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Weekly News Published - April 15, 2014

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May 3 inland fishing opener kicks off another exciting year of fishing

New this year: largemouth bass harvest available statewide

Editor's note: This and the trout stocking release are the first in a series of releases relating to the 2014 fishing season. Check back in coming weeks for stories on new informational tools available for anglers, fish consumption advice and new findings supporting the health benefits of sport-caught fish, cold water boating safety, and how to keep Wisconsin fish healthy by taking steps to prevent spreading aquatic invasive species and fish diseases.

Picture of Walleye
Anglers trying their luck at the 2014 inland fishing opener get a shot at this nice walleye caught and released by DNR creel clerk Donna Sorenson during spring surveys in Connors Lake in Sawyer County.
WDNR Photo

MADISON - Anglers heading out for the May 3 opening day of Wisconsin's regular inland fishing season will find a mixed bag of fishing conditions but strong populations of anglers' favorite fish species as well as the opportunity to harvest largemouth bass in northern Wisconsin for the first time in 22 years.

"People can look forward to another year of exciting fishing in Wisconsin," says Mike Staggs, fisheries director for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. "It's clear it's going to be another later spring like last year, so what worked for people last year is a good bet to work again this year.

"Opening day is a great Wisconsin tradition, so whether you're fishing open water or setting tip-ups, we hope to see you out enjoying the day and reeling in another year of great fishing stories."

This will be Staggs' last opening day as Wisconsin's fisheries director; he's announced his retirement as soon as DNR finds his successor.

Fishing conditions expected to vary statewide

Southern Wisconsin waters are open. In northern Wisconsin, the spring thaw is still a work in progress.

"The ice is about 20 to 24 inches on most lakes right now and this coming week is predicted to be pretty cold so no more significant melting until near the weekend again," says Steve Avelallemant, longtime DNR fisheries supervisor in northern Wisconsin.

Graphic of northern bass zone in Wisconsin
Largemouth bass may now be harvested in the northern bass zone starting May 3 for the first time in 22 years. Smallmouth bass are still catch-and-release only in the northern zone through June 20.
WDNR Photo

"But we've still got almost three weeks to the opener and it might finally turn into full blown spring by this next weekend. My best guess is that we will have ice-out by the opener on most lakes in the north."

Avelallemant says that early spawning game fish like northern pike and walleyes will still be spawning and in-shore so anglers should key on the spawning substrates for both species.

"Panfish and bass won't even be thinking about spawning and will likely be in the shallower bays off of the main lakes where those are available," he says.

Skip Sommerfeldt, DNR fisheries biologist stationed in Park Falls, suggests walleye anglers try rivers, smaller flowages, and smaller lakes where the ice is more likely to have melted by May 3.

"The rivers are going to be open, and maybe some of the smaller flowages and lakes," he says. "Walleye anglers will want to target those waters and use early season tactics and baits."

Walleye are likely to be right in the middle of spawning on opening day. "Walleye do feed during their spawning period," Sommerfeldt says. "They usually spawn at dark in water six inches to three feet, and during the day, they'll drop back to a little deeper water from 6 to 20 feet. Try throwing a rapala along rocky points or even a jig and minnow on the gravel drop offs."

Sommerfeldt says that panfish also will be another good target for anglers fishing northern Wisconsin and looking for their first shore lunch of the season.

"Look for shallow, warm bays with a weedy or mucky bottom. Try a slip bobber with a small minnow or a worm along any emergent weed lines or on the mud flats in 2 to 4 feet of water."

A little farther south, Bob Hujik, fisheries supervisor in western Wisconsin, expects that lakes in western Wisconsin will be open by opening day.

"Walleye and pike will be finished spawning and looking for an easy meal. Minnows and small crank baits worked slow should trigger bites. Sheltered bays with trees in the water should be a good place to find crappies and bluegills on sunny warm days. Small jigs and crappie minnows should be baits of choice for early season panfish."

Hujik says that trout anglers should find the streams in good shape, unless there are some locally heavy rains. "Early season anglers have been reporting good catches of trout on many of the western Wisconsin streams during the early catch-and-release trout season," he says. "So it stands to reason that the regular season will be no different."

Anglers can find information about fish populations in specific waters in the 2014 Wisconsin Fishing Report. Forecasts are arranged by fish species and listed in alphabetical order by county.

