MADISON – The countdown to the May 2 inland fishing season opener has officially begun. The ice is melting, the fish are hungry and 1.4 million anglers who purchase Wisconsin fishing licenses each year are ready to forget the winter, reconnect with family and friends, and make great memories.
“The fishing season can’t come soon enough for most of us,” says Department of Natural Resources Secretary Matt Frank. “It’s been a hard year so far economically, so we feel a heed to relax and recharge our batteries – and fishing is a great way to do that.”
Wisconsin has thousands of fishable lakes and streams, two great lakes, and a long stretch of the Mississippi River which means that good fishing is never far and good catching isn’t either, evident by the 88 million fish that anglers caught in 2006, the most recent statewide survey of anglers.
Fishing is a great activity for the family, and with children under 16 being able to fish for free, it provides year-long, low-cost fun. If you need fishing tackle, DNR has equipment for loan at many DNR offices and state parks for your angling pleasure.
And there’s no better day to catch fishing fever than on May 2.
“Taking part in the May 2 fishing opener is a tradition that’s meant to be shared,” Frank says. “A fishing license is your first-class ticket to enjoy time outdoors with family and friends.”
Anglers looking for a new place to fish or the fishing forecast for individual waters can find the latest information in the 2009 Wisconsin Fishing Report.
Regional DNR fisheries forecasts
Here’s a heads up on how DNR fisheries biologists and supervisors are seeing the season opener shape up across Wisconsin:
Similar to last year, spring has been slow to come to northern Wisconsin. Ice fishing will be possible on at least a few waters through mid-April, particularly in the central part of the region. So it’s likely that early spawning fish like walleye and northern pike will still be spawning on some lakes on the fishing opener. The annual Governor’s Fishing Opener event will be held on the Chippewa Flowage this year. Flowages and other waters with rivers running through them will be a good early-season choice for all anglers this year. These waters tend to be dark colored and relatively shallow. This allows them to warm up more quickly than deep, clear-water lakes and fish are more likely to be in a post-spawn feeding mood or at least more active. It’s still dry across much of northern Wisconsin and anglers should expect to see low water levels on many lakes, especially seepage lakes (those with no inlet or outlet). While this may not markedly affect fishing, it may present some navigational and boat launching challenges. Remember that most of the north has a catch-and-release only regulation for bass until late June. As was the case last year, this season also has an additional barbless-hooks-only restriction. A law to repeal the barbless-hooks-only restriction is currently awaiting the governor’s signature. Keep an eye open for any news releases should this happen before the fishing opener. - Steve Avelallemant, regional fisheries supervisor, Rhinelander
As with last year, a long winter will leave lingering, cool-water temperatures come opening day. For largemouth bass anglers this means no need to get up early; unless you are worried about securing a parking place at the boat landing. Largemouth bass metabolic rates -- and thus their feeding urge -- will probably not be strong until the mid-day sun warms surface waters. Fish shallow, organic bays with dark sediment bottoms on the north side of lakes and use a slow presentation. Plastics, like natural-colored plastic worms are probably your best bet.
Smallmouth bass, northern pike and walleye will be a different story; they will probably be most active early and late in shallows. Try jig and minnow combinations fished slowly for all three. And on lakes with substantial northern pike populations, add a thin-wire leader to prevent bite-offs. Catchable-sized rainbow and brown trout will again be stocked in our two-story lakes including Beulah, Lower Genesee, Lower Nashotah, Waubesee, Ottawa and Fowler. Walleye in large, deep lakes like Geneva, Delavan, Pine and Big Cedar will probably still be spawning; so the potential to catch a huge pre-spawn female from any of these lakes is very real. Smallmouth bass populations have been increasing in recent years, whether through global climate change, increased protection from size limits, catch and release or some combination of factors we do not completely understand. Good populations exist in Pewaukee, Delavan, Nagawicka, North, Pine, Lac La Belle and Oconomowoc lakes. Muskellunge will still be spawning and should be found in shallow, weedy inlet bays. Good musky bets include Pewaukee, Okauchee, Oconomowoc, Silver Lake (Kenosha County) and Lac La Belle. DNR fisheries crews recently netted a 45-inch musky from Lac La Belle. Off our Lake Michigan harbors, there should be excellent opportunities for catching large brown trout as well as steelhead as they resume their normal feeding after spawning. For browns, fish wherever you can find turbid waters or currents, such as at warm-water discharges and river mouths. Whether fishing from a boat or shore, casting for browns in the harbors of Racine, Kenosha and Milwaukee should be excellent. Due to high water temperatures and low dissolved oxygen levels, most designated urban ponds cannot support trout through the summer. However, this cool spring should allow almost all the more than 50 urban ponds stocked with catchable-size rainbow trout to continue to produce trout well into May. Remember, an inland trout stamp is required along with a fishing license for most adult anglers fishing urban ponds. Our urban fishing hotline number is: 1-888-347-4563. See page 21 in your fishing regulations for a complete list of urban ponds and their fishing regulations. - Randy Schumacher, regional fisheries supervisor, Milwaukee
It’s mid-April and the ice has been off the lakes for only two weeks. Most of the walleye spawning activity should be over, but many will still be in the shallow water. Hungry fish can be found near sunken tree brush or just off gravel and rocky shorelines.
