Author: Lawrence Van Veghel
February 2009 Panfishing is piscatorial pleasure, and this outstanding pastime presents us with great-tasting, low cholesterol fish dinners. Petite February teases anglers with the possibilities of productive panfishing. Here are nine Wisconsin waters rivaling any panfish producing pond in our state.
WINNEBAGO Perch are the anglers' prized panfish in Winnebago County's 137,708 acre and 21 foot deep Lake Winnebago. This huge pond is surrounded by access points. Take along a good compass, and think ice safety. Even the most experienced anglers have perplexed their hippocampuses during blizzards, white outs and pallid fogs. Popular spots are off of Oshkosh, Pipe, Quinney, and Brothertown.
Use waxworms, spikes, or small minnows and sensitive jig poles for perch. To cover more water, some anglers put small minnows on tip-ups. Many claim this produces the bigger perch.
Other species snack on small minnows. You'll catch sauger, walleye, lawyers (freshwater cod, not barristers), and sheepshead (The opposite?). Bluegill fans find 9 inch plus fish on the drop-off exiting Asylum Bay.
MENDOTA When the ice is safe over deep water in the middle of the lake, Dane County's 9,842 acre Lake Mendota serves hefty perch. Early ice showed that fish are still present in this 82 foot deep lake. Gigantic minimum size limits for both walleye and northern pike is a concern of many panfish anglers, as this could affect panfish numbers and sizes.
Drill holes in 40- to 60-feet for perch. Orange Rat Finke jigs tipped with waxworms or small shiner minnows are great enticements. As baits descend, you'll catch white bass. Smaller size chartreuse Jigging Rapalas take white bass and some big perch. To feel the most bites, use thin diameter, non-stretch line with a 4# monofilament leader and a swivel to prevent line twist. To get past the white bass, try a heavier sinker to increase drop speed.
Begin in 8- to 10-feet of water for the bigger 'gills. As in mid-summer, shallower weeds hold smaller fish, but some bigger fish are taken. Bluegills are often finicky. There are days, when the 'gills want softer-bodied waxworms, while other days see spikes out producing all other grub-type snacks. Other days have plastics being best.
ROME POND Jefferson County's Rome Mill Pond is a 446 acre widening of the Bark River where numerous colorful bluegills gather. This shallow water hot spot averages a meager 2 feet of water with a gradual slope to a maximum water thickness of 7 feet. Bluegills are the anglers' beckoning sirens.
Here is where, over three decades ago, using a tiny strip of purple plastic worm became a popular bluegill ice fishing bait. The thin strip stretches outward from the tiny hook. Its life-like swimming motion often out produces live bait. Shaving thin slices from Mr. Twisters or split tail grubs also works as does using tail strands from tube jigs.
With live bait, like waxworms or spikes, black and chartreuse jigs are often effective. Try both to see which color is better. Don't be afraid to experiment.
River currents create areas having thin ice, so use caution.
GENEVA Yellow perch, bluegill, and rock bass live in Walworth County's 5,262 acre and 135 foot deep Lake Geneva. Though considered a "tourist trap," this 61 foot mean depth lake remains an outstanding panfish producer. Nearby refurbished Lake Delavan is a great backup pond, should Geneva have an off day.
On Geneva, fish where you find healthy green weeds. Productive areas include in front of the golf course, near the Bible Camp, and on the eastern drop-off of Williams Bay. Perch inhabit 21- to 27-feet of water along the east side of Williams Bay. Near downtown, the green weeds of Geneva Bay hold fish, and park parking is available along shore. Good places to eat are within walking distance.
NOQUEBAY Decent size bluegills are an attraction to Marinette County's Lake Noquebay. Worth considering, even when action is slow, there are always anglers who catch limits. Healthy green weeds produce oxygen and hold fish on this 2,409 acre lake. Use 2-pound test monofilament line.
The weedy flat along the west shore is ideal for bluegills, as are the central portion of the north shore and the shallow water off of the southeast shore. Crappies to a pound are taken on minnows. Watch your line to detect slack caused when crappies swim upward from the bottom to mouth your bait.
While panfishing, place a tip-up on the outside weed edge for northern pike. A bonus keeper pike is an exciting way to warm up an ice fishing outing. Use golden shiners, suckers, or similar prey fish. Many pike fall for oily, dead smelt.
POKEGAMA Part of the fabulous Barron County bluegill producing waters known as the Chetek Chain, Lake Pokegama is in the heart of Indian Head Country, www.wisconsinindianhead.org/. This 506 acre lake serves excellent bluegill and crappie. Finding green aquatic plants is important.
