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Archive for the ‘Ice Fishing’ Category

Kevin Pechumer of UW Madison's Fishing Team poses with a nice walleye

The University of Wisconsin has a lot of teams. Football, basketball, soccer. Name an activity or sport, chances are the UW has it.

And yes, that includes fishing.

And why not? Nestled on an isthmus between two large lakes teeming with fish, UW-Madison is the perfect spot for students to enjoy Madison’s water.

And that’s just what the UW Fishing Team does.

Lee Zinn, a senior majoring in biology who was president of the UW Fishing Team for two years, says that the fishing team is a great thing to have on campus.

“We were founded in 1996 and now have over 40 active members,” Zinn says. “We’re just a bunch of students who love fishing.”

Zinn, who became president of the fishing team at the end of his freshman year in 2008, credits his grandfather for introducing him to fishing.

“When I was six, my grandpa died. My parents must have felt bad for me and bought me a 14-foot aluminum fishing boat,” Zinn says. “I guess I was just destined to become a fisherman.”

So Zinn says it was an easy choice to join the UW Fishing Team his freshman year.

“My personal favorite fish is the musky. But when it comes down to it, I like to fish for whatever is biting. If a fish is biting my hook, I don’t discriminate,” Zinn says. “A fish is a fish.”

Like other UW teams, the fishing team does its fair share of travel. Zinn says the team tries to take a few fishing trips around the Midwest each year. In the past, Zinn says, they’ve gone to places like Green Bay, Lake Mille Lacs in Minnesota, and Lac Vieux Desert in the Upper Peninsula.

And while many people enjoy fishing because of its relaxing nature, some members of the UW Fishing Team embrace fishing’s competitive side, as well.

“We host two collegiate bass fishing tournaments a year:  the Midwest College Shoot-Out on the Madison chain and the Wisconsin College Shoot-Out on Lake Wisconsin,” Zinn says. “There’s a lot of pride on the line.”

Teams consist of two fishermen from each college who fish for two consecutive days. At the end of the two days, whichever team has the most pounds of bass wins the tournament.

Zinn says both of these tournaments are big draws. This past September, the Midwest College Shoot-Out had 20 different collegiate fishing teams attend with UW’s Fishing Team taking third place.

But when they’re not competing against other schools for bragging rights, the team takes a more relaxed approach to fishing.

“During the fall we try to have walleye and catfish nights each week,” Zinn says. “We just throw out our fishing lines and hang out with friends on the shore on the Union. We usually catch some nice fish, too.”

But when the ice begins to freeze, contrary to what some people might think, the UW Fishing Team remains busy.

“When you say ‘fishing,’ a lot of people automatically think summer,” UW Fishing Team member Trevin Kreier says. “But in honesty, we probably do more ice fishing than anything.”

Zinn attributes this to a lack of boat availability.

“It’s pretty hard for students to keep boats here on campus. A lot of times there’s too few boats to go around,” Zinn says.  “But when there’s ice across the lakes, anybody can fish.”

But just because anybody can fish doesn’t mean everybody is familiar with it.

“I get a lot of funny looks during the winter,” Zinn says, “especially when I take my ice auger and ice fishing gear on the bus. I’m sure it’s quite a sight.”

But according to Zinn and Kreier, a few funny looks are well-worth the great fishing that surrounds Madison.

“Some of the best ice fishing in the state is right in front of the Memorial Union,” Zinn says. “The Madison lakes have some of the best ice fishing in the state.”

And Zinn welcomes anyone who wants to witness Madison’s excellent fishing to join the fishing team—no matter what

Larson with a nice bass taken on a UW Fishing Team outing

their experience level.

“All it takes to become a part of the UW Fishing Team is to attend one fishing team meeting and to pay $15 for team dues,” Zinn says.

Kreier shares a similar attitude.

“If someone wants to go out and doesn’t have all the equipment, that’s fine,” Kreier says. “Fishing team members are usually very good about lending fishing gear. All you have to do is ask.”