Largemouth bass can now be harvested statewide starting May 3

This year, for the first time in 22 years, anglers fishing in northern Wisconsin can take home largemouth bass on opening day.

The bass catch and release season in place in northern Wisconsin since 1992 has been culled -- smallmouth bass are still protected from harvest but largemouth bass are now fair game in the northern bass zone.

"Bass populations throughout the state are doing great, particularly in terms of numbers, and largemouth bass are doing so well in northern Wisconsin that we're having some issues with slow growth," says Jon Hansen, a fish biologist who leads DNR's bass team. "So starting May 3, you can harvest largemouth bass statewide. They make for a fine fish fry, so don't feel bad taking a few home if you want."

The largemouth bass season runs from May 3 to March 1, 2015. Smallmouth bass must still be immediately released in the northern zone from May 3 through June 20. From June 21 to March 1, smallmouth bass 14 inches and greater in the northern zone may be harvested. During the harvest season for each of the bass species, anglers are allowed a daily bag limit of five bass in total. While the statewide length limit for bass is 14 inches, many waters have no length limit so check the hook-and-line regulations for specific waters.

Season dates and regulations

The 2014 hook-and-line game fish season opens May 3 on inland waters for walleye, sauger, and northern pike statewide.

Musky season opens May 3 in the southern zone and May 25 in the northern zone. The northern zone is the area north of highways 77, 64 and 29, with Highway 10 as the dividing line.

Find the "Guide to Wisconsin Hook and Line Fishing Regulations 2014-15" and "guide to Wisconsin Trout Regulations 2014-15" by searching the DNR website for "fishing regulations."

DNR hasn't yet released final fishing regulations for the Ceded Territory but they will be posted before opening day on the regulations page. So check back or sign up to have them delivered by email when they are posted.

To sign up, enter an email address, and then scroll down the list to "Fishing Updates" and click on the "Fishing Regulations" box.

New veterans' program, discounts for first-timers make it easy to share the fun

Recently returning Wisconsin resident veterans may receive a one-time free annual fishing license under a 2013 law.

Veterans who wish to receive a free license must first contact the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs to determine their eligibility for this program. Such eligibility-related questions should be directed to the Veterans Benefits Resource Center via web chat [www.wisvets.com (exit DNR)], email wisvets@dva.wisconsin.gov or phone 1-800-WIS-VETS (947-8387).

Anglers who have never purchased a fishing license - or who haven't purchased one in 10 years - can get a discounted "first time buyers" license. The discounts are automatically applied when the license is purchased. Residents' discounted license is $5 and non-residents' is $25.75 for the annual licenses.

Anglers who recruit new people into the sport can get rewarded for their efforts. Wisconsin residents who have been designated as a recruiter three or more times within one license year are eligible for a discount on the license of their choice the next year.

Anglers can buy a one-day fishing license that allows them to take someone out to try fishing, and if they like it, the purchase price of that one-day license will be credited toward purchase of an annual license. The one day license is $8 for residents and $10 for nonresidents.

Buying a license is easy and convenient over the Internet through the Online Licensing Center on the DNR website at all authorized sales locations, or by calling toll-free 1-877-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 and resident members of the U.S. Armed Forces on active duty are entitled to obtain a free fishing license when on furlough or leave.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Mike Staggs, 608-267-0796; Steve Hewett, 608-267-7501; your local fish biologist http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/fishing/people/fisheriesbiologists.html

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DNR plans to stock more than 316,000 catchable-size trout in inland waters

MADISON - More than 316,000 catchable size trout are being stocked in dozens of inland trout waters across Wisconsin before the May 3 inland fishing season opener. A list of waters receiving fish and how many were planned for stocking is now available online.

"Continuing ice cover on the lakes and difficult conditions at the lake access are delaying some of the planned stocking this year, but we're still hoping to have everything done by the May 3 opener," says David Giehtbrock, Department of Natural Resources statewide fish production manager.

"The upside is that while they wait to be stocked, these fish continue to grow bigger at our state fish hatcheries and will be ready for catching when conditions improve."

Go to the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov, and search keyword "fishing," and click on the trout stocking feature in the center of the page.

DNR fisheries crews have been stocking rainbow, brown, and brook trout raised at Nevin, Osceola and St. Croix Falls state fish hatcheries. They've also been working with fishing club volunteers, students, and others to help stock the fish raised under 21 cooperative rearing agreements with DNR.

