This specialized group within the Department of Natural Resources conservation warden service focuses on education and enforcement of VHS and aquatic invasive species rules and laws. As their second open water season draws to a close, they’re turning to the ice fishing season.
“For the first time, through careful planning, we’ve been able to stretch our budget to allow Water Guards to work later in the year,” says Wisconsin’s Chief Warden Randy Stark.
“VHS is most active during the cold water season and our ice fishermen move around, particularly over the holidays,” Stark says. “It’s important to keep up our education and enforcement efforts during this time of year. We must continue to contain the threat to Wisconsin’s lakes, rivers and fishing.”
Wisconsin’s regular field wardens, stationed in local communities around the state, also will be looking for violations of VHS and aquatic invasive species, he says.
According to Greg Stacey, a Water Guard based in Fitchburg and the coordinator of their winter efforts, “we want to concentrate our efforts on where we can get the biggest bang for the biggest buck, so we’ll be working major ice fishing tournaments across the state,” he says. “The rest of the time, we’ll be out there on the ice, talking to individual anglers, reminding them of the rules, and writing citations where we see violations.”
The VHS virus is most active in water temperatures below 60 degrees, and the disease can spread fish to fish, or through water contaminated with VHS.
“In the winter, it’s primarily about the water and the fish,” Stacey says. “We need to stop people from moving both of them around.” Specifically:
- Don’t move live fish away from the water. Keep the fish you want to take home on the ice until you leave at the end of the day, or carry them away in a dry bucket.
- Drain all water from your equipment. That includes all buckets and containers of fish. When you’re leaving the ice, you may carry up to 2 gallons of water in which to keep your minnows.
- Follow bait rules. Buy the bait from Wisconsin bait dealers. If you take minnows home after a day fishing and you’ve added lake water to their container, you can return with them only to that water body the next day.
- Preserve bait correctly if you catch your own. If you use smelt or other dead bait, preserve it in a way that does not require freezing or refrigeration. Watch the video Preserving Your Bait on the DNR Web site for more information.
“VHS is still found in Wisconsin waters, so we need everybody to keep up the good work,” Stacey says. “Together, we can keep the disease from spreading and can continue to keep our lakes and rivers healthy.”