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Ice fishing season begins as northern lakes start to freeze up

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Ice fishing season has started for many northern Wisconsin anglers and is spurring their southern counterparts to make sure their tip-ups are in tip-top condition.

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Ice fishing forecasts and weekly reports, ice fishing tips, and information on how ice anglers can prevent spreading a fish disease can be found on Ice Fishing in Wisconsin on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' Web site www.dnr.wi.gov.

Hard-water fishing is a tradition for some and an obsession for others in a state with 1.4 million licensed anglers.

About 11.4 percent of Wisconsinites 16 and older -- an estimated 474,000 people -- gladly trade their comfortable recliners for an overturned bucket or the relative luxury of an ice shanty.

"There's something really special about watching a tip-up flag go up and the anticipation of what's on the line as you walk up to tend the flag -- especially when you see the spindle of the tip-up doing a slow, steady turn, which is a sure sign of a big walleye," says Skip Sommerfeldt, a DNR fisheries biologist who fished 79 out of a possible 91 days last winter.

Sommerfeldt fished only Butternut Lake last year, mainly for walleye, and always with tip-ups, in part, because it's more entertaining for his three daughters, frequent fishing companions.

Summerfield's diary from last winter is available on the Web page.

Statewide, fewer fish are caught during the winter than other times, but more of those fish are kept, according to results from a 2000-01 mail survey of Wisconsin license holders, the latest figures available.

Northern pike, bluegills and yellow perch are the best bets for winter fishing, according to the survey.

Scot Stewart, DKNY's regional fisheries supervisor for south central Wisconsin and an avid ice angler himself, says there are many good reasons to ice fish.

"Pinfish taste better because there are fewer algae in the winter," he says. "And I know I can really target large pike. Winter pike are a lot prettier and heavier."

Jeff Roth, a fisheries biologist in Mercer, enjoys the solitude. "You can always find a place to get away from the crowds and enjoy the quietness of winter. A few fresh walleyes are the icing on the cake."

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