More than 100,000 of the fish are to be stocked in urban fishing waters, small lakes and ponds cooperatively managed with the local municipality and used as a place for fishing clinics and kids fishing. Many of these waters have already been stocked, including for last week's free kids' fishing clinics held at 17 locations in southeastern Wisconsin.

The rest of the trout are stocked in waters where the habitat is marginal and there is no natural reproduction. They are a small subset of the state's overall trout treasury - more than 13,000 miles of classified trout water and trout populations that have generally increased statewide over the last 60 years.

Read "A Trout Treasury: Welcome to the good old days of trout fishing," in the April 2011 Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine to learn about the general, overall improvement in the total number of trout, and trout in all the size ranges since 1950.

Find links to downloadable and interactive maps of trout streams and other resources to help find places to fish on the inland trout page of the DNR website.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Dave Giehtbrock, 608-266-8229

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Migratory birds start arriving; join April 22 online birding chat

MADISON - Wisconsin's parade of migratory birds - although a little behind schedule due to cold spring temperatures - is starting to arrive and an April 22 live online chat with state birding experts will help people get ready for the big month ahead.

Picture of bird
Indigo Bunting
Photo by David Franzen

"May is the time to be a birder in Wisconsin," says Ryan Brady, a Department of Natural Resources research scientist who leads bird monitoring efforts for the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative. "Wisconsin is not only a destination for more than 225 breeding species but also provides critical resting and refueling habitat for millions of migratory birds en route to points farther north. Many of these birds, including crowd favorites such as warblers, orioles, grosbeaks, buntings, and hummingbirds, make their return into the state during the month of May."

The online birding chat with Brady, Kim Grveles, who coordinates the Wisconsin Stopover Initiative, and Yoyi Steele, coordinator for Wisconsin's Important Bird Areas (IBA) program, starts at noon on Earth Day, April 22. To join, visit the DNR web site at dnr.wi.gov, and look for the box on the right to enter the chat, or search the phrase "ask the experts." Or join the conversation on the DNR Facebook page, www.facebook.com/WIDNR, by clicking the "Cover it Live Chat" box on the top of the page. The transcript of the chat will be archived at that same link.

"Wisconsin sits at a crossroad for species of eastern woodlands, western grasslands, southern savannahs, and northern forests," Brady added. "These combine with unique habitats like jack pine barrens, abundant wetlands, and migration corridors along the Mississippi River and Great Lakes to bring an amazing array of birds our way." According to the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology, more than 400 species have been recorded in the state.

The vast majority of these birds - both species and numbers - are migratory; some are permanent residents, like chickadees, cardinals and turkeys. The migrants fall into two categories - short distance migrants that breed here and spend the winter somewhere in North America, often just a few hundred miles south. Red-winged blackbirds, eastern phoebes, many sparrows, waterfowl and most grassland birds are examples.

Their return is strongly influenced by local temperatures and snow/ice conditions, and this year, they've stayed away a little longer because of the cold weather, Grveles says. The southern part of Wisconsin has caught up a bit in recent weeks but only the leading edge of this migratory front has reached northern Wisconsin so far.

The second group includes long distance migrants that breed in Wisconsin or north across the boreal forest but winter in Central America, the Caribbean and South America. Wood thrushes, scarlet tanagers, hummingbirds, Baltimore orioles and most warblers are good examples of this group. Their migration is linked mainly to changes in day length, also known as photoperiod, so their arrival doesn't differ much year to year, she says."This year's weather means more of the short-distance migrants will be present at the same time that the long-distance travelers normally make their appearance," Grveles says. "The result should be a fantastic display for people who love to watch birds and for the communities that benefit from having them around."

Many bird conservation groups, state parks and communities are sponsoring events for International Migratory Bird Day, May 10, or at other times during the month. That includes perhaps the biggest and best known, the Horicon Marsh Bird Festival, a four-day feast of bird watching events by foot, boat and bus, presentations, photo contests and more.

The number of bird watching events has swelled in recent years with the founding of Bird City Wisconsin in 2010, a statewide program of the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative aimed at helping urban residents maintain healthy populations of birds and understand birds' importance to their economies and quality of life. The program requires communities to host an International Migratory Day event to gain the Bird City designation.

