Arctic weather in the Midwest may mean an earlier start for ice fishing this year. “Early ice fishing can be some of the best fishing for walleye, bigger game fish, and for a lot of species,” says Steve Avelallemant, fisheries supervisor for northern Wisconsin with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Whether anglers start early in the season or later, they need to take the same steps in winter that they do in the summer to prevent spreading viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS). VHS is a virus that can infect more than two dozen fish species and can cause bleeding and bulging eyes. VHS has been found in all the Great Lakes and some inland waterways.
Have fun fishing and follow these simple guidelines:
1. Buy bait from reputable bait dealers. Follow state regulations regarding bait.
2. Don’t move bait from one waterway to another. Dispose of unused bait, dead fish and fish parts in a in a secure trash area away from the water. And remember, freezing bait doesn’t kill viruses or disease. If you reuse bait, return them to the same body of water.
3. Preserve bait correctly. The Wisconsin DNR has a brief video showing how to preserve bait without freezing it. Preserving Your Bait
4. Empty all water from boats, buckets, bilges, live wells, and other equipment. And, remove all mud, plants and aquatic life from equipment before moving to another body of water
5. Thoroughly clean and dry all fishing and boating equipment including bait buckets, boots, boats and trailers before moving them to another body of water.
6. Don’t release fish, plants or animals into a body of water unless they came out of that water.
And what advice does Avelallemant have to maximize the chance of catching fish this winter? One of his tips is to go to a lake with a good northern pike population. “Northern pike, when you look at their distribution worldwide, you’ll find them all the way up to the Arctic Circle,” he said. “They prefer cold water.” Another tip he offers is to “check in with local bait shops to find out what the walleye are hitting on, and fish for that.”
For more information on how to stop the spread of VHS and other invasive fish diseases go to www.FocusOnFishHealth.org.