Bluegill congregate near the island on the north end, in the bay on the northwest end, and around the stumps in the southwest portion. Use waxworms, spikes, or mousies on ice fishing jigs or small, plain gold or red hooks.
Expect to hook some big crappies, especially when using fathead minnows or small shiners in the southwest bay. Spring bobbers detect light hits. Should your spring bobber move upward, a fish has struck your bait while rising. A float style bobber will slightly spin or tip to the side and then float a bit higher. Set the hook!
DEVILS LAKE To help keep angling and pleasure boating pressure down during open water season, you can't use an outboard motor on Sauk County's Devil's Lake. You must buy a state park sticker to fish this 47 foot deep and 369 acre panfish producer.
For Wisconsin scenery, Devil's Lake is hard to beat. Many times, I've climbed these rocks, walked the trails, and observed the soaring turkey vultures. I recommend the "Climber's Guide to Devil's Lake" by Sven Olof Swartling. The soft cover version is $16.95 from The University of Wisconsin Press, and you can order the book by calling 1-800-829-9559. Perch are the major attractions. Look for them in the 40-foot range. The lake has a deep mean depth of 30 feet. Small Rocker jigs tipped with wigglers or pin minnows are effective.
Lacking boat liveries (rentals) many Southeast Wisconsin waters are actually underfished. Among these lakes are Army, Booth, Dyer, Hunters, Pickerel, Lulu, 118 acre Wandawega, and Chinese named Kec-Nong-Ga-Mong, often errantly called "Long." Even major waters are sans boat rentals, and these lakes include LaBelle, Nagawicka, Ashippun, Silver, near Oconomowoc, Washington County's Silver, Druid, Lauderdale, Waubeesee, Upper Nashotah, Little Muskego, Rainbow Springs, Okauchee, North, Hope, Blue Spring, and now, Tichigan. Ice fishing is when anglers finally get a chance to look for panfish.
TICHIGAN Being a lake near Milwaukee doesn't mean that the fishing is bad. Tichigan is a welcome panfish producer. Even though the DNR keeps "fixing" nearby lakes and lowering panfish limits to barely a few, such as on Big Muskego, in neighboring Waukesha County, and Eagle Lake, in Racine Co., this lake is still worth your time, effort and gas money.
Tichigan Lake offers panfish, and you can keep the 25 panfish state limit. Parking is a bit difficult. I suggest parking in the park lot about a 15 minute walk north of the lake.
Part of the Fox River system, Tichigan serves various panfish species. Whitebass come from deep water in the lake center. Try where the points aim at each other, and use a flasher locator when seeking suspended fish. Hot baits include Jigging Rapalas or crappie-type minnows, such as fatheads. Not in the minnow family but equally excellent, small shiners fool countless crappies and occasional tasty channel cats or walleyes.
Bluegills live among healthy weeds on the north and northwest end of the lake. These fish were already here at first ice, and they were here on the day I wrote this article. Crappies locate along the point south of the bay on the northeast end. Use minnows, spikes or waxworms on white Rat Finkes, Big Dave's' Custom Darts, or Moon Glow jigs with chartreuse or green dots. Walleye anglers pop fish through holes in the ice along nearby drop-offs, and some big pike are iced.
PARTRIDGE Near the center of our state, Waupaca County's 6 foot deep Partridge Lake annually offers bountiful bluegill catches, plus perch, and northern pike. Summer has this 1,124 acre lake being too weedy for effective fishing, but this retains a lot of fish for the hard water anglers.
Bluegill fans utilize grub baits on small ice jigs or tiny spoons. Perch mouth the same baits, plus minnows. Try orange horizontal baits for yellow perch. Use 2-pound and lighter test monofilament line. If your eyes are weak, use high visibility line.
Crappies are caught. Use plain Aberdeen hooks and tiny minnows. A hot area is Barber's Landing. Late afternoon and early evening hours are outstanding.
Forget cabin fever, aka seasonal stress disorder, Study successful anglers, and do the same. Take some fish home to eat, and leave both some big ones and little ones to continue Wisconsin's super fishing long into the future.
- Lawrence Van Veghel
L.A. Van Veghel has been writing and selling outdoors articles for 35 years. He's a fishing tournament winner both in open water and in ice fishing in panfish and gamefish, including winning both the northern pike and panfish categories in the 2008 Wisconsin Governor's Fishing Opener. He's an officer in numerous writing and fishing organizations, including serving as media director for the Wisconsin Fishing Club, Ltd. and as secretary and media director for the statewide Wisconsin Council of Sport Fishing Organizations. As a writer, he's sold over 1,650 articles, and as a technical writer, he's written and had published 154 books, plus a rotary saw operating manual. L.A. is an angler who also writes, and he believes "you can't talk the talk, unless you can walk the walk."