Eighty-one communities of all sizes, from cities to villages to towns to counties, are now certified as Bird Cities in Wisconsin. Discover more about Bird City, May bird watching events, and other ways to enjoy the spectacle of spring bird migration at the April 22 online chat.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Kim Grveles, 608-264-8594; Ryan Brady, 715-685-2933

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Recycling old electronics during spring cleaning gives gadgets a new life

State residents have recycled nearly 150 million pounds of electronics since 2010

MADISON - Now that spring is finally arriving across Wisconsin, many people are emptying basements, cleaning out closets and finding new homes for all the clutter that accumulated over the winter. For most state residents, that house cleaning includes dealing with unused electronics like computers, cell phones or TVs.

While it may be tempting to toss the old cell phones in the trash or haul the outdated TV to the curb, state law bans most electronics from Wisconsin's landfills and incinerators. Instead, residents can use E-Cycle Wisconsin, a Department of Natural Resources-managed program that by this June will have helped collect more than 150 million pounds of electronics for recycling since 2010.

The program is funded by electronics manufacturers to recycle electronics at more than 450 locations around the state. A 2013 DNR survey estimated that Wisconsin households had 3.3 million unused cell phones, 1.8 million unused computers and 1.7 million unused TVs. Both the total number of devices per household and the proportion that were unused increased substantially between 2010 and 2013.

"We've seen a great response to the program, with many state residents taking advantage of convenient drop-off sites to properly recycle old electronics," said Sarah Murray, E-Cycle Wisconsin coordinator for the DNR. "But our surveys have shown that many people still aren't sure where to recycle their electronics. This is a good time of year to remind everyone about the recycling opportunities E-Cycle Wisconsin provides."

In addition to the hundreds of permanent drop-off sites, many communities and organizations schedule special collection events beginning around Earth Day and continuing throughout the summer.

Murray said electronics contain many different materials that should be properly recycled to preserve landfill space, prevent pollution and recover value.

"The steel, aluminum, plastic and precious metals inside electronics are commodities that have real value if properly recycled," Murray said. "They don't help our economy if they are in landfills."

The DNR maintains an up-to-date list of collection sites registered with E-Cycle Wisconsin. Residents can find permanent drop-off sites and upcoming special collection events in their county. Many sites accept electronics for free, though some may charge a small fee for some items. Go to the DNR's web site and search "Ecycle" for details.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Sarah Murray, 608-264-6001

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This Arbor Day, plant a tree and watch Wisconsin's future take root

MADISON - What's the best kind of tree to plant this Arbor Day?

Consider the mighty basswood, with its towering canopy and 100-year plus lifespan. Or perhaps a graceful birch, dressed in shimmering white.

Jeff Roe, urban forestry team leader with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, says the best tree to plant depends on many factors including growing conditions, proximity to structures and size upon maturity. As tree-lovers of all kinds get ready to celebrate Arbor Day and its accompanying events at the state Capitol on Friday, April 25, Roe says another important element to consider, especially in response to the arrival of emerald ash borer, is diversity.

"On one level, selecting the right species for the site is critical. You want your tree to thrive and as it matures, you don't want it to interfere with overhead power lines or send its roots into a foundation,'' he says. "On another level, forestry practices are increasingly focused on species diversity. We're encouraging people to broaden the palette of trees they consider to help reduce the devastation that can occur from future diseases or invasive pests."

While everyone loves showy sugar maples and the crisp scent of white pines - two important native trees - Roe says Wisconsin residents also may want to consult with local nurseries about some carefully selected nonnative species. For example, the ancient ginkgo is native to China yet grows well in urban settings here thanks to its good soil salt tolerance and ability to handle heat stress.

Regardless of the variety you favor, Wisconsin Chief Forester Paul DeLong says planting a tree provides an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors while sending an important message to future generations.

"Since 1983, we've increased our forested lands by more than 2 million acres," DeLong says. "With more than 47 percent of our state now covered by forest, today's children are benefitting from the land ethic and stewardship of those who came before them. By planting trees on Arbor Day and respecting our forests throughout the year, we're sharing our values with the generations to come."

DeLong will be among those speaking at the special state Capitol event celebrating the state's 131st Arbor Day. Starting at noon, the event will be attended by dozens of students from area schools and culminate in the planting of a red oak that will arrive in a giant tree spade truck courtesy of The Bruce Co. The planting site is just off of the sidewalk on the King Street side of the Capitol.

Madison musician Ken Lonnquist will be on hand to lead the crowd in songs celebrating the benefits of trees. Event sponsors include the Wisconsin Nursery Association, Wisconsin Arborist Association and Wisconsin DNR's Division of Forestry.

