Published March 24, 2016 by the Central Office
View current conditions for Wisconsin State Parks, Trails and Forests
Check out the Wisconsin Department of Tourism (exit DNR).
With a short warm period ending rather abruptly this week, weather in the state has been fluctuating rapidly as a large storm cell moved across the Midwest. The storm dropped from several inches to nearly a foot snow across central Wisconsin, while to the south an icy rain blanketed the ground.
Flood and late winter-storm warnings will hang on until late Thursday afternoon and early Friday morning. State park and forest properties will not be grooming cross-country ski trails, as most of that equipment has been put away for the season. Skiers are welcome to break their own trail, but unless trails are groomed, they also remain open to hikers. Most hiking trails will be more than a little soggy and most mountain bike and horse trails remain closed at this time.
The Mississippi River in the La Crosse area is about 6 feet above normal and crested March 23, but with recent rain and snow, the river could rise further. The walleye and perch fishing had been good, but the rise in water levels has decreased fishing activity and the bite has slowed dramatically.
The trout season opens this Saturday on some sections of streams that host Lake Superior fish runs, such as the Bois Brule River. The Flambeau River is open and starting to host the redhorse run.
Heavy rains on Tuesday of last week triggered a massive water release at the dams on the Oconto, Peshtigo, and Menominee rivers that pushed out the remaining ice in most places. Anglers out of Little River were staring to catch good numbers of brown trout trolling north of the landing. Shore anglers from the Hattie Street Dam to Stephenson Island were seeing increasing numbers of walleye being caught along with the occasional brown trout.
Steelhead runs have begun on southeastern Lake Michigan tributaries. Anglers fishing the Sheboygan River have been catching fair numbers of steelhead below the Kohler dam and have also reported steelhead in the Pigeon River. Conditions in Sauk Creek have been good and steelhead were being caught. Fishing pressure on the Oak Creek has been steady and Milwaukee River anglers reported nice catches of steelhead prior to heavy rains last week. Fishing pressure on the Root River was consistently high this past weekend, with anglers catching a fair amount of steelhead. DNR crews processed fish at the Root River Steelhead Facility last week collecting more than 600,000 eggs so far. A total of 442 steelhead have been passed upriver. The next spawning day will be Monday, March 28.
There have been recent reports of some bucks still holding last year's antlers due to the mild winter, but Clam Lake bull elk are starting to drop their antlers. In year two of elk reintroduction efforts, 39 elk from Kentucky have reached their new home in Jackson County this week. The elk will be held in an acclimation pen in the Black River State Forest through a quarantine period to satisfy health testing requirements before joining the elk that were released last year.
The harsh weather is buffeting recently opened pasque flowers in south central Wisconsin, but the precipitation and return of colder night temperatures has sap once again running in the sugar bushes.
Dane County - Help restore the Sugar River Wetlands State Natural Area during a volunteer workday [PDF] from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, March 26. Join Upper Sugar River Watershed Association members as they cut invasive species like buckthorn, honeysuckle and more to promote the growth of native plant species. Refreshments including hot chocolate and coffee will be available to fuel you through the morning. No skills needed you will be trained onsite. Volunteers and work leaders will gather where Epic Lane and County View Road meet in Verona, overlooking the Epic Systems campus to the east and the Military Ridge State Trail to the west. An approximate address is 2517 Country View Road, Verona, WI 53593. - Jared Urban, conservation biologist, Dane
In year two of elk reintroduction efforts in partnership with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife and a number of other key partners, 39 elk from Kentucky have reached their new home in Wisconsin (exit DNR). In 2016, all elk will be released in Jackson County, while future years will see animals released near Clam Lake.