“Fishing is a learning experience. You’re always finding out something new. It’s all trial and error until you get it right and start catching fish,” Kreier says. “Fishing is just a great opportunity for students to get out on the water, relax and forget about school for a few hours.”

For more information on UW’s Fishing Team, as well as a list of scheduled fishing team meetings, visit www.uwfishingteam.com.

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Safety First!

Hey guys, I know a lot of you, like me, are big into late-season ice-fishing, but remember, we’re approaching the time of year where weather and ice conditions can be extremely volatile. In the matter of days our favorite ice fishing spots can go from having good, thick ice, to having deteriorating, slushy, and weak ice. It can happen that quick. I just want to take the time to advise everyone to be cautious these last few weeks of ice fishing. Below I’ve highlighted some good tips from the Wisconsin DNR that can help you and your loved ones stay safe out on the ice. And remember, every year people die ice-fishing. Don’t let one of those people be you!

•Contact local sport shops to ask about ice conditions on the lake or river you want to fish.
•Do not go out alone, carry a cell phone, and let people know where you are going and when you’ll return home.
•Wear proper clothing and equipment, including a float coat to help you stay afloat and to help slow body heat loss; take extra mittens or gloves so you always have a dry pair.
•Wear creepers attached to boots to prevent slipping on clear ice.
•Carry a spud bar to check the ice while walking to new areas.
•Carry a couple of spikes and a length of light rope in an easily accessible pocket to help pull yourself – or others – out of the ice.
•Do not travel in unfamiliar areas or at night.
•Know if the lake has inlets, outlets or narrows that have current that can thin the ice.
•Look for clear ice. Clear ice is generally stronger than ice with air bubbles in it or with snow on it.
•Watch out for pressure ridges or ice heaves. These can be dangerous due to thin ice and open water and may be an obstruction you may hit with a car, truck or snowmobile.

This time of the year ice conditions can change quickly and drastically. We all love catching fish, but no fish is worth putting your life at risk. And remember, there’s no such thing as safe ice!

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So we, the mighty fishermen that we are, think we’ve got it all figured out. By using the tips we discussed in Walleye Structure, we’ve narrowed down our walleye ambush spots and are now ready to drop some lines and catch some ‘eyes. But now that we think we know where these walleyes are hiding, we need to figure out the best way to catch them.

To do this the first thing we have to understand is basic walleye feeding behaviors.

Now, there are umpteen factors that relate to how, when, and where Mr. Walter will feed. Nuances from water clarity, to moon phases to barometric pressure changes to time of the year and a million other factors play dramatic roles in how walleyes go about getting their grub on (and we will cover some of these topics later on), but for now, I’m going to concentrate on the one factor that will, for the most part, stay pretty predictable–walleyes will eat when it’s dark.

Walleyes are built to take advantage of low-light conditions. Just one look at their shiny, over-sized eyes should tell us that. When the sun goes down, these little monsters begin to prey on bait fish. When fishing cloudy, stained waters, walleyes will often bite throughout the day, but when our travels take us to classic, gin-clear waters, we can usually narrow down a few times throughout the day that fish will be aggressive. It’s our job to identify those times and adapt how we fish.

Knowing what we know about walleyes, where they stack, and how they hunt, let’s take a look at a normal day through the eyes of our sought-after fish:

The hours on either side of sun-up finds Mr. Walter going through one last heavy feeding period. He knows the sun will be up soon, making it much more difficult to ambush bait-fish. At this point of the day, bait fish can commonly be found in shallow water–and that’s right where we’ll often find Mr. Walter cruising between the depths of four and ten feet of water. As the sun begins to light up the water-column, he’ll snatch his last morsel and begin retreating.

Now, just because his main breakfast time is over doesn’t mean Mr. Walter will stop feeding. But he’s no dumbie, he knows that in the shallower water, where minnows can now see, finding an unexpecting minnow will be difficult. But that’s not to say that a minnow in deeper, adjacent water will be so lucky. Remember when we talked about walleyes liking to hang out close to areas of rapid depth change? Yeah, this is the reason.

