Northwoods on Ice

Ice is something we have not yet seen here in Chicagoland in 2015.  However that doesn't keep me from reflecting on past winters.

It’s not hard for me to admit that I was a late starter when it comes to ice fishing.  I’ve done it a few times over many years but never really got into it and therefore never too successful at it.  But over past few years, I’ve learned a lot and now I look forward to at least one major trip every winter.  Let’s call it my annual ultimate ice fishing trip.

Getting to the Northwoods of Wisconsin during the winter has always been a dream of mine.   I really enjoy going to Boulder Junction and pulling some nice crappies and bluegills out from under the ice.   Perching there has also been good and when the flags start to fly, it’s walleye for dinner.

I stay at the Wildcat Lodge and do most of the fishing on Big and Little Kitten Lakes.  If you saw an aerial view of the lakes you’d understand the name.  It looks like a sitting cat that has a big fluffy tail.  A long narrowing point is what separates the cat’s body from the tail.   It also separates the two lakes.  To the north off the cat’s tail is WildcatLake.  Big and Little Kitten Lakes combined are about 50 acres in size.  Wildcat is just less than 300 acres.

These lakes are all Class A muskie waters.  There are very few northern pike there but there are good populations of largemouth bass, walleye, some smallies, and plenty of nice sized panfish and perch too.  I’ll pursue the muskies and bass in the spring, summer and fall.  In the evenings I’ll cast the shorelines with a Rapala for walleyes.  My share of three pounders have made it to the boat right about sundown.  But in the winter when it comes to ice fishing, can you argue that there is anything better than the bluegills or crappies that come from cold clear water?

I’ve not yet had the need to pull my ice fishing sled or shelter down to the lake using a snowmobile or ATV.   I save that for travels to WildcatLake where there are more walleyes. And although the ice gets pretty thick, I’ve not driven my truck on the ice there even though others have.  Actually, last February was the first time ever that I drove a vehicle on the ice and that was on Lake Winnibigoshish in northern Minnesota.   The ice was 36 to 40 inches thick, but I was still very nervous about it.

I’m sure that every seasoned angler knows that at times no matter where you are, the better bite can be on one lake or the other.  This is another reason why I like the Boulder Junction area.  There are 194 lakes within 10 miles of town.  So whether it is a big lake or small, you can always find the body of water where the fish are biting.

Within the last couple of ice seasons the coming of fluorocarbon ice fishing line has been a great benefit.  Two to four pound test line is the most common and it really has made a difference in the catch.

Many of the areas that I fish are relatively shallow.  Using small ice spoons tipped with a waxworm works well for me.   I’ll have many holes drilled and cleared then move from one to another dipping baits in them all looking for fish.

Sometimes several gills can come from one or two holes that are close to one another.  But the crappies do seem to wander.  This is why the guys that I fish with will have a tip up set a few yards away for crappie while working a hole that’s producing fish.  If there are enough people on the ice, the tip ups can surround the area.  When the crappie fishing slows, often a flag off to the side will show you where the crappie moved to.

It’s good to have a large selection of ice baits of various sizes.  One never knows what the fish want.  And what happens all too often is that there will be a need to switch from one bait to another.

My trip this year will be fun.  I’m going to get out with some of the Boulder Junction locals who hit the ice nearly every day.  Searching for the right lake will be taken out of the equation for this year.  I’m going to bring up a couple of Honda ATVs as well so towing my ice shelter and gear and traveling long distances across a lake will not be a problem.

As I write this column for you I look out my office window and see the sun shining and green grass.   It’s been warm coming into December.  But up north now in January, the ice is thick and clear.  The fish are biting and being only about five hours north of my south Chicago suburban home I can say that “Great fishing is not that far away.”

To learn more about the Boulder Junction area, visit their site at or give them a call at 1-800-GO-MUSKY.

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