Ted Peck

Outdoors talk with certified Merchant Marine Captain Ted Peck.

Milder weather means improved fishing conditions

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Ted Peck
Sunday, January 12, 2014

Today is a good day to go fishin’ just about anywhere in southern Wisconsin. We are now in the fourth day of a stable weather pattern—one that isn’t dominated by an arctic high pressure system.

This means fish will be, at the very least, in a neutral feeding mood. Put an intriguing morsel close to a fishy face and you might just tempt a bite. On many waters fish activity will ease into more positive attitudes between 4 p.m. and dark.

Finding fish is the first factor in a successful fishing equation. Binoculars are the best “fish finder” on the Madison chain, Delavan and even Koshkonong.

Fishing pressure rates right up with arctic high pressure on the negative side of a fish-catching equation. On just about any ice within 100 miles of Janesville, the pressure per productive surface acre now is somewhere between heavy and extreme.

One solution is to seek out bigger water. A DNR survey conducted in 2007 indicates Wisconsin folks have already reached this conclusion; Lake Michigan, Lake Winnebago and the Mississippi River ranked as the state’s three most popular waters.

Arctic high pressure and frigid temperatures that dominated the state last week were more conducive to planning than actually executing a fishin’ mission. A DNR live chat on the Internet last Tuesday provided a wealth of information regarding that 200-plus-mile-long fishin’ hole that forms Wisconsin’s western border.

Rivers are notoriously tough to manage from a fisheries standpoint. The mighty Mississippi is toughest of all in this regard. For the most part, fisheries management here consists of observing and taking notes.

One exception is the walleye situation, with a slot limit approved at last year’s spring hearings and now moving through the rules process.

Some concern was raised during the live chat regarding overharvest of bass both through the ice and in frequent summer tournaments where delayed mortality after the fish are weighed and released has had some impact.

DNR biologist Brian Brecka said the largemouth bass population has exploded on the Mississippi in recent years with almost as many bass as the river’s profound population of panfish.

The yellow perch population on the Mississippi has been increasing for the past 10 years, now rivaling any water in the state. Brecka said desirable weeds are key to perch survival.

Brecka rated pool 8 near La Crosse as the best winter perch water of this fishery, most notably Lake Onalaska, the ice around Stoddard and similar habitat in Lawrence Lake almost directly across the River.

One blogger asked the experts if heavy pressure by panfishers was impacting populations. The answer was a resounding no. Last summer produced some of the biggest bluegills folks who fish this water regularly have seen in recent years. Gills up to 10 inches long continue to be caught as we ease into 2014.

The panfish limit on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi is a profoundly liberal 25 perch, crappies and rock bass plus 25 bluegills and punkinseeds.

Although a Wisconsin license is valid anywhere between the railroad tracks that parallel both sides of the Mississippi, harvest regulations and other rules can vary considerably west of the stateline. A 10-bluegill limit is enforced in Minnesota waters.

Those who venture here should be aware of other state-specific rules. For example, it is illegal to ride double on an ATV not designed to carry a passenger in Iowa.

It is perfectly legal to tow the kids in a sled and “crack the whip” at 30 miles an hour, but putting them on the ATV and moving at walking speed will result in a substantial ticket.

The Wisconsin DNR deserves kudos for increasing public awareness and participation with our natural resources over the past year or so. Proactive use of the Internet for everything from campsite access to top trout streams to live chats with experts is a great way to reach the customers.

There is no doubt today will be a great day to fish. Next weekend could be even better. The DNR is offering “free fishing days” statewide on Jan. 18 and 19. No fishing license is required, so get out of the cabin before the fever gets you!

Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at tedpeck@acegroup.cc.

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