In a short distance, these walleyes that were a short while ago bingeing in the shallows, will retreat to the deeper water where the sun-light has a harder time reaching the bottom. Here, although the bait fish aren’t as prevalent, the walleyes can continue to pick off the random passing minnows that venture a little too deep. Then, like clock-work, as dusk falls, Mr. Walter begins heading shallower for another night of preying.  

By understanding the fundamental feeding behaviors of walleyes, we can learn how to take advantage of them at different parts of the day. When I’m fishing when it’s dark, I’ll cluster my tip-ups in shallow water. The darker  it is, the shallower I’ll go. If I’m fishing in a transition period like dawn or dusk, I’ll stagger my tip-ups at different depths. As it gets either darker or lighter, I’ll begin moving tip-ups either deeper or shallower (depending on dusk or dawn) and take advantage of how the walleyes are moving based on how light the water column is.

By understanding where (structure) and how (time of day and water-column visibility) walleyes usually feed, we can consistently put more fish on the ice.

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The number one thing I’ve always looked for when fishing for walleyes is structure. Sure, mud flats and weed beds can hold fish, but in my opinion, walleyes will hold tight to under-water structure more consistently than any other feature a body of water has to offer. And in no time is this truer than late in the winter months.

The later we get towards ice-out, the more likely walleyes are to slow their feeding patterns. In order to maximize our efforts under these conditions, it’s important that we hedge our ice-fishing bets. The more we can isolate and fish spots that hold an abundance of fish–even if they aren’t all hungry–the more we can set the odds in our favor. And that key in doing so is being able to find structure and, more importantly, fishing it correctly.

If you’re new to a body of water the best thing you can do for yourself is get a bathymetry map that shows the under-water contours of the lake. Most often, lake contours will dictate where walleyes will hold and feed. Understanding where these walleyes will be and where they will move to feed is imperative. As a rule of thumb, look for mid-lake humps adjacent to deeper water, points that jut out into the lake, and steep drop-offs. Without knowing anything else about a body of water, being able to identify these three types of structures will help you locate fish.

The common denominator between these three structure types is what makes them so effective: sudden depth changes. It’s no secret that these scenarios have produced walleyes for years. If you can find sudden changes of depth, more often than not, you’ll find walleyes, as well.

Notice on the above split-screen sonar graph where we have an example of a mid-lake hump where, in a relatively short space, we have a fluctuation between 50 and 30 feet. Then take notice to the arcs (which represent fish) and how they associate to the structure. This is a classic example of what structure-related fish.

By being able to identify a lake’s best structure and fishing it correctly, we can stack the odds in our favor of having more encounters with late-ice walleyes. Stay tuned for my next article where I’ll talk about strategic tip-up placement in relation to time of day.

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Well friends, it’s getting to be that time of year again. The wind is slowly switching to the south and the days are attempting to get warmer. With the creeping up of spring (and turkey hunting) right around the corner, ice-out is all but a looming reality for the Midwestern fisherman. So my advice to you: get out there and take advantage of these last few fleeting weeks of winter. And with only a week of the walleye season remaining, I know what species of fish I’ll be spending the remainder of my efforts on…

But there’s a problem.

Walleyes now, for the most part, have put on all the weight that they will carry into spawn. Their metabolisms have slowed and, compared to their feeding frenzy you may have experienced at first ice, their appetite have come to a screeching halt. Where three months ago the same ‘eye would have slammed into your shinner with reckless abandon, he’s now content to sit and watch your bait presentation for minutes–examining its every move, looking for any excuse to dismiss it as its next meal.

But don’t give up quite yet, fellow fisherman; there’s still plenty of hope. Now is the time we have to pay close attention to every detail: bait presentation, weather conditions, fish movement, and feeding patterns. Things we didn’t have to worry about earlier in the season can now spell the difference between a limit and getting skunked. In the next  few days I’m going to discuss five key things to focus on that will help you over-come these finicky fish and help you finish your walleye season strong.

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