The abundant walleye in the Lake Winnebago system will be actively feeding after returning from their spawning runs up the upper Fox and Wolf rivers. Walleye anglers should also fish the lower reaches and river mouths of the Menominee, Peshtigo, Oconto and Fox rivers of Green Bay. Early May is a good time to fish for crappie in our inland lakes. Schools of crappie can be located near shore in submerged brush cover and in connected boat channels. Trout fishing opportunities abound. The melted snow filled the streams and the levels will be normal with clear water. High-quality trout streams can be found from Marquette County through Waushara, Waupaca, Shawano, Oconto and Marinette counties. Popular streams include the Mecan, Pine, Little Wolf, Red, South Branch of the Oconto and Pike rivers. Many of the streams flow through state-owned lands open to fishing. The winter snow is gone and it’s time to go fishing! – George Boronow, regional fisheries supervisor, Green Bay
South Central Wisconsin
South of Route 18 in Iowa County, anglers will find a wide variety of wadable streams to fish. While some of these streams may hold some smallmouth bass and the occasional walleye or northern pike, brown trout will offer anglers the best opportunity. Gordon, Ley, Conley-Lewis and the Smith Conley creeks contain fishable brown trout populations. Yellowstone Lake in Lafayette County will offer good fishing for walleye, panfish, and channel catfish. Anglers heading to the Pecatonica River system will want to target walleye or channel catfish. Channel catfish are more abundant and will offer the best chance for success. The Galena River, known locally as the Fever River, supports one of the best smallmouth bass fisheries in southwest Wisconsin. South of route 18 in Grant County, anglers have smallmouth bass, brown trout, walleye, and channel catfish available in fishable numbers in many small streams. Streams supporting fishable numbers of smallmouth bass include the Platte River, Little Platte River, Grant River, Rattlesnake Creek, and Blockhouse Creek. The lower portions of the Platte, Little Platte and Grant Rivers are ideal for those anglers looking to do some float fishing for smallmouth bass. Trout streams anglers may want to visit include Borah Creek, Rountree Branch, McPherson Branch, Platte River, and Rogers Branch.
The entire coulee region should provide absolutely outstanding trout fishing for the foreseeable future. While there are greatly improved numbers of fish in the streams throughout the entire season, these wild populations, which make up the vast majority of our trout populations, are more wary than were their domestic brethren and therefore require more skill to put them on the end of the line.
The overall fisheries of the Lower Wisconsin River are in very good shape. The walleye population has seen a significant increase in the number of 15- to 18-inch fish.
Channel catfish populations are currently in good shape and continue to be the most important fishery on the lower part of the Lower Wisconsin River. There are also decent populations of bluegill and crappie located in the quiet stillwater areas of the river. These are little utilized fisheries and would provide good fishing for anglers wanting to specifically target these fish. Northern pike throughout the Lower Wisconsin River and musky in the uppermost part of the Lower Wisconsin River provide pretty good action for anglers pursuing these species.
Beaver Dam and Fox lakes should continue to produce good catches of crappie this spring and early summer. Fox Lake walleye numbers are up in recent years with numbers of fish reaching the 18-inch minimum length this fishing season. Beaver Dam Lake should also continue to produce walleye action this year. Channel catfish fishing has been heating up on Beaver Dam Lake and the Beaver Dam River below the Beaver Dam. Try numerous stretches of the Rock River for catfish action and Rock Lake for largemouth and smallmouth bass fishing, as well as bluegill and other panfish.