Department staff are taking special precautions to make sure the elk become accustomed to their new home in Jackson County. The elk will be held in a seven acre acclimation pen in the Black River State Forest to fulfill a 120-day quarantine period to satisfy health testing requirements and help the second cohort of Kentucky elk become familiar with their new surroundings. In addition to the closed area surrounding the acclimation pen, individuals are asked to voluntarily avoid the general vicinity of the closed area until the elk are released in early summer. Minimizing human disturbance near the release site will allow the elk to adjust to their new home and will help maximize the success of reintroduction efforts. Funding for Wisconsin's elk translocation efforts is a result of key partnerships and support from the Ho-Chunk Nation, Jackson County Wildlife Fund, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and many others. For more information regarding elk in Wisconsin, search keyword "elk." - Kevin Wallenfang, big game ecologist, Dane
Superior DNR Service Center area
Brule River State Forest - Although the return of eagles and robins back to the area are signs of changing seasons, a couple spring snow storms this past week reminded us that it is not quite time to break out our swim suits and sun screen and head to the beach. Although we did receive a fair bit of snow last week, it was not enough to groom the trails. The trout season on the lower stretches of the Brule River opens on Saturday. March 26. Be sure to check the updated Guide to Wisconsin Trout Fishing Regulations 2015-2016 as there have been changes affecting the Brule. With ice on lakes quickly deteriorating, water fowl are returning to the north as they find adequate open water. Mallard ducks, geese, and swans have all been observed in the area. A few song birds are returning, and our famous robin is here. Great horned owls, ravens and geese are the earliest nesters in our bird community. The breeding season for bald eagles has begun. New pairs are being established and existing pairs are reestablishing their pair bonds. New nests are being built and old nests are being repaired. Eagles are mother nature's fish locator. If you are seeing eagles perched over a body of water, chances are that there are fish below. Turkeys that are starting to goggle and grouse are beginning to drum despite the peak breeding for both being about 4-5 weeks away. There have been recent reports of some bucks still holding last year's antlers due to the mild winter while many will soon start growing new antlers with the flush of new plant growth in April. County Deer Advisory Councils, established to put decisions concerning Wisconsin's deer hunt in public hands, are meeting currently, with Douglas County meeting March 23 from 6-8:30 at the Superior Public Library. These meetings are an opportunity for you to have a say in your county deer hunt. With public feedback forums being held in the near future (April 18-21) as well. For details search the DNR website for keyword CDAC. Next CDAC public meeting for Douglas County will be April 20 from 6-8 at the Superior Public Library. - Edwin Koepp, visitor services associate
Ashland DNR Service Center area
Amnicon Falls State Park - Kestrels, common grackels, red-wing blackbirds, robins, and killdeers are all back to Douglas County. Maple sap has been flowing but a bit slow so far. - Kevin Feind, property supervisor
Park Falls DNR Service Center area
Flambeau River State Forest - The hiking trails are open at Lake of the Pines and Little Falls, though the water level is high and it would make it difficult to cross over to Slough Gundy. The Flambeau River is completely open and some folks have been out floating the river and using the scenic river sites for camping and day-use. Fishing on the Flambeau is pretty slow right now. The Redhorse are starting to run. Panfish fishing is open and you can catch bluegills, pumpkinseed, crappies, and perch in area lakes. Hunter walking trails are always open, but you will definitely need boots as there are wet areas on the trails. When folks come to bike ride this forest this time of year, we encourage them to use the ATV/UTV trail which is still closed till May 16 to ATV/UTV use. Nature is at one of its busiest times of the year. Early mornings are filled with a cacophony of bird chirping, grouse drumming, and turkeys participating in the spring pre-nesting activities and mating. Many of the birds are building nests, nesting, and in the case of the great horned owl already have youngsters in their nests. Swans, geese, sandhill cranes, and ducks of various species are just a few of the new inhabitants back for the season. It is just WILD and fun to see them all back. Mammals in the area such as river otters have given birth and the snowshoe hare and weasel coats have begun to change in color. Bears are still denned up but on warm days dozing lightly waiting for the earth to green up and provide spring food nutrients. Elk bulls are starting to drop their antlers. Deer and elk (ungulates), cows and does are starting their third trimester of pregnancy, which is a period of quick growth of the fetus, but they will not give birth till green-up. Green-up provides plenty of food and vitamins so the females can lactate. The sap from the maples is still running and seems to be picking up in quantity. This weeks' temperatures will be in the high 30s to low 40s during the day and high teens to low 20s at night except on Friday. Roads are firming up, but still very soft in spots. Earth Day is coming up on April 22 and people looking for ways to give Mother Nature a hand can volunteer at your local park or forest and help maintain and clean up a little of Wisconsin. Even by walking park roads with a garbage bag and picking up litter helps more than you can know. - Diane Stowell, visitor services associate
