While the days of boating and beaching may still be a few months away, you don’t have to wait until the spring thaw to enjoy a weekend on the waters of Lake Michigan.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is providing its annual Free Fishing Weekend on Jan. 21 and 22. For the entire weekend, Wisconsin residents and non-residents of all ages are allowed to fish on the frozen waters without a license, with the exception of spring trout ponds. The event provides ample opportunity to break up the monotony of winter by trying a sport that provides recreation (and potentially, nutrition) to the public at large.
There are a myriad of locations across the peninsula to fish and a variety of species can be found depending on the geographical location you engage for your fishing endeavor.
“The cool thing about it is we are blessed to live where we live and have a lot of different opportunities, including the inland lakes, so it really depends on what you really want to target,” said Paul Delaney, owner and an operator of Late-Eyes Sport Fishing Guide Service in Baileys Harbor.
Delaney has been running charter fishing trips for more than 15 years across the waters of Green Bay and the Door Peninsula. Delaney’s services encompass every season and he is no stranger to the tools and methods needed to have a fun and productive time while fishing on the frigid water.
For starters, one needs to decide on what species of fish they are pursuing. The bay side and inland lakes provide fertile ground for fish such as Northern Pike, Brown Trout, Perch and Walleye.
One advantage of fishing in January is that the waters have only recently frozen over and the fish have yet to be disturbed.
“Early on nobody’s been on the water for a long time so fish haven’t been seeing or hearing much,” Delaney said.
Once foot traffic and noise permeate the fish’s environment, they become conditioned to that and presumably aren’t as gullible as they are in the initial weeks of human imposition.
Along with geography, different formations, whether natural or otherwise, are areas where a surplus of fish can be found.
“You want to try to target some kind of structure area whether it’s weeds, a contour line off of a shoreline around a pier, an underwater reef, structures attract fish,” Delaney said. “If you’re fishing for Northern Pike and Perch, we’re generally looking for weeds, weed lines, (and) weed edges. Rocks, underwater reefs attract Whitefish and the Walleye.”
While knowing where to fish is important, just as vital is bringing the necessary equipment. One needs to bring an auger (a spiral shaped drill to bore a hole in the ice), a scoop to keep the hole clean of slush, bait (jigging spoons, jigging raps, larger shiner minnows and fat-head minnows are commonly used for the species of fish up here), tip-ups, jigging rods and a sled or some means of hauling all your equipment on the ice.
A tip-up is a device that presents live bait for you and is fishing on its own with a spring-loaded flag. Once the fish takes the bait, the flag is released and you can see that you have a bite. A jigging rod is about six feet in length but strong enough to handle any fish. A jigging rod resembles your prototypical rod and reel.
In order to maximize your shot at snagging fish, Delaney suggests drilling multiple holes and setting up several tip-ups.
“If you’re going to be fishing, targeting Brown Trout or Northern Pike, a lot of the times we are doing a one-two punch where we’re jigging for them but also laying out a bunch of tip-ups so you’re covering a lot of area at one given time,” Delaney said. “Instead of just sitting at one hole you can cover a quarter-mile of water at one time. By putting out these devices they’re actually fighting for you. That’s a one-two punch being able to jig for them and then putting up tip-ups.”
Door County is a tremendous fishery but lacks outlets for purchasing the equipment needed for a day on the ice. Delaney says the best place to go is Howie’s Bait and Tackle for those interested in find the tools needed for an ice fishing expenditure.
For those who may not feel like venturing out on the ice on their own, Late-Eyes Sport Guide Fishing Service offers customizable assistance for a good time on the water. They can provide something as simple as equipment rentals to a full, guided day on the water.
“There are opportunities for a lot of different levels of fishing,” Delaney said. “Whether you’re just getting into it or you’re really advanced, Door County offers opportunities for all.”