Last Chance For Southern Wisconsin Harbor Ice

By John Reddy | 03/25/2013

Every winter is different in the Midwest. Some years we get great ice fishing conditions while others we aren’t so lucky. This winter has yielded good ice fishing opportunities in the harbors of Southeast Wisconsin. We’ve had good ice and have been able to fish in a lot of areas that we normally don’t get to fish this late in spring.

Normally, we only get a month, maybe two of good ice. This year we’ve had at least two. If the winter like weather holds, we should have two more weeks of ice fishing. With the last two weeks; it will make for great brown trout and steelhead fishing.


In previous years we’ve had ice lock us out where you can’t fish out of a boat because of too much ice, but there’s not enough good ice to ice-fish safely. Some years you get that in-between scenario. Last year, for example, Milwaukee Harbor was open, yet areas like Racine and McKinley were locked up with ice that was unsafe to fish.

This year, we’ve been able to ice fish, and at times it’s been good. We are still sitting on anywhere from 12-18 inches of ice. However, it’s supposed to be in the 50’s by the end of the week, but that always changes. If we stay in the 30’s it’ll be status quo and the ice will remain. I am hopeful we will dip down into the 20’s at night. If we do the ice will hold.


In the Southeast part of the state, Racine (Reef Point Marina), Kenosha (Simmons Island) and Milwaukee (McKinley Marina) have safe ice right now. The biggest factor when determining safety is watching the warmer weather along with longer days of sunshine softening the shoreline ice. The shoreline ice is what goes first. As long as the shoreline is safe and solid you’ll be able to get out. Always take safety into consideration and go with a buddy.

While browns and steelhead are available in the above-mentioned areas usually steelhead will be more prevalent, particularly in areas with water flow between slips and around docks. I’ll target these species with an array of baits: jigs, BorX O Fire cured steelhead eggs, natural spawn and minnows. Guiding I use Automatic Fisherman units increasing hook-ups on the ice. I try to remain stealthy spooling up with 6-pound Berkley Vanish for my mainline, a 4-pound fluorocarbon leader, tying on size 6-12 Eagle Claw Octopus Circle hook when fishing spawn sacs.


On guide trips we use a heavy amount of spawn sacs, but size varies. The fish certainly have a preference day to day.  One day fish may want a sac the size of your index finger; other days they want the size of your thumbnail. I use sacs tied in pink and chartreuse netting for the steelhead, but if the water is ultra-clear, I’ll go with natural netting material, presenting the natural color of the eggs.


Browns are mainly caught on minnows; more steelhead will be caught on eggs. Late in the season more bites come from spawn sacs than minnows. Placing the bait is important; most of the time my baits are within the bottom three feet of the water column.  In fact, Jigging with a Vexilar flasher unit can tell you if the fish are on the bottom or suspended. Placing your bait accordingly; most of the time the fish will be in the bottom five feet.  Most important, locate the bait fish and you’ll find the browns and steelhead.  Mix up your spread, days we will run some of our baits a few inches off the bottom to half way up the water column.


Mornings tend to be the best for success; sun up until about 11 a.m. is a good window. It slows midday, but the afternoon can be good too.

We are allowed three lines per angler in Wisconsin. Taking advantage and maximizing our catching potential, I will drill double the holes for the amount of guys on the ice. So if there are six of us I’ll drill about 30 holes. We are allowed 18 holes, but I’ll have a few more open so the guys can try other holes if some aren’t productive. Some days staying mobile is key.


For more information on Reddy’s SE Wisconsin ice fishing trips please visit