Hit the hard stuff at Lac Vieux for pike, 'eyes

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    EAGLE RIVER, Wis. — Eagle River Wisconsin Guide Association president George Langley knows that many F&H News readers know about Lac Vieux Desert.

    "Lac Vieux Desert is one of, if not the most widely known year-round fishery in northeastern Wisconsin," Langley said.

    It is one of those lakes that provides across-the-board-for-all-species action throughout the year.

    And, come winter, it gets even better, if that's possible.

    One of its main attractions is its superb trophy musky population, but in high winter, when musky season is closed (the world-record tiger musky came out of Lac Vieux Desert in 1919), anglers still flock to it for a smorgasbord of terrific northern, walleye, and panfishing.

    Lac Vieux Desert is a short drive north of Eagle River, Wis., up Highway 45 and turning east; or up Highway 17 and head north of Phelps.

    Langley said, "no one doesn't know how to get to Lac Vieux Desert. It is the main fishery for many, many surrounding communities."

    Straddling the Wisconsin-Michigan border, Lac Vieux Desert is huge — 4,260 acres, 2,860 of which are in Wisconsin and 1,400 in Michigan.

    It has a maximum depth of 40 feet. The water is slightly tannic in color.

    There is decent weed growth, with some of the weeds staying green on all but the snowiest of winters.

    The main lake basin is relatively shallow with several deep holes, particularly a 40-foot hole along the south shore (the Wisconsin shoreline).

    There are also several holes on the east side of the lake in the various bays.

    Lac Vieux Desert has three large, shallow bays on its east side: Rice Bay, Indian Bay, and Thunder Bay.

    "These bays are shallow, weedy, sand bottom bays, with some muck. These bays are very well known and productive for all types of ice fishing," Langley said.

    The bottom has some rock, particularly on or near the various holes on the lake, and they are spring holes, as they wash out.

    There are extensive sand bottom areas, and then some muck in the backs of the various bays.

    There are four islands on the lake on its east side, and there are entrance creeks, controlled by a dam in the southwest corner.

    "And, if that isn't impressive enough, Lac Vieux Desert is the headwaters area of the legendary Wisconsin River," adds Langley.

    "Lac Vieux Desert is hugely popular. Lots of homes and resorts, but with some bog and marsh areas.

    There are also lots of wilderness shoreline and it's so big you can easily get yourself lost on it — and that holds true even for people like me who have been fishing it for decades.

    Get yourself a good map, and bring along some electronics. Both are truly needed.

    Even with large groups of people fishing the lake year-round, you never feel crowded.

    There is little or no noise and people are truly friendly and helpful.

    I would tell visitors to look and see where there are groups of ice anglers, and go into those areas to fish.

    Don't 'crowd' anyone, but I know from experience that if you ask courteously, the locals, in particular, are friendly and more than happy to tell you where to fish and for what," Langley said.

    "As for ice, it should be good in January. Lac Vieux Desert being relatively shallow, it usually freezes early and well.

    But, having said that, stick to the old adage: 'there is no such thing as safe ice.'


    Check with a bait shop or knowledgeable local. Hire one of our excellent guides. If it's safe to motor, use a four-wheeler or snowmobile.

    Whatever you do, don't get carried away by the moment or excitement. Be cautious, be safe — and be happy," Langley said.

    "Another big plus for Lac Vieux Desert is that one fishing license works for the whole lake — both Wisconsin and Michigan sides — either state's license will do."

    "But don't get 'cute' and think you can limit out on the Wisconsin side, and then go over to the Michigan side and limit out again. That doesn't work. There is one daily bag limit for the entire lake."

    "It disturbs me when I see or hear of people who try and take advantage of this wonderful resource. The locals simply will not tolerate illegal overfishing, and will readily turn in observed violations to game wardens."

    "Both Wisconsin and Michigan cherish this water and treat it with an almost palpable reverence," adds Langley.


    "I'm starting with panfish, because they are so prolific in Lac Vieux Desert: There are huge weedy areas throughout Rice, Indian, and Thunder bays, and Patterson Bay, which is on the west side of the lake, and which contains relatively deep musky cabbage-type weeds."

    "These weeds are so extensive that your four-wheeler or snowmobile will serve you well, because you're going to want to traverse the entire area to find the best fishing spots. For panfish, you'll be fishing 8 to 12 feet in these weedy bays."

    "In January, waxies are a must for bluegills, and for perch, anglers should also use waxies or wigglers. Panfish will run mid-size to excellent size. A real nice thing is that the perch tend to stratify size-wise, at times, in schools."

    "If you get into a school of jumbos, fish quickly, as you'll probably get all jumbos in that particular school. Like-sized perch tend to hang out together in Lac Vieux Desert," Langley said.

    Langley continues, adding, "there is also a very nice crappie population in Lac Vieux Desert, but unlike the other fish populations in the lake, crappie tend to peak-and-valley in population depending on the fishing pressure in a particular year. The crappie will generally school slightly deeper than the other panfish in these weedy bays. Use a small minnow for the crappie."

    Pike: In general, where you find the panfish — particularly the perch and 'gills — is where you'll find the northern.

    There are excellent numbers of northern, with some of very good size. Great daytime, tip-up fishing.

    Use a large shiner for the northern. And, I must say my clients love the fact that while they're reeling up a perch or 'gill, they suddenly see a 'flag,' and don't know whether to ditch the panfish and run for the northern," Langley said.


    If it's cloudy or overcast, or from dusk into dark, it's walleye time! Lac Vieux Desert is an excellent walleye water, with sizes ranging from average eaters to real lunkers.

    Keep the eaters. Release the lunkers, and come back in a few years for an even bigger thrill.

    "You'll want to fish the walleye on all the extensive structure edges — and, in particular, the many series of humps in lake center. Think of throwing a dart and hitting the bullseye — the walleye on Lac Vieux Desert will be in the center of that bullseye."

    "Also, fish the extensive rock and gravel bars on the south side (Wisconsin shoreline) of the lake; the deep edges of what is called the Valley of the Giants on the north side of the lake; and the extensive weedbeds throughout the lake. Fish 10 to 12 feet. Use a tip-up with a medium sized shiner," Langley said.

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