By most reports, ice fishing is improving. Maybe it's the warmer temperatures that is attracting more anglers to the ice this week. Whatever the case, we're into the last few weeks of the annual winter pastime and anglers are enjoying more days at their favorite haunts. You can bet there will be plenty of traffic on Lake Onalaska on Saturday, Feb. 17, for the 47th annual Onalaska Lions Ice Fishing Derby in memory of Ed Carpenter and Bill Moe. Derby hours are from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Drawings are scheduled throughout the derby with seven cash prizes and the $500 grand prize drawing at 4 p.m. Cash prizes also will be awarded for six fish species - bluegill and sunfish, crappies, perch, northern pike, bass and walleye. Meanwhile, wildlife is more active this week, too. Deer are out in force at night as noticed by the empty corn cobs in our backyard. I'm putting my trail camera out to try and pinpoint how many whitetails are showing up and what times they are gorging themselves on the corn. It's a great time of the year to get out and hike, too, which I have been doing regularly when it's warm. Until we meet, have a great day outdoors.
From Southern Wisconsin
Schafer's River Rentals
With the exception of a few days in the 20's, the forecast is looking good with lots of highs in the 30's and lows in the 20's. This should pick up the bite. There is definitely no shortage of fish! As far as the latest information that I have, the northern bite remains excellent, and I expect it to keep up through spring. The perch schools over by the airport lights have been scattered. If you can find where they are, you are going to do well. The bluegill bite is steady in the shallows, and when the big schools hanging deep decide to get active it will be a blast to fish them. Be careful driving. Guys are pushing the limits in areas that are traditionally bad spots. There is going to be lots of ice for awhile, but certain areas thin up quicker than others. Stop in for the latest report!
Karen Perry from Wild Birds Unlimited
Fill up your bird feeders and dust off your binoculars! The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is Feb. 16-19. Participate from your backyard, or take a stroll through your neighborhood. Join bird enthusiasts around the globe in counting birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, then enter your checklist of birds at birdcount.org. Find full instructions and bird identification tips at birdcount.org. This year’s GBBC is particularly special as 2018 is the Year of the Bird, a celebration of birds and a call-to-action for people to help birds in simple yet meaningful ways. Participating in this count is one simple thing you can do this month to help birds. Your checklist will provide data on bird populations, which scientists use to track changes that have occurred since the GBBC first began over 20 years ago.
KINNICKINNIC STATE PARK - All cross-country ski trails have been freshly tracked by Feb. 7, and are in good shape. Multi-use trails are packed, according to Eric Klumb, ranger.
VERNON COUNTY - A snowy owl has been seen repeatedly during the past week in Viroqua in the vicinity of the high school football and track field. It has been several months since the last consistent Vernon County snowy owl observation, which occurred on the Kickapoo Valley Reserve near La Farge, according to Dave Matheys, wildlife biologist, Viroqua.
PERROT STATE PARK - Cross-country ski trails are now in poor condition. The Bay and Wilber Trails are groomed and tracked, but have an increasing amounts of bare spots. The upper trails, Prairie View and Cedar Glade, are only packed, said Justin Wershofen, ranger.
WILDCAT MOUNTAIN STATE PARK - Cross-country ski trails are not currently groomed, but are open to hiking, according to Andrew Haffele, park manager.
BLACK RIVER STATE FOREST - Warmer temperatures this week has melted a lot of the snow, especially in open areas. Temperatures this weekend are expected to be in the 30s with a slight chance of snow Saturday. All trails are open, but may be slushy and/or slippery in places. Cross-country ski trails were packed on Saturday and tracked last Tuesday. They were in fair condition as of Feb. 15, but warm temperatures have resulted in many bare areas and will be unable to ski soon. Snowmobile, ATV and UTV trails are open, but in very poor condition, said Emily Alf, visitor services associate and Gordon Hoyt, ranger.
LAKE WISSOTA STATE PARK - Cross-country ski trails are in good condition, but conditions are deteriorating with the warm temperatures. There is still a good packed base in most areas. Trails are planned to be groomed Friday, Feb. 16, when temperatures get colder, said Nathan Fries, ranger.
BUCKHORN STATE PARK - Warmer weather and lack of new snow have deteriorated cross-country ski trails as of Feb. 14, according to Heather Wolf, park manager.
Wisconsin Birding Report
Winter birds continue to dominate the birding scene, highlighted by many snowy owls, rough-legged hawks, American tree sparrows, increasing numbers of horned larks in the south, common redpolls, and more. Spring migration is not far off, however, as cranes, geese and a few other species are typically on the move by the end of the month. Breeding activity among resident species already signals the change of seasons. Turkeys displaying, chickadees singing their see-dee songs, increasing singing activity among cardinals and dark-eyed juncos, pairs of common ravens and pileated woodpeckers, displaying common goldeneye ducks, and duetting barred owls, to name a few. In addition to bald eagles, great horned owls and red-tailed hawks - all notoriously early nesters - breeding was also confirmed recently for Eurasian collared dove in Dunn County and red crossbills in Douglas and Bayfield counties. This week's rare bird list was highlighted by a Clark's nutcracker photographed in Oneida County, the first documented in Wisconsin in nearly a half-century. Also of note was a boreal owl found dead in Bayfield County, and a northern mockingbird so far surviving a Wisconsin winter in Washington County. Last but not least, this year's Great Backyard Bird Count is here! Running from Feb. 16-19, this fun and easy event provides scientists a snapshot of late winter bird populations worldwide. And it's not even limited to your backyard! Go birding anywhere you want for at least 15 minutes and report the birds you can identify. Learn more here http://gbbc.birdcount.org/get-started/. Good birding!
SOURCE: Ryan Brady, NHC conservation biologist in Ashland
Around the Badger State
Over halfway through February already, and it's been a mixed bag weather-wise. The month started off cold with lows below zero nearly every night, but the high temperature Wednesday was in the mid-40s to low 50s. As of Thursday, snowmobile trails remained open and in good to excellent condition in about 20 northern counties on the Wisconsin Department of Tourism's Snow Conditions Report. Cross-country ski trail conditions remain good to excellent across the north, but the warm-up this week shut down much of the short-lived skiing in southern Wisconsin after just receiving the first decent snow last week. Ice anglers in the Northwoods report approximately 20-plus inches of ice on inland lakes with some success for crappies and walleye. Fishing has begun to pick up in central Wisconsin with some nice crappies being caught in deep water. Along Green Bay, anglers report catching a few perch and whitefish along the west shore. Fishing slowed at the Fox River at Voyageurs park for walleyes and whitefish. Longtail Beach fishermen reported catching a few keeper perch. Anglers are also catching some decent sized northern as well on tip-ups with large shiners. Along Door County most anglers were having pretty good luck over the weekend with some coming in with limits of whitefish while other had varying luck. There were 24 sturgeon harvested from Lake Winnebago on Wednesday bringing the season total to 253. The Up-River Lakes season closed Tuesday after the 11th adult female was harvested, reaching 100 percent of the harvest closure limit. An 84.5-inch fish registered Tuesday was the longest fish confirmed on harvest records dating back to the early 1970s, but at least one longer fish was harvested prior to the 1970s. That fish was an 85-inch, 168-pound sturgeon harvested during the 1957 season. Regardless of the length of fish harvested during past seasons, fish records are based on weight not length. The current state record lake sturgeon harvested via spear was 212.2 pounds (84.2 inches) and taken during the 2010 spearing season. The season will continue for another 11 days, so spearers will have some time to get out and harvest a fish yet this season. Deer and elk in the Flambeau River State Forest are conserving energy and aggressively browsing in logging areas. Whitetail deer should be dropping their antlers in increasing numbers, so it is a good time to get out in the woods and shed hunt. Activities of bobcats, otters, turkeys, grouse and birdlife galore seem to have picked up in the warmer temperatures. An otter slide at Amnicon River State Park went down the river and then over the over the upper falls. Daylight is noticeably longer than just a few weeks ago. Migrating Canada geese have been moving through the area, looking for open water where they can rest and feed as they head farther north. Winter is a great time for birding along the Lake Michigan shoreline. There have been several common goldeneyes bobbing in the waves near the shoreline at Whitefish Dunes State Park. Breeding activity among resident bird species already signals the change of seasons including turkeys displaying, chickadees singing their see-dee songs, increasing singing activity among cardinals and dark-eyed juncos, pairs of common ravens and pileated woodpeckers, displaying common goldeneye ducks and duetting barred owls. It's a good weekend to get out and play in the snow with several state properties holding winter fun festivities. Merrick State Park is hosting a winter fest with a candlelight snowshoe hike. The Capital Springs Recreation Area is holding a winter fun day with ice fishing, snowshoeing, a bonfire, treats and warm refreshments. Lakeshore State Park is holding a Let's Play in the Snow with snow sculptures and snow castles and snow painting. And while candlelight skis are winding down, along with Merrick, four other events are being held Saturday night at Governor Knowles State Forest and Governor Thompson, Willow River and Wyalusing state parks. For all event details, search the DNR website for keywords "Get Outdoors."
Billy Isbell from Island Outdoors on French Island
It's Billy from Island Outdoors. Fishing has begun to pick up again. Weeee!!!!!!!!!!!! Panfish are working the drop-offs and weed edges and are hitting most jigs. Glow and chartreuse have been the top producers with purple and blue working well also. Smaller crappies are hugging the bottom with the gills and perch. The bigger crappies have been suspended traveling in schools. Walleye reports are picking up on the current seams of the dam. Jigging rap size 5 are the best producers, Gold, perch and silver. Bass and northern have been still working the weed edges with shiners. Bass have been hitting the smaller ones and northern are feasting on the jumbos. Hot dogs are also working for northern. The weather has turned for the better from worse. The 40-degree weather will change the ice situation quickly especially in the higher current areas. Shorelines also will become softer and less accessible. There is no cause for concern yet, but please be safe and watch the ever changing conditions of the river. Get out and enjoy the final month of fishing. Fish will be had if you get out and catch them. The tug is the drug. Good luck and hope to see you soon.