Northern Lake Michigan fisheries team report
Heavy rains on Tuesday of last week triggered a massive water release at the dams on the Oconto, Peshtigo, and Menominee Rivers which pushed out the remaining ice in most places. The boat launches are open at Pensaukee, Oconto Municipal Landing, and Oconto Breakwater Park, the landing at Oconto Park II is still iced in. The boat landing at the Peshtigo Municipal Garage and at the Peshtigo Harbor are open. On the Menominee River all landings are open except at the 6th Street Slip. Water temperatures are approaching 38 degrees in the Rivers and anglers report Bay temperatures between 34 and 38 degrees, water clarity is low. - Kevin King, fisheries technician, Peshtigo
Marinette County - Anglers fishing close to the dam at Peshtigo are having little or no success for walleye, but boaters at the Peshtigo Harbor are catching fish in 8 to 16 feet of water jigging and trolling around the mouth of the river. Anglers out of Little River are staring to catch good numbers of brown trout trolling stick baits in 6 to 8 feet of water north of the landing, some very nice fish are being caught, the largest being a 12 pound fish. Shore anglers from the Hattie Street Dam to Stephenson Island are seeing increasing numbers of walleye being caught along with the occasional brown trout casting zip lures, jigs and plastic and stick baits. Boaters along the entire Menominee river are also having some success trolling for walleye and browns. - Kevin King, fisheries technician, Peshtigo
Oconto County - Anglers at the dam at Stiles report no fish being caught yet, although a few male walleye were reported being caught at the J Bridge. The greatest number of anglers were at Oconto Breakwater Park. On Saturday 31 trailers and numerous shore anglers were observed at the breakwater. The hottest action was in the bay with anglers fishing in 8 to 20 feet of water for walleye. Jigs and plastics or live bait was working well, Zip lures are also catching fish. Some anglers are trolling stick baits with good success. Along with walleye people are reporting catching some northern and brown trout. - Kevin King, fisheries technician, Peshtigo
Sturgeon Bay DNR Service Center area
Whitefish Dunes State Park - Seven inches of wet, heavy snow fell Thursday March 24 and possible of a few more inches before the weekend. There are no plans of grooming this late in the season and hiking is allowed on all trails. Lots of bird activity at the bird feeder such as the downy, hairy, red-bellied woodpeckers, nuthatches, cardinals and chickadees. The beach shoreline is a great place to stroll along and view the water. Some days there are huge waves and others very calm. There is less sand to walk on since the water level is above average. Expect temperatures to be 10 to 15 degrees cooler along the lake. It is recommended to bring layers of clothes compared to warmer places in the county. - Jaclyn Moeri, visitor services associate
Wautoma DNR Service Center area
Waupaca County - There is 8 to 12 inches of snow predicted in most of central Wisconsin this week. Ice has gone out on most area lakes, but there has not been any fishing pressure. Fair amount of fishing pressure on the Fox-Locks properties, pretty slow so far. Water temperatures are pretty cold yet. Some migrant ducks are back: wood ducks, mallards, mergansers and ring-bills. No teal yet. Turkeys are displaying quite a bit on sunny days and gobbling on most days. Hope we get the lower end of the predicted total snowfall. - Karl Kramer, wildlife technician, Wautoma
Milwaukee DNR Service Center area
Kettle Moraine State Forest, Pike Lake Unit - Spring has arrived! Trails are in seasonal condition. There are many muddy spots yet on the trail as the seasons change. Cross-country ski trails are done for the season. Skunk cabbage has been growing quickly on the boardwalk loop north of the beach. The first bluebirds have arrived at Pike Lake. Sandhill cranes have returned to the area, and we are beginning to seeing many of the migratory bird species again. There are lots of fresh woodpecker holes on all of the trails. Frequently seen woodpecker species include the downy, the hairy, the red-bellied woodpecker, and occasionally seen is a pileated woodpecker pair. Look for signs of the pileated woodpecker presence, as they create oblong holes vs. the regular perfectly round holes. Red-tailed hawks are frequently seen hunting the property right now as their eggs are likely beginning to hatch. Bald eagles have been spotted flying above both Pike Lake and Loew Lake. Pike Lake's white-tailed deer and turkey are frequently spotted during the day by hikers recently. This Saturday March 26 there will be a Spring into Health Hike beginning at 1 p.m. at the beach parking lot. We will be taking the green loop which is a 1.97 mile hike. Dogs are allowed! Dress for the weather. - Andrew Krueger, ranger
Southern Lake Michigan fisheries team report - Compiled from creel clerks by Cheryl Masterson and Jeffrey Zinuticz, fisheries technicians, Milwaukee
Sheboygan County - Anglers fishing the Sheboygan River have been catching fair numbers of steelhead below the Kohler dam. Stream flows and water clarity are good, but that will likely change as the Sheboygan area is forecast to get 5 to 9 inches of snow Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Anglers have also reported steelhead in the Pigeon River.
Ozaukee County - Water in the Port Washington harbor is murky after strong northeast winds Wednesday. Occasional brown trout have been caught near the power plant discharge and in Rotary Park, with both spawn and crank baits producing. Conditions in Sauk Creek are good, and steelhead have been caught near the high school and in the Nature Preserve.
