MADISON - That old Wisconsin saying - wait a minute and the weather will change - is playing out across the state this week as anglers get ready for the Saturday, May 3, 2014 fishing opener as they enjoy a beloved tradition and catch some new fish stories.
As of Tuesday, April 29, Balsam Lake in Polk County, where the Governor's Fishing Opener will be held on May 3, was ice-free thanks to two days of rain. But it's a mixed bag elsewhere in northern Wisconsin, with the best pre-season advice being to check in with local bait shops before venturing out. Southern Wisconsin waters are open but water temperatures are still in the 40s and low 50s in most places.
"My earlier predictions for northern Wisconsin were optimistic, it appears," says Steve Avelallemant, longtime fisheries supervisor for northern Wisconsin, who two weeks ago predicted that anglers would find mostly open water on opening day.
"As of now (4/28) it is most likely that most lakes will still have ice cover in north-central Wisconsin on the opener including the larger flowages like the Rainbow and Willow. Very few will be solid enough to ice fish on but you won't get a boat in either. The northwest part of the state I expect will have more lakes open. They are a week or so ahead of the north-central part of the state generally."
Anglers are encouraged to prepare for cold weather conditions, take steps to stay safe and dry, and use the kind of techniques and bait that worked last year, when opening day dawned with many lakes still covered by ice, Avelallemant says.
Some fish supervisors in northern Wisconsin filed short reports on Monday, April 28, sharing quick updates on what to expect in their areas.
Ashland and Bayfield counties
The water in the rivers is very high and is probably going to stay very high. The forecast is for rain off and on all week with highs in the low 40s. The fields are open, but there's still a lot of snow in the forested areas in Bayfield County. I went for a walk in the National Forest north of Drummond on Saturday. Some places the snow was only 4-6 inches deep, but there were spots it was over my knees. It'll continue to melt with continued runoff all week. As for the lakes..... the ice is generally starting to pull away from the shores, but virtually everything is still ice covered. The rain and the wind will be taking a toll on the ice, but I don't want to go out on a limb and try to guess what percentage of lakes will be open by the weekend. Conditions could change dramatically in the next five days. - Mike Keniry, supervisor, Western Treaty Fisheries Assessment Team, Ashland
Lincoln, Vilas, Onieda counties
As of Sunday (4/27), there is still a fair amount of ice fishing occurring around the Woodruff area. Anglers are reporting solid ice conditions and panfish are biting well. However, getting onto the ice near shorelines is getting difficult with each passing day. Some of the smaller lakes in Lincoln and southern Oneida County may start to open up this week, but there is no question ice will be problematic for the fishing opener, that is, if you're planning to launch a boat. The weather forecast this week shows lows in the upper 20s and highs in the low 40s with overcast conditions - this will put us in a holding pattern through the weekend with little loss of ice. - Mike Vogelsang, fisheries supervisor, Woodruff
Marinette and Oconto counties
The flowages on the Menominee and Peshtigo are ice free. Water levels are high so anglers should use caution when fishing those waters. The best local place to fish the opener for walleye would be the lower Peshtigo, Oconto, Menominee and Fox rivers. If Green Bay becomes ice free in the next five days then walleye fishing should also be good on the Bay. - Mike Donofrio, fisheries supervisor, Peshtigo
Madison lakes should be in the upper 40s or low 50s. Panfish are in and out of the shallows depending on the daily weather, they like to find the warmer water when the sun shines. The walleyes and northern pike are finished spawning and should be transitioning from the near shore spawning areas to deeper water. However, they should be eating to replace those energy reserves spent in spawning. Trolling to find congregations of fish and then dragging live bait should be effective for walleyes. Anglers should consider casting bigger crankbaits and spoons on flats that drop off to deeper water to target pike. Area streams will likely have higher flows and dirty water but there are plenty of trout. The Lower Wisconsin River is high and flows are very fast so use caution but the walleyes are still congregated at the dam and will be migrating back down river soon. - Dave Rowe, fisheries supervisor, Fitchburg
Walleye are done spawning on the upper Fox and Wolf Rivers should be on their way back to or already in the upper lakes of Winnebago System. Cooler water temps are keeping bass and panfish from spawning yet, so these species are still in pre-spawn locations and patterns. - Kendall Kamke, fisheries supervisor, Oshkosh
Burnett, Polk and St. Croix counties
Water temperatures in many lakes will still be in the mid- to upper 40s so anglers should adjust their approach accordingly. Heavy rains have resulted in heavy runoff jeopardizing fishing potential for area trout streams and the St. Croix River on the opener. If anglers are planning to fish an area stream or river they are advised to check out local conditions on before the opener! - Terry Margenau, supervisor, Spooner
Waushara and southern Waupaca counties
Stream water levels will more than likely be running a little high for opening trout. Multiple rain events the week before combined with a later than average spring will mean cooler water temps as well. This cooler water can cause fish to be less reactive or less aggressive. Anglers should fish spinners/bait/streamers slowly and concentrate on pools and deep water edges. If water is stained or cloudy from runoff or rain, try higher visibility patterns in gold or chartreuse. Good Luck! - Shawn Sullivan, supervisor, DNR Regional Field Operations, Wild Rose
FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT CONDITIONS CONTACT: The fish biologist in the county you are interested in