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Woodland Trails: The area ice fishing report

It's been a goofy ice fishing year so far. The early bite was good and then things seem to have gone downhill since then. I mean really downhill, and things haven't gotten better yet. And it's the big-name lakes that have taken the plunge so far this winter. Why? This is fishing, not rocket science, but here is what I am hearing.

Locally, things were really hot at the beginning of the season. Walleyes were hitting on many area lakes and those who knew where to go on the thin ice did great. One of the hottest lakes early was Balsam Lake for walleyes and panfish. Then things turned cold and have remained so ever since. Hot baits early for walleye were shiners and jigging lures. Panfish stories I have heard offer all the usual suspects, waxies, Eurolarva and mousies.

But shiners are a hard bait to come by right now. From what I am hearing, interstate bait transactions have been banned in order to keep infestations of things like the spiny water flea and other foreign parasites from coming across state lines. But when you depend on shiners from other states like those of us living in the frozen tundra where it's hard to trap shiners in winter - well, that makes fishing tough. Shiners are hard to come by if they can be found at all.

And I am hearing a few different reports for panfish too. Some of the usual suspects have been replaced with plastics and power baits. Little flavored plastic baits with crazy names are supposedly hot right now. The latest rumor is that Power Bait grubs that are waxie look-alikes are good producers when real live baits don't seem to work.

When I make it out, I see fish on sonar, but all they want to do is eat our offerings. We have all heard the usual reports that just because you can see the fish you can't make them bite. That's fishing and that's the good thing about fishing. It's not called catching; it's called fishing. That is the challenge, and the challenge is greater for walleyes!

And speaking of walleyes. They were thick all summer on Mille Lacs from all the reports I heard. Everyone was taking fish, lots of big walleye and lots of eaters in all boats. The winter bite was looked upon with great anticipation. The early cold weather looked great and then we had the snow, which slowed the ice development. Now with good ice, anglers are getting out, but fishing on Mille Lacs has been terrible.

The reason is all the little perch in the lake. It seems that there is an overabundance of small perch in Mille Lacs, and the walleye are gorging on them. Anglers are saying they are spotting lots of big fat walleyes, but they are simply not hitting. And that is making anglers very frustrated.

I am hearing the same reports about western Wisconsin's version of Mille Lacs -- Big Yellow Lake. The bite there has been bad all winter for pretty much the same reason as Mille Lacs. But if you are a perch angler, you can look forward to some great perch fishing on those lakes in a couple of years.

Locally I am finding a weird bite as well. Take crappie, for example. They are thick on many local lakes and usually provide anglers with some great catches. But this year it, too, has been spotty but good in certain time frames. On some of the better crappie lakes, they are just hitting for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. If you fish the same lakes at any other time, you are simply wasting your time. Now that's weird.

My goal is to get out and explore a few other fisheries. There are many little lakes all around the Polk/St. Croix County line. When things are not working on the big lakes, that's the time to explore the little ones. Big fish often grow old and die in little lakes because everyone fishes the popular big lakes for obvious reasons. And then there's the St. Croix River. But reports from the river have also been dismal for the most part. To be continued ...