Milwaukee County - In Milwaukee, a few rainbows and brown trout have been landed at various locations around McKinley Marina. A spawn sac under a slip bobber has been the most productive bait, although anglers have also been casting spoons, crank baits, and white gulp from the docks. Behind the Summerfest grounds, anglers have caught a few rainbows and browns in the harbor and in the river on spawn and fathead minnows, and browns have also been caught on spoons fished in the Lakeshore State Park lagoon. The fishing area under the Hoan Bridge near Jones Island has reopened for fishing, and anglers have caught a few browns and rainbows on spawn sacs under a slip bobber. Nice catches of brown trout and a few rainbows have been landed at the Oak Creek Power Plant fishing pier. A white tube jig tipped with a wax worm under a slip bobber was the most productive setup. Fishing pressure on the Oak Creek has been steady with 10-12 anglers on average targeting rainbow trout. A spawn sac under a slip bobber was the most productive bait, but small flies have also taken fish. Milwaukee River anglers reported nice catches of steelhead in Kletzsch and Estabrook Parks prior to heavy rains last week, but success tapered off when water levels went way up. Menomonee River anglers at Miller Park and Three Bridges Park have caught steelhead on egg patterns and stone flies in the past couple of weeks. Northern pike have also been caught in the area. Boats in Milwaukee have been jigging for brown trout in the gaps and trolling crank baits inside the harbor. The majority of the fish landed were brown trout in the 3-5 pound range. Boats out of Bender Park were landing mostly brown trout in 20-30 feet of water in front of the Oak Creek Power Plant, and they reported good luck trolling flicker shad crank baits and stinger spoons.
Racine County - At the lakefront, shore anglers in Racine were found fishing from the shoreline near the boat ramp and the marina slips. Several brown trout were caught using spawn sacs on the bottom in the boat ramp area. Those fishing the marina slips were casting stick baits, flicker shads, and chartreuse and silver spoons to catch some brown trout as well. Fishing pressure on the piers was low this past weekend due to turbid water and waves crashing into the pier. Fishing pressure on the Root River was consistently high this past weekend. The water was high and had poor clarity through Friday, but greatly improved by Sunday. Anglers were catching a fair amount of steelhead, with fish being caught in all sections of the river from Island Park up to Horlick Dam. Those that had the most success were floating spawn sacs under bobbers, but fly fishermen were also getting fish on flies that were purple or orange. Temperatures in the river were up to 46 degrees last week but dropped down to 41 degrees by Sunday. DNR crews processed fish at the Root River Steelhead Facility on Monday and Tuesday, March 21 and 22. More than 323,000 Chambers Creek strain eggs and 283,000 Ganaraska strain eggs have been collected so far. A total of 442 steelhead have been passed upriver. The next spawning day will be Monday, March 28.
Kenosha County - Shore anglers in the Kenosha harbor have been fishing near the Best Western hotel. They report catching occasional brown trout on golden shiners or spawn under bobbers. The harbor temperature is 42 degrees. Fishing pressure on the Pike River has been low this past week. The water is becoming low and quite clear. Not many anglers were interviewed, but those that were had caught several steelhead. The baits of choice included spawn sacs, white tube jigs or nymph pattern flies. The water temperature was 44 degrees.
Plymouth DNR Service Center area
Theresa Marsh State Wildlife Area - Spring wildlife activity has been picking with many critters on the landscape (deer feeding in fields, turkeys displaying, larger flocks of sand hill cranes, and Canada geese staging and beginning to nest at Theresa Marsh. Lots of duck species (especially northern shovelers, wood ducks and mallards) and other dabbling and diving species are using the marsh and surrounding flooded farm fields and seasonally flooded wetlands. About 30 tundra swans have been using a flooded area across from the Theresa Marsh shop building near the corner of Highway DD and North Pole Road. The Pike Lake DNR wildlife management crew has been sampling car-killed deer in Washington and Ozaukee counties the past couple weeks to assess post-winter body condition. We try to sample at least 10 per county. We look at kidney and heart fat, bone marrow, rump and sternal fat and the number of gender of fawn fetuses for female deer, and we take foot length measurements on all yearling deer (last year's fawns) to measure growth rate. The County Deer Advisory Committee (CDAC) meetings in Washington and Ozaukee were held last week to develop preliminary antlerless quotas and permit levels and season frameworks for the fall deer season. Preliminary recommendations have already been posted on the CDAC website. The public comment period for the recommendations runs April 4-17. Another CDAC meeting will be held in