The open-water fishing season has come to an abrupt end, with much colder weather than the North Woods had last year at this time. 

Anglers might be able to get on a few of the larger lakes, but even they are icing up now. This has brought an end to the muskie season (officially ends Nov. 30), and for most of us we’re quite OK with that as we look to ice fishing now. 

Look for ice thickness on smaller lakes in the 3- to 5-inch range at this point. And with the cold nights, the ice may even be thicker on some lakes. Spud your way out if you are heading to fishing spots where no one else has walked. Every year someone goes through at this time of year.

The main attraction for early ice anglers is walleye fishing and that part of the season has started rather slowly. Panfish also are targeted by a few anglers early, and it is a pleasure to be able to both hunt deer and ice fish. This hasn’t happened during the deer gun season for quite a while now.

Walleye fishing has started slow. Part of this is that the fishing patterns have changed somewhat this year due to the changes in the weeds. The best and most used early season tactic is to intercept walleyes in the evenings as they move into the weeds to feed on minnows. If there are no weeds, the bait fish will be in different places, so we end up moving and looking to find the weeds in the different locations on the lake. 

The Eagle River Chain annually provides good early season fishing in places like the “bullpen” on Yellow Birch Lake. This is frozen over now and we’ll see some anglers out there this week. The best bait under those tip-ups are either shiners or suckers. Locate your wait position inside of the tip-ups so you aren’t scaring the walleyes with noise as they move in from deeper water On the larger lakes, the patterns are similar — weeds in the evenings with tip-ups. That deep-water fishing will come later.

Panfish fishing can be a little slow early in the ice fishing season, as it takes a while to locate the fish each winter. The key for these fish is weeds. Early fishing seems to concentrate on perch, as the crappies are in deeper water in the holes, especially on the Chain. Waxies seem to be the bait of choice at this point, with a few anglers also taking small minnows along, perhaps in the hopes of taking the occasional stray walleye in those weeds.

Remember that safety comes first on this thinner ice. We haven’t seen any four-wheelers or snowmobiles on the ice yet, but they will come quickly. Be careful out there.

Enjoy the outside experience of this early season ice fishing.

Good luck and good fishin’.