Janesville62.3°

Ice fishing is at hand: Sheltered waters freeze solid across southern Wisconsin

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Ted Peck
December 1, 2013

One of the things remembered most from deer camp up north when I was a young man was chasing tip-up flags on small lakes prior to heading home for Thanksgiving back in the day when harvest was primarily bucks only.

Those who gun hunt in northern Wisconsin certainly could have experienced thrills from both red and white flags this past weekend, as many sheltered northern waters are now covered with several inches of ice.

We’re on the cusp of ice fishing here in southern Wisconsin as the traditional nine-day gun season comes to an end, with more comfortable temperatures for one more sit or a final drive for those who don’t have venison hanging on the lodge pole.

Even with the cold snap last weekend, water temperatures in the Madison chain were holding pretty close to 40 degrees. This, of course, has changed for the colder. My guess is we won’t be walking on the smaller Madison lakes for at least a couple of weeks. Lake Mendota typically locks up between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Traditionally the first places to freeze locally are several ditches located south of Stoughton. Whalen’s Grade on Lake Wisconsin and Cherokee Marsh at the inlet to Lake Mendota lock up about the same time.

Rock Lake at the west end of Delavan, Crystal Lake near Lodi, Barber’s Bay on Lake Kegonsa and the south end of Waubesa all develop ice a few days after the ditches freeze.

The “Triangle” off of John Nolen Drive in Madison will boast a crowd of ice anglers long before Lake Monona freezes. Word of hot ice action has always traveled quickly across Wisconsin. Being able to download information to smartphones from fishing websites such as

lake-link.com make the quest for a hot fishing tip a study in instant gratification.

“There are no secret spots within 100 miles of Madison anymore,” veteran McFarland fishing guide Ron Barefield said earlier this week. “My phone has been ringing off the hook with folks wanting to book ice-fishing trips. What do you tell them when there is no safe ice yet?”

Barefield said he would not guide ice anglers until there is at least 4 inches of ice on the lake they want to fish.

“Although 2 inches of clear ice is generally considered safe for walking on, there is too much liability in taking clients out under these conditions. The bottom line is this: There is no such thing as completely safe ice.”

If last summer is any indication, this will be the winter to catch big bluegills on a number of different fisheries. Both the Wisconsin River system in the Castle Rock-Petenwell area and backwaters of the Mississippi produced some whopping big gills well into October.

Sometime soon a trip to Prairie Lake is on the agenda. Last summer Prairie Lake produced some of the consistently largest bluegills I have ever seen on a bimbo skunk tipped with a waxworm. Last time up there I kept 10 fish, all within a whisker of 10 inches long.

Although the skunk will also catch bluegills through the ice, there are other lures that the ’gills will likely find more irresistible. Custom Jigs & Spins has a couple of new jigs—the Chekai and Diamond—that I can’t wait to feed to those plate-sized Prairie Lake bluegills.

These jigs are designed to fish “heavy” for their size. When tipped with the right plastic tail, they should be just the ticket for a finesse presentation.

Where is Prairie Lake, you ask? Less than a three-hour drive from Janesville, just northwest of the intersection of Walk and Don’t Walk.

Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at tedpeck@acegroup.cc.



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