Those unable to join the celebration are encouraged to visit the DNR website for more tips on trees.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Laura Wyatt, 608-267-0568

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Free DNR "First Turkey Certificate" new way to honor first-time turkey hunting success

MADISON - More than 135,000 hunters take to the woods each year in Wisconsin to pursue the wild turkey, many for the first time.

To help preserve these memories, the Department of Natural Resources will provide first-time successful turkey hunters with a free, personalized certificate if the hunters fill out an electronic form and, if they want, submit a photo of themselves with their turkey.

"It's our little way of saying congratulations to all of the first-time successful turkey hunters - we wish them all many more years of successful hunting," says Scott Walter, DNR upland wildlife ecologist.

The reintroduction of the wild turkey is one of Wisconsin's greatest wildlife success stories. For many hunters, their first turkey harvest provides one of their most memorable hunting experiences, Walter says.

"I cherish the time I've spent taking my children on their first turkey hunts and certainly all hunters know how special that first turkey harvest is," he says. "We hope that providing this certificate will help preserve those great memories for the newest members of Wisconsin's turkey hunting community."

The turkey certificate program begins with the 2014 spring season (including learn to hunt turkey events and the two-day youth hunt) and continues through the fall hunt.

Hunters are asked to fill out information about when and where the turkey was harvested, the bird's weight, spur length and more. This information will be displayed on the individually customized certificate. It can also include a picture of the hunter. Certificates will be sent electronically to the successful hunter within a few weeks.

"We hope the certificates will be a great memento that can be displayed proudly and help preserve memories throughout a long hunting career," said Walter.

This certificate program first originated for first-time deer hunters and may be expanded in the future to include other game species. First-time hunters that successfully harvest a turkey can submit their information and a picture of their turkey by visiting dnr.wi.gov and searching keyword "turkey."

For more information, visit the DNR web site at dnr.wi.gov and search keyword "turkey."

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Krista McGinley, 608-261-8458; Scott Walter, 608-267-7861

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DNR using car kill assessments, research, and winter severity index to help gauge winter's effects on Wisconsin deer

MADISON - In order to gather more information regarding the status of deer throughout the state, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is conducting health assessments on car-killed deer and evaluating this winter's effects on Wisconsin's deer herd.

DNR wildlife staff are making extra efforts this spring to find and examine deer that have been struck by a vehicle. These general health assessments are trying to look at the overall health of the deer. Wildlife staff will be looking at fat levels at numerous parts of the body as well as checking for pregnancy. With a goal of ten assessments per county, the department hopes to gain a broad view of how winter impacts deer on a large scale.

"A statewide effort to monitor body condition will give us a better sense of just how strongly this winter has impacted deer populations," said DNR Science Services research scientist Daniel Storm. "The county by county information will help us understand where the impacts of this winter were most severe,

The department is also paying close attention to the survival rates of over 200 radio-collared deer that are part of a four year deer research project. The project has evaluated survival rates in the northern forest and eastern farmland areas of the state through early April 2014 and is an ongoing study. According to Storm, about 30 percent of the collared fawns in the northern study have died this winter, while roughly 15 percent have died in the farmland area. In contrast, adult deer in both study areas appear to be doing well with six percent losses in the north and two percent losses in the farmlands. In each area, deer have died from a variety of causes including predation, vehicle collisions, and starvation.

The winter severity index, another tool used by DNR to help determine the status of Wisconsin's herd, is a measurement to help gauge the effects of winter weather on deer survival. The index is calculated by adding the number of days with 18 inches or more of snow on the ground to the number of days when the minimum temperatures were zero degrees Fahrenheit or below. A winter with an index of less than 50 is considered mild, 50 to 79 is moderate, 80 to 99 is severe and over 100 is very severe. In Northern Wisconsin, the average winter severity index through March 2014 is 142. In several areas, index measurements have hit record highs, including readings of over 175 points.

Through the use of health assessments and the winter severity index, the department is able to closely monitor and help manage Wisconsin's deer herd. DNR is working to evaluate these findings and will continue to use a number of tools to evaluate winter's effects.

For more information about deer management and health in Wisconsin or the winter severity index, visit the DNR web site at dnr.wi.gov and search keywords "deer."

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Daniel Storm, 608-630-0370

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Last Revised: Tuesday, April 15, 2014