MADISON - Wisconsin's inland fishing season opens as late as it can possibly on the 2011 calendar -- May 7 -- and that's setting up nicely for anglers, particularly people who fish from shore, and for many mothers across Wisconsin.
"The later opener should lead to warmer temperatures, lower stream flows, and more active fish than typical years," says Mike Staggs, Wisconsin's fisheries director.
"Looks like things are coming together for a good outing Saturday -- and then take your mother fishing for Mother's Day on Sunday!"
A new one-day fishing license will help make that even easier if mom doesn't already have a license or wants to try it out before committing to upgrading to an annual license, he says. Chances are, she'll get hooked. Time with the family, beautiful scenery, and hungry fish are a winning combination.
The later start this year gives walleye, musky and other game fish a little more time to wrap up spawning and get ready to put on the feedbag, fish biologists say. They'll be in close to shore, giving shore anglers a chance to find them in the weeds.
DNR fish crews out on lakes and rivers in recent weeks to assess fish populations are reporting nice catches. The crews weigh, measure and tag fish they capture in nets or by using electro-fishing boats before returning them to the lake or river.
"We've been on Lake Wissota sampling and we've marked a lot of fish and have seen a lot of nice fish out there, a lot of walleye in the 20-plus inch range," says Bob Hujik, fish supervisor for west central Wisconsin. "There's going to be a lot of good action this year."
Fishing forecasts for specific waters are available in the 2011 Wisconsin Fishing Report. These reports, filed by fish biologists, use past survey results to predict the kind of fish populations anglers will find in many of their favorite waters.
Following are reports as of April 26 on how conditions statewide are shaping up for the opener.
Northern Wisconsin Fish Supervisor Steve Avelallemant reports "pretty close to normal" conditions in northern Wisconsin. "It always happens this way; the northwestern side is a week ahead, whether it's survey work on the Chippewa Flowage since the end of last week and the Thompson Hatchery crew took some eggs over the weekend for walleye and muskies, while the Oemcke Hatchery in Woodruff hasn't been able to set a net. Two-thirds of the lakes on eastern side still have ice on them, but it's very shaky. It's going to go momentarily, so many lakes will have been ice-free for two weeks before the opener. The walleyes will be done spawning in the west and pretty close in the east with the late opener. Water-wise, our seepage lakes are still pretty low and access is still difficult. We have seen a little response to the rain we got last summer, and the drainage lakes, especially the flowages, are actually pretty good right now from an access standpoint."
West Central Wisconsin Fish Supervisor Bob Hujik reports, "It's been a late spring here but the positive is the warm up is going to put the walleyes and the northerns on the feed. That will be a good thing. We've been on Lake Wissota sampling and marked a lot of fish and have seen a lot of nice fish out there, in the 20-plus inch range. What we need is some warm weather and warm water temperatures and fish activity will increase. We've been sampling the Petenwell Flowage and finding a lot of fish in 20-26 inch range. That's in the no-harvest slot of 20-28 inches, but there are a lot of fish out there. Trout streams are in good shape, the early trout season has been very productive once the water levels have come down."
Northeastern Wisconsin Acting Fish Supervisor John Nelson reports the spawning activity is starting to catch up after last week's cooler temperatures cooled the action. "Things are going to be a little bit behind but it should be pretty good, especially for walleye. Should be 95 percent done by opening day and the fish will be ready to roll. The other species are slowly catching up. Anglers are starting to catch panfish. The Winnebago system should be in good shape. Trout fishing should be excellent throughout the region."
South Central Wisconsin Fish Supervisor Scot Stewart reports that game fish spawning is a little bit behind in southern Wisconsin. Walleye should still be hanging around in the shallow water by new weeds or last year's crop. Bluegill are starting to stage in the channels and will provide some good opening day action to people who know where to find them. Trout waters are in good shape, but he advises going a little later in the day when water temperatures warm a little and fish are more active.
Southeastern Wisconsin Fish Supervisor Randy Schumacher reports that more cold and rainy days are forecast before the opener, "and that's good because northern pike which will be done spawning will be active and spawning, largemouth bass will be very active still, congregating over dark organic bottoms on north side of lakes to warm themselves up for spawning. Generally they'll be in shallow waters. The best time to fish for largemouth is probably in the middle of the day. If you're going for largemouth bass, there's no point in going early in the morning unless you need to get a spot at the boat landing. Otherwise, large female bass are still feeding to help mature their eggs. As far as our recent surveys go, we caught a 51.5 inch musky in Pewaukee Lake, so we're really happy to see strong populations there. There's a good walleye population in Pewaukee as well. It's showing once again it's a lake for everybody -- good largemouth bass, good crappie, bluegills. We're also netting on big Elkhart in Sheboygan County and found a good walleye population there as well, which was good news because we hadn't surveyed for years there and we worried the population may have gone down."
The hook-and-line game fish season opens May 7 on inland waters for walleye, sauger, and northern pike statewide.
The largemouth and smallmouth bass southern zone opens May 7, while the northern bass zone opens for catch and release only from May 7 through June 17, with the harvest season opening June 18. Statewide, the harvest seasons for bass have a minimum length limit of 14 inches with a daily bag limit of five fish in total.
Musky season opens May 7 in the southern zone and May 28 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 "2011-2012 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.
New this year DNR is offering a one-day fishing license that allows people to try fishing, and if they like it, to upgrade to an annual license. The one day license is $8 for residents and $10 for nonresidents.
"This is a good entry level license that lets you do everything but fish for the premium species of trout and salmon," Staggs says. "It's a great way to introduce a friend or family member to the fun of fishing."
The one-day license is good until midnight on the day it is purchased.
People can buy this new license and the 20 other different fishing licenses DNR offers in three convenient ways:
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.
Also, new this year, anglers can use DNR's new "Find a Lake" web feature to find new waters to try out, get maps and detailed lake information, and learn about boat access, local boating ordinances, and other and other facilities. Anglers can search for lakes by region, alphabetically by lake name, or by features they want to make sure are available on the waters they choose, like boat ramps, beaches and parks.
Anglers are reminded to follow rules that help prevent the spread of the fish disease viral hemorrhagic septicemia, or VHS, and other aquatic invasive species that can harm fish. Earlier this month, VHS was determined to be the cause of a March 2011 fish kill of gizzard shad in canals to the Milwaukee River. The rules, aimed at preventing anglers and boaters from moving water and fish from one lake to another, also will help prevent the spread of other fish diseases and aquatic invasive species such as Eurasian water-milfoil and zebra mussels.
For more information on VHS and steps that all water users can take, visit VHS Prevention.
Fish caught from Wisconsin waters are a good, low-cost source of nutrition and a brain booster to boot, but make sure that those who eat the fish are following Wisconsin's fish consumption advisory to reduce their exposure to environmental contaminants such as mercury and PCBs. A video about the general consumption advice is now available in Spanish. Inland waters are covered by the same general advice with the exception of 150 waters where more stringent advice applies because mercury or PCB levels are higher in those waters.
The 46th Governor's Fishing Opener, officially kicking off Wisconsin's big game fishing season, takes place at Lake Wissota in Chippewa County on Saturday, May 7. Gov. Scott Walker has been invited to reel in a fish at his first opener as governor -- a feat that has eluded many previous governors since Governor Warren Knowles started the tradition in 1965. The angling event is held at various locations in western and northern Wisconsin each year and is sponsored by the Wisconsin Indianhead Country Tourism group. This event is also by invitation only to key people in the media and state and local government officials.
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Mike Staggs (608) 267-0796 or your local fish biologist