A full dose of winter has arrived, with some snow and much colder weather in the forecast for later this week.  

Last year, it was much warmer than now and when it got cold, it got really cold around Christmas. Let’s hope that we can avoid that severe cold this year and be able to take advantage of the opportunity to play outside.

Ice conditions are not too bad, but be aware of the current areas on the Eagle River Chain of Lakes as the dam has been open and anywhere in the river areas can have surprisingly thin ice under that snow. On most of the smaller and mid-sized lakes, there are 4 to 6 inches of pretty good ice now. A few snowmobiles and ATVS have been seen on the smaller lakes, but be careful.

The North Woods needs one more good snow for people to be able to snowshoe or cross-country ski, but we’re getting there. It will be a while for snowmobiles, but the cold weather is going to firm up the marshes on the trails. Be patient.

Walleye fishing has started, with some anglers reporting some decent numbers but not a lot of size yet. This is typical for the early season and some bigger fish will be found soon. As usual, the best baits under tip-ups are either shiners or sucker minnows. Evenings are always the best time for these fish, as they move from deeper water toward the shallower feeding areas. Start to look for the holes to produce on the Chain soon. On the larger lakes, we would recommend caution due to poor ice. Some of the deep rock structures are holding fish at this point and the same pattern of intercepting the fish as they move in to feed in the evenings is working.

Northerns have, as usual, been feeding and most seem to be caught by walleye anglers in the afternoons as they set their tip-ups before dark. If you are going to target them, use the large shiners for best results. Locate your tip-ups near or in the weeds.

Bass are moving in and near weeds, also. Either sucker minnows or shiners work well for these fish. You’ll find them mixed with the northerns near weeds.

Panfish action has started locally, for perch especially. These fish are located near drop-offs and in the deeper weeds. They are being caught on waxies or red spikes with jigging poles at this point. We also have reports of perch triggering flags on tip-ups of the walleye anglers. Crappie action has yet to really start, but some nice fish will be caught in the holes on the Chain. Vertical jigs tipped with waxies or a minnow head work best at this time of year, and remember that the fish are now always near the bottom — search vertically in the water column for them. Bluegills are just starting in the weeds. This fishing gets better as the winter goes on, as they are pretty spooky with the thinner ice.

Get those augers out and get some outside time on the ice.

Good luck and good fishin’.