For northern pike fishing, head to Lake Emily in Dodge County, where pike abundance has increased during the past few years. Dense aquatic vegetation makes this lake challenging to fish, but growth rates are good and multiple year-classes of pike are available. – Bradd Sims, fisheries biologist, Dodgeville, Gene Van Dyke, fisheries biologist, Dodgeville, and Laura Stremick-Thompson, fisheries biologist, Horicon
West Central Wisconsin
Water levels in the Mississippi River have generally peaked in most areas and will be declining in the coming days. Northern pike have almost finished spawning but a few males can still be found hanging around backwater lakes and sloughs. The walleye and sauger fishing below the locks and dams has been good but will slow down over the next couple of weeks as walleye and sauger migrate to areas to spawn. Anglers can target these fish by trolling or jigging in 12 to18 feet along main channel and side channel borders near riprap. The mouths of tributaries can also be very productive for walleye and sauger in early spring. As water levels stabilize and water temperatures increase, bluegill, crappie, and perch action will improve in backwater lakes and bays. Night crawlers, red worms, or waxies fished on the bottom or suspended by a float in 2 to 4 feet of water can be very effective angling technique for these species.
The Lower La Crosse River (below Lake Neshonoc) is a consistent producer for catfish, smallmouth bass, northern pike and walleye. Good numbers of these species should be available to both shoreline and small boat anglers. The Lower Black River (downstream of North Bend) holds good numbers of walleye and smallmouth bass with the occasional muskellunge thrown in. With little rainfall this spring, river levels should be manageable. Anglers fishing coulee region trout streams should experience great fishing in 2009. Above average reproduction in 2007 and 2008 produced two huge year-classes of trout. While these fish are still relatively small, they should provide opportunity to anglers looking to harvest some fish or just wet a line. In addition to healthy trout populations, nearly one mile of trout stream improvement work was done this past year. This includes the installation of rock vortex weirs, LUNKER structures, in-channel logs, rip-rap, and boulder abutments. – Patrick Short, fisheries biologist, Prairie du Chien and Jordan Weeks, fisheries biologist, La Crosse
Season dates and regulations
The hook-and-line game fish season opens May 2 on inland waters for walleye, sauger, and northern pike statewide.
The largemouth and smallmouth bass southern zone opens May 2, while the northern bass zone opens for catch and release only from May 2 through June 19. Anglers are reminded that artificial lures and barbless hooks must be used if fishing for bass during the catch-and-release bass fishing season in the northern zone and any other waterbody that has bass catch-and-release regulations. From June 20 to March 7, 2010, there’s a minimum length limit of 14 inches with a daily bag limit of five fish in total.
Musky season opens May 2 in the southern zone and May 23 in the northern zone.
The northern zone is the area north of highways 77, 64 and 29, with Highway 10 as the dividing line.
The seasons for rock, yellow and white bass, panfish, bullheads and rough fish, catfish, cisco and whitefish are open all year. Check the “2009-2010 Guide to Wisconsin Hook and Line Fishing Regulations” for special regulations listed by county, for regulations on the Great Lakes and boundary waters, and for tributary streams to Green Bay and Lake Michigan. The complete guide is also available at DNR offices and license agents.
Anglers that catch a DNR tagged fish are encouraged to report as much information as possible including the tag number, location caught, whether it was kept or not, and the fish length and weight if you have it. Only remove tags from legal-size fish that are kept.
If the tag has an address on it, send the information to that address. Otherwise, visit the DNR Web site for a list of waters with tagged fish or contact a local fisheries biologist.
The information helps DNR determine fish population estimates, and harvest and exploitation rates. Your cooperation and participation is greatly appreciated.
It’s easy to buy a fishing license. You can purchase online; at DNR license vendors; or by calling toll-free 1-877-WI LICENSE (1-877-945-4236).
Wisconsin residents and nonresidents 16 years old or older need a fishing license to fish in any waters of the state. Residents born before Jan. 1, 1927 do not need a license, nor do people who exhibit proof they are in active service with the U.S. armed forces and are a resident on furlough or leave.
Anglers are reminded of rules to help stop the spread of VHS
Anglers are reminded to follow rules that help prevent the spread of the deadly fish disease viral hemorrhagic septicemia, or VHS. For more information on VHS and steps that all water users can take, visit VHS Prevention.
Connect with fish
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