of Lake Geneva Web site at

You can't talk about icing pike without mentioning the five-lake Madison Chain in Dane County.

Lake Mendota is the largest of the chain lakes. It covers nearly 10,000 acres and has a maximum depth of 82 feet. Although it lies in the middle of the capital of Wisconsin, Mendota is a trophy-pike lake. The DNR has set a 40-inch minimum length limit on northerns, and it seems to be working. Forty-inch pike are caught every year, and that means 20-to 25-pound fish are a reality.

Mendota was the only lake with a 40-inch minimum on pike for some time, but last spring the DNR set the 40-inch limit on two additional lakes - Big Cedar and Gilbert in Washington County. The bag limit is one fish per day. It's quite possible the new state-record pike could come from these lakes some time in the future.

For the pike angler looking for action rather than trophies, Lake Monona is an option. It does not have the 40-inch size limit on northerns, is smaller than Mendota at 3,274 acres, and shallower with a maximum depth of 64 feet. It produces decent numbers of pike, if not in the trophy sizes.

Mendota and Monona, as well as Kegonsa, Wingra and Waubesa, have plenty of boat ramps that serve as ice-fishing access points.

For information on travel and lodging in the Madison area, contact the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, (608) 256-8348, or visit their Web site at

Two Forest County lakes have a reputation for growing big pike - Butternut and Franklin. Both lakes are 12 miles east of Eagle River just off Highway 70 They have a 32-inch one-fish-per-day limit. Franklin Lake covers almost 900 acres and has an average depth of 19 feet. The deepest water you'll find is 46 feet deep. Franklin contains ciscoes, and while that means the pike grow big, this clear-water lake does not produce much in the way of action.

Anglers will find access to Franklin at the outlet bay on the east side of the lake. This just happens to also be the best area to fish for pike, too. The bay is 3 to 5 feet deep and the slope is gradual. You won't find many weedbeds in this lake because the crayfish population is high, but your odds of icing a trophy pike are good.

For additional information, contact the Eagle River Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitor's Center, 1-800-359-6315; or check out these Web sites: or

Lac Vieux Desert is Wisconsin-Michigan boundary water, and you must obey the regulations of the state in which you are fishing. The lake is about five miles east of Land O' Lakes. Almost 3,000 acres of surface area with plenty of weedy shallows make it a good action lake with trophy potential, too. Access is available in winter at three boat ramps on the Wisconsin side and at several resorts.

For more information, contact the Land O' Lakes Chamber of Commerce, (715) 547-3432 or 1-800-236-3432. Or you can visit their Web site at to find information on bait, travel and lodging in the area.

* * *
The DNR management plans for northern pike focuses on increasing the size of the fish. There is evidence from some lakes that this is working, and that means there is no better time than now to shoot some holes, set some tip-ups and wait for the northerns to bite.


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