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In the Outdoors: Mild winter hampers ice fishing

By Kevin Naze

There’s something special about the season’s first trip on the frozen waters of Packerland.

More than a dozen anglers were scattered on the iced-over surface of the Fox River off Voyageur Park at sunset Jan. 28, hoping to score some gold.

“There’s one now,” said Michael Moder of Howard, glancing at his fish locator. “C’mon, bite.”

Kevin Naze

It was the coldest day of the month – a frosty 16 degrees and dropping fast – on Moder’s first ice fishing trip of the year.

He’s been fishing the river for 15 years, catching walleyes up to 30 inches long in spring.

Fish in the low to mid-20s are more common in winter, he said.

Nearby, Jason Wendt and Todd Pergande of Watertown were sharing stories as Wendt twitched a small jigging Rapala tipped with a minnow head.

“It’s pretty disheartening when you come all this way and not get a bite,” said Pergande, who knows there’s no guarantees in ice fishing.

Earlier in the day, he had spent some time checking yellow perch anglers on the lower west shore of Green Bay, then took a drive to Dyckesville and tried his luck for whitefish.

It wasn’t his day, though some others caught fish.

The action might not have been what the anglers hoped for, but they were treated to something they wouldn’t have seen had they been perched on the living room couch instead of a bucket on the ice.

Looking west, there was an amazing sunset, complete with a towering light pillar, a phenomenon caused when the setting sun reflects off the surfaces of millions of ice crystals falling through the atmosphere.

To the east, a Great Pumpkin-like full moon rising.

The air was fresh, and the views were incredible.

If only the fish were cooperating.

Colder air on the way

One of the mildest winters on record has slowed ice formation this season, and anglers have had to pick their spots, even more carefully than usual.

An extended stretch of much colder air is in the forecast starting this weekend, which should firm things up quickly.

Still, if you’re new to the game, be sure to check locally for the latest advice and any spots to avoid.

Hiring a reputable guide is a great way to learn the ropes.

As a bonus, you’ll also be carted to a heated shelter on a spot known to produce some action.

If you’re a do-it-yourselfer, spend some time talking to an experienced friend or a reliable sport shop employee.

They’ll be better able to prepare you on what gear you’ll need.

There’s also a wealth of information online.

To improve your chances of solo success, seek current fishing reports.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has a creel census update posted online each week, and there are go-to ice fishing message boards available on the internet.

Close to home, you can try for walleyes on the Fox, yellow perch and northern pike on the west shore, whitefish and perch off Dyckesville and panfish and bass on a number of area inland lakes.

Pick your passion, drop your bait and hope for the best.

If you come up short, there’s always the local fish market.

In the Outdoors is a monthly column by Kevin Naze, an experienced hunter and angler based in the Greater Green Bay area.

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