Planting Ground tough to access in winter, but worth it
By WON Staff
Planting Ground Lake is part of the popular Three Lakes Chain in Oneida County, sitting between the larger towns of Rhinelander to the south and Eagle River to the north. Planting Ground is the largest lake in the Three Lakes chain at just more than 1,000 acres. The entire chain holds a reputation of being a superb destination for game fish and panfish species, and Planting Ground lends heavily to that status.
That’s great to know, but what fishermen should also know is that Planting Ground, despite it’s size and prominence on the chain, doesn’t have its own boat landing. That can make winter access to Planting Ground a challenge, especially in a winter like this one when ice conditions aren’t necessarily the best, thanks to heavy, wet snows at mid-month, followed by more snow last week. Deep snow and slush, at least for the time being, will make walk-on access a chore despite canoe-type landings on the south and southwest bays of the lake. The adjoining Round Lake also has a canoe access point, but it’ll be a hike from there to Planting Ground. Another small-craft access between Long and Planting Ground might work, but there will be some current moving through the narrows.
During the open-water season public access is simple enough, thanks to boat travel, but having no boat landing forces ice fishermen to use navigable water to reach the lake and that cuts down on winter access. Current from the Eagle River that passes through the chain can create thin ice conditions, or even cause open water spots, in the channels during mild winter conditions. Some winter anglers do access Planting Ground by snowmobile or ATV from Round Lake or the two small-craft landings in the long bays.
The DNR ran a comprehensive netting and shocking survey on Planting Ground in 2014 that included a creel survey into the 2015 ice fishing season. Based on the creel survey, Planting Ground saw about 12 hours per acre of angler effort each year at that time, or about one third of the average pressure for Oneida County lakes.
Because the lake’s size does attract recreational boaters and PWC riders, open-water anglers on the Three Lakes chain tend to shy away from Planting Ground during mid-day hours. That lower summer pressure might make it worth the effort to trying accessing Planting Ground for some ice fishing.
Planting Ground maintains very good numbers of walleyes – mostly smaller fish – and is considered a good action lake for muskies, but that shouldn’t keep esox pluggers away because some of those muskies do show size. The northern pike fishery is improving. Surveys have turned up low bass numbers of both species, but those fish did show decent size.
Because its dark water limits weed growth at greater depths, bluegills are the least dominant panfish species. Yellow perch lead the way, followed by crappies. Planting Ground has a little of everything, but it tends to be dominated by walleyes, muskies and perch. Only muskies are stocked in the chain – and at a rate of .25 fish per acre every two years, an average stocking rate that’s produced a fairly high density muskie fishery over the years.
A DNR survey over two consecutive years in the mid-2000s turned up a lot of muskies in the mid-to-high 30-inch range, along with some in the low 40-inch range. When the crew then set nets in the spring of the third year, they captured muskies the high 40-inch range. That same spring another crew handled a 51-inch muskie from another lake in the chain.
In a 2014 survey, the crew netted 59 adult muskies; 20% were 40 inches or longer. The biggest fish was 45.2 inches.
The muskies feed on a fair population of suckers and redhorse. There are ciscoes in some lakes. Big Stone has the deepest water for ciscoes, but Planting Ground also has some ciscoes.
Walleyes tend to be a little slow growing. Planting Ground is one of the better lakes for young walleyes. DNR fall surveys have turned up 20 to 40 young-of-the-year per mile of shoreline, good numbers.
The lake had 73 young-of-the-year walleyes per mile in fall of 2015. One year at 73 will carry the population a while. Those fish are now seven years old and are available this winter.
In one survey, 100 pike were captured – mostly 18 to 30 inches. The biggest was 34.7 inches. There was a decent number of 18- to 25-inchers.
Planting Ground has enough structure to keep anglers busy. Anyone coming onto the lake from the southern most small-craft access will find a hump just off the mouth of that bay – a good spot for walleyes and even northern pike. To the east of that hump, in the middle of that southern basin, sit two bars that top out at about 10 feet, and three topping out at 18 to 20 feet. A big bar pushes off Wheeler Island. There are two large sand bars, one in the middle of the lake and one on the north end.
Planting Ground Lake
Nearest town……….Three Lakes
Surface water…………1,012 acres
Maximum depth…………..37 feet
Water clarity…………………..5 feet
Fish species present:
Black crappies, bluegills, rock bass, pumpkinseed sunfish, yellow perch, white suckers, shorthead redhorse, ciscoes, smallmouth bass, largemouth, bass, northern pike, walleyes, and muskies.
DNR regional fisheries office (715) 365-8900, the DNR website http://dnr.wi.gov, or call Jokin’ Joe’s Bait and Tackle Shop, of Three Lakes, at (715) 546-3776.