You can’t blame northern pike for feeling a bit unwanted in some circles these days.
In Minnesota, selling anglers on pike hasn’t been easy in recent years. Hammer handle, or smaller pike, have taken over many a fishery in the state, to the point where they’re reached full-blown pest status.
And, even with the bigger “eater” size, there’s that whole Y-bone thing, which can make filleting — and ultimately eating — pike a pain.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is sending a lot of love the way of northern pike this weekend, though, promoting the species, it would seem, through its Free Fishing Weekend this Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 16-17.
In fact, you’d think it was Free Pike Fishing Weekend.
“Whether you’re a seasoned angler or a novice, feeling a northern pike strip the line away under the ice can be an exhilarating experience,” Ben Heussner, a fisheries biologist for the DNR, said in a release promoting Free Fishing Weekend.
A big reason for the pike push might be that, according to reports from anglers and fisheries biologists statewide, northerns are now producing more action than walleye or panfish in many areas where ice fishing finally has gotten underway. The DNR went on to say that northern pike abundance is widespread throughout Wisconsin, adding that most lakes in the southern part of the state south of Highway 10 offer a minimum length limit of 26 inches and a daily bag limit of two. So hammer handle pike don’t appear to be a huge problem in the Badger State, although in the north, many lakes carry no minimum length limit and offer a daily bag limit of five pike. (For a complete list of Wisconsin fishing regs, go to dnr.wi.gov/topic/fishing/documents/regulations/FishRegs1516Web.pdf.)
Also in the release, the DNR mentions that, while pike are known for their fight, they also produce flavorful fillets, and then provided a helpful technique for avoiding those Y-bones that run along the spine, preparing boneless pike fillets by breaking the fish into five separate fillets (one above the top of the spine, two flank fillets on either side of the rib bones and two fillets from either side of the fish from the dorsal fin back to the tail). For those who have long battled the Y-bone thing or, because of it, don’t even bother filleting pike much less keeping them, this could change things.
For novice anglers — and anglers in general, at least when it comes to pike — Heussner recommends using heavy 20-pound mono-filament line because of their sharp teeth, and the DNR says it’s also helpful to keep a jaw spreader and a set of needle-nose pliers handy to remove a hook from a pike’s jaws.
And, the DNR said, a lot of care also should be used in choosing ice-fishing spots. According to the agency, many of the larger, deeper lakes only recently iced over and will not support foot traffic, much less a vehicle, the DNR said. But a continued forecast calling for single-digit temps across much of the state should help conditions firm up, and on some of the smaller lakes of 200 acres or so that have enough ice, anglers have been reporting nice catches of northerns, the DNR said.
Perch, too. And, according to the DNR, panfish are the species of choice on Otter Lake, a 602-acre impoundment in eastern Chippewa County and a popular year-round destination for anglers. A recent fishery survey put nearly 60 percent of the bluegill over 7 inches there, with 74 percent of the walleye in that survey over 15 inches at the fishery.
In the central part of the state, DNR fisheries biologist and pike team co-leader Jennifer Bergman anticipates good fishing on Nepco Lake in Wood County — for panfish, northerns, largemouth bass and walleye. Also, the DNR expects the Eagles Nest Flowage in Juneau County to produce a strong crop of panfish and largemouths, with Petenwell Lake in Adams and Juneau counties offering up nice walleye, catfish and panfish once the ice takes hold.
For more on Wisconsin fishing, go to dnr.wi.gov/topic/fishing/. More on Free Fishing Weekend may be found at dnr.wi.gov/topic/Fishing/AnglerEducation/FreeFishingWeekend.html.