Winter is here. If you are an avid outdoorsy kind of person who loves to spend time on the water, that means that you have put your canoe, kayak, or boat up for the season and now are stuck looking longingly to next spring to get back to your pastime of piscatorial pursuits. Or does it? In Wisconsin fishing can be a four-season sport, if you feel adventurous enough and can handle the cold! “Hard Water Fishing” as it is referred to by us crazy Wisconsin ice fishermen and women is often less expensive and allows more accessibility to fish spots than may be found in the milder months. We are very fortunate in the Milwaukee area to be surrounded by many lakes which offer endless opportunities to catch panfish, perch, or pike.
To make the fishing trip even more memorable, plan on taking the whole family. To help plan your adventure, take into consideration some of these ideas:
- Start your trip with an open mind and a patient heart. Trying something new can be challenging to some kids (and adult partners!). Bring up the idea, watch a couple of YouTube videos and start planning your trip.
- Try to get everyone involved. Have the kids join you in the kitchen to make a pot of chili and on the morning of the trip fill a big thermos with hot cocoa. Go to the bait shop and have them help pick up the minnows, spikes, and waxies (and it helps to pick out one “special” ice fishing lure for the trip). Have the bigger kids lend a hand cutting holes through the ice and let the younger ones help by scooping out the slush. Teach them how to catch the minnows, bait a hook, and take their catch off the line.
- Dress for the weather. Kids can get chilled quickly. When that happens, let them go inside a vehicle or ice fishing shack to warm up. Also, have a plan on how to answer the call of nature. A five-gallon bucket and a blanket for privacy can work if you’re fishing in a busy area.
- Have other kid activities planned while waiting for the bite to start? Ice-skating, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and sledding can all be a part of the day’s events. If you have a dog, plan on bringing the pup dog along. Watching them on the ice for the first-time will can be hilarious. Also, let them invite their friends. This will give them a fun release if the fish are not biting, you may be introducing others to may never have the opportunity to go hard water fishing.
- Fish on! When the first bobber goes down or the tip-up flag goes up, let the kids experience the excitement of catching the fish. Have the kids take turns in landing the fish, not just chasing after the tip-up flags or seeing that monster-sized bluegill getaway. Don’t forget to make a big deal about that first fish, pictures are required!
- This can also be a great outdoor learning experience. Talk to the kids about the different types of fish, fish habitat, the effect winter has on the lake and the life cycle of all its inhabitants.
Ice Fishing Places Less Than 30 Minutes from Milwaukee
Even though Minnesota may brag about being the land of 10,000 lakes, Wisconsin is right up there with beautiful waterways providing all kinds of recreation opportunities. (I might even add that our lakes really are more appealing in appearance!). Here are some of my personal favorite fishing lakes less than forty-five minutes from where you are right now:
- Lake Michigan and the Lakefront. You may have already noticed that Milwaukee is sitting right on the shore of a great, Great Lake. Even though many have only ventured out onto this magnificent body of water only during the summer months, Lake Michigan and the different harbor areas offer a wonderful shot of landing gigantic Lake and Brown Trout by angling through the ice. There are numerous access spots limited to walking out on the ice. I caution against ice fishing later in the season. Every year there are news articles about ice fishermen who ended up floating out onto the big lake when the ice they were on broke away and started to drift. The thing you may not be aware of is that you will be billed for your rescue!
- Big Muskego and Little Muskego Lakes. Often overlooked, these two bodies of water are in the town of Muskego. Big Muskego is accessible from the DNR boat launch off Durham Road and offers a chance for the kids to catch their first Northern Pike. Though most of the pike are on the “hammer-handle” size, there is the occasional lunker brought up into the light of day. Little Muskego can be reached by walking out from the beach at Idle Isle. There is plenty of parking and dependent upon which weekend you go, there are often community events available with hot food and drink. On the western side of Little Muskego is Bass Bay. As the name implies, you stand a good chance of pulling out a fair-sized bucket-mouthed bass if you fish a tip-up with a live shiner or golden roach.
- Scout Lake is located just off Highway 36 (Loomis Road) and north of Grange. There is limited parking within an easy walk out onto the lake. This is a designated Urban Fishing site designed to provide a great place to introduce kids to fishing. There is even a disabled-accessible fishing pier for use during the summer. The trails through the woods offer a great change of pace if the bite is off and the kids are bored.
- Wind Lake is the largest lake in Racine County and is only twenty-five minutes from downtown Milwaukee. The public launch is off Highway 36 and South Wind Lake Road. There is very limited parking, but you will see many who have ventured out onto the ice with their vehicles once the water has frozen to at least eight inches thick. Beware, the southern portion of the lake is over the deepest section of the lake. Throughout the winter months, there is a regular village of ice shanties set up for the season on the northern section of the lake. While that area offers a shot at tapping into the large schools of panfish, the real action is in the deep holes on the south side. Jigging a small fathead or stickleback minnow a foot off the bottom in the evening and at night seems to work best. Use a light line and a whisker bobber. Walleyes are light biters during the cold time of year.
So, are you looking forward to wetting a line when the snows start to fly, the mercury plummets, and the lake sings at night while it makes new ice yet? I hope to see you on the hard water this season.
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