by Naomi K. Shapiro
More and more savvy outdoor lovers are beginning to recognize that the deer season can be a real pleasant "two-for" for those who enjoy a rod and reel as much as they do a rifle or bow and arrow. In Wisconsin some of the greatest fishing of the year happens around gun deer season and then the late archery season.
Musky anglers in particular often bring along their equipment during gun deer season. A couple of years ago, an avid deer hunter bagged his deer, and then fishing the Wisconsin River in the Mosinee area, caught and released two muskies that came in at over 50 inches - -and while catching two big muskies in a short time can be somewhat unusual, it is not uncommon to be able to catch and release at least one very good sized fish. And oh yes, I keep using the term "release." Take a photo of a trophy, and today's expert taxidermists can and will make you the most gorgeous wall hanging mount you've ever seen. So when you fish, keep a few for the frying pan, and quickly release everything else - -especially the big ones. Doing so will make sure the gene pool remains strong, and that future generations will enjoy the same bounty that we're privileged to have and use.
The lakes in Wisconsin (particularly north of Highway 10) start to freeze over around the time of the gun deer season (week before Thanksgiving). They usually don't have any "real ice" to go out on, and a boat and trailer will still work in most places.
What anglers usually go for during deer season are muskies, northerns and walleyes. These species are doing their best to pack on the weight before the hard freeze and winter - -and they are very aggressive feeders. Having said that, with the cold water temps, the fish become a tad lethargic, so you've got to be patient in both presentation and retrieve. Nothing real fast. And also don't forget to watch the season dates for musky, northern and walleye. Of course, if you do fish areas like the Wisconsin River and its impoundments around Mosinee and the general central Wisconsin area, the walleye and northern season on many of the waters never closes. And unlike most areas further north, the walleye bag limit is five per day. A word of caution: Always check the DNR regulations before fishing any body of water just to make sure that the particular water you're fishing does not have a "closed" season on these species. Many don't, but here-and-there, a water does have a closed season.
After gun deer season, and heading into winter, there's usually a hard freeze and the lakes become available to ice anglers. Early ice is the BEST TIME of the winter season to nab a lot of fish. So bring along an ice auger, and your ice fishing gear. My husband recently saw a late season bow deer hunter, drill a hole, drop in a tip up, and within a minute, pulled out a 39 inch northern (released). It happens. Walleye and crappie also bite very well at early ice. Fish 6-10 feet in and around weed beds. Use a tip-up with a fathead or sucker minnow for northern and walleye, and a smaller minnow on an ice fishing jig for crappie.
What I've noticed more and more is that hunters at deer camp, will often take a half day off to fish. It really is that appealing. And why not? Deer hunting is great, but so is the fishing.
Some caveats about ice fishing. First off, rivers like the mighty Wisconsin River can be extremely treacherous. Indeed, I personally won't ice fish the Wisconsin River unless I'm in the company of a first class guide who knows the particular area we're fishing. Lots of current. Lots of thin ice that "looks good" but isn't. As for lakes, don't just head out. Check with a local bait shop or guide about the ice conditions. Every single year, people go through the ice in Wisconsin with tragic results. Extreme caution is an absolute must and that surely goes for deer hunters.
But if you use your head during deer season, not only will you enjoy one heckuva delicious venison roast, but you can feast on some great walleye and crappie from the frying pan, and the best pickled northern ever (I keep telling people once you've tried a piece of Wisconsin-style-sweet-vinegar/spice-brine pickled northern, you'll never go back to a hunk of herring out of a jar).
Deer hunting and fishing - -the best "two-for" I've ever found. Try it once, and I think you'll agree.