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"Pike readily bite in the winter, and to ice fish you don't need to have a boat to reach the best spots," says Terry Margenau, a Department of Natural Resources fisheries supervisor who has studied northern pike angling. They're also accommodating to anglers, biting best during daylight hours.
The combined effect is that northern pike, which are widely distributed across Wisconsin with the exception of southwestern and southeastern Wisconsin, are the only game fish species in which anglers catch and harvest more fish during the winter than at any other time during the year.
Margenau's 2003 study found that fully 54 percent of the pike caught during winter are kept, significantly higher than the 20 percent harvest rate during the open water season. These rates are very similar to those from a 2000-2001 mail survey of Wisconsin anglers.
The northern pike ice fishery is more of a food fishery compared to the open water fishery. says Margenau. "It's often largely resident anglers, compared to the open water season when vacationing non-resident anglers contribute to the total catch."
Following VHS rules when fishing for northerns
The use of dead bait, usually smelt or cisco (herring) is a popular method of fishing for northern pike during winter, most commonly using a tip-up. New rules effective Nov. 2 to prevent the spread of a new fish disease, however, may require anglers who traditionally use dead bait to fish for northern pike to make some changes in how and where they fish.
The same may be true for anglers using live minnows and other live bait fish if they traditionally buy large quantities that they don't use up in one trip.
As far as dead bait goes, under the VHS rules, anglers can use dead bait only in the same lake or river where it was caught. They may use dead bait elsewhere if it has been preserved by a method other than freezing or refrigeration, neither of which kills the virus. Research is going on to figure out what other treatments will kill the virus.
And finally, anglers may use dead bait in Green Bay and Lake Michigan, where VHS has been documented in fish.
Margenau, an avid ice angler himself who uses dead bait in combination with artificial bait, is finding that the restrictions on dead bait use are spurring him to try some other approaches to catch northern.
He has been successful in catching bluegill and yellow perch to use on the same day, same water, to catch northern pike. żBluegill and yellow perch are natural forage for pike in most waters,ż Margenau says. "Bring a jig pole along and catch your bait from the lake you are fishing."
He's also maintaining dual bait buckets: a main bucket in his truck on shore and a secondary bucket to transfer smaller numbers of bait onto the lake. "This allows you to leave with the unused minnows in your vehicle at the end of your trip," he says.
Meanwhile, Margenau continues to experiment with using commercially made rubber minnows. "I have been unsuccessful at this point" I'm O for 4 in tricking a pike into thinking a rubber minnow is a food item," he says. "Perhaps they are smarter than I gave them credit for. I haven't given up and will certainly send you a picture when it happens."
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