Anglers are finding that ice is in short supply on most Wisconsin lakes and rivers, delaying the start of their “hard water” season but likely increasing their chances of getting to fish early ice when the season finally arrives, state fisheries officials say.

“One advantage of later ice is more people will likely be done with all of their holiday travel and commitments and might still be able to catch the first ice bite,” says Mike Staggs, Wisconsin’s fisheries director.

“Early ice” can offer some of the best fishing for a lot of species, especially on those lakes that are shallow and weedy. The fish seem to be accessible and biting more early.

Until more lakes and rivers across the state freeze, however, anglers may have to focus on smaller lakes or lakes farther north that have already frozen, Staggs says.

Or, if they haven’t put their boat away for the winter, they can try fishing the open water. “Those fish are down there and they are probably in the spots where you’d find them if you were ice fishing,” he says. “There is no need to wait for the ice.”

Anglers venturing out on any ice now need to use extreme caution and follow the ice safety tips below whenever they are on the ice, Staggs says.

“Safety’s got to be the top consideration,” Staggs says. “After that, we encourage every veteran ice angler to consider taking someone new ice fishing. Our new $5 first-time buyer’s license is a great way to get family and friends out on the ice.”

Also new this year, everybody can fish for free on Jan. 19 and 20, when Wisconsin celebrates its first winter Free Fishing Weekend. During this weekend, residents and nonresidents alike can fish anywhere in Wisconsin without a license or trout stamp.

Image courtesy Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

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