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Ice quells opening day enthusiasm

Ice is just off the shoreline on Lake Minnesuing near Highway P on Tuesday afternoon. Fisherman are going to have a tough time finding open lakes in the area for the fishing opener. (Jed Carlson/

Business has been slow at the Bait Box in Superior this week.

Anglers normally pack the store in the days leading up to Wisconsin’s inland fishing opener, but this year has been different.

“They’re not knocking the door down to get here,” said owner Steve Dinda. “They’re not lined up waiting.”

Local anglers can hardly be blamed for their lack of enthusiasm. As of Wednesday, ice covered most lakes in northern Wisconsin, and conditions were not expected to improve for Saturday’s fishing opener.

DNR fisheries biologist Scott Toshner said seeing open water in Douglas and Bayfield counties is “pretty unlikely at this point.”

He also stressed that ice fishing on the opening weekend is a bad idea.

Some anglers took to the ice for the 2013 opener, but conditions this year are much less favorable.

“There was significantly more ice cover on opening day last year than this year,” Toshner said. “The ice now is very unsafe.”

The steady rain this week has made the ice “tacky and pock-marked,” Toshner said. On most lakes, the ice has pulled well away from the shore, and its thickness is unpredictable.

“There is ice that you could get out on, but it would be too dangerous,” Dinda said. “I wouldn’t recommend it.”

At midweek, most local lakes remained in rough condition.

Toshner said Wednesday that Lake Nebagamon and Lake Minnesuing have only about 20 feet of open water, with the rest covered in a thin layer of ice. Upper St. Croix Lake, Lyman Lake and Amnicon Lake were also reported to be ice-covered.

“The majority of big lakes are going to be iced over,” Toshner said. “Look for smaller lakes or places where streams or rivers are entering the lake.”

Many of the anglers who stopped by the Bait Box planned to fish flowages for the opener. Dinda said the Chippewa Flowage near Hayward was a popular destination, along with local creeks and small rivers.

The Brule River is unlikely to see much action. Recent rain has the river running “high and dirty,” Dinda said, and anglers have said they’ll avoid it.

“It’s a mess,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Anglers hoping for an ice-free opener will do better if they head south. Lakes are open as near as the Spooner area, Toshner said.

In Douglas and Bayfield counties, Toshner doesn’t expect the ice to go out until the Monday or Tuesday after opening weekend.

During a typical year, northern lakes are open by April 15.

“Eventually it’s going to happen,” Dinda said.

Early season tactics

Fish behavior for the 2014 opener will be similar to last year, when lakes were also ice-covered.

Toshner said walleyes will be in the shallows looking to spawn, and northern pike are currently spawning under the ice.

Those hoping to land a walleye will have the best chance of success at the smaller lakes and flowages.

“It will be elbow-to-elbow around the little lakes,” Dinda said.

At the Bait Box, Dinda has sold mostly night crawlers and tackle this week. No one has asked for minnows yet, but a few customers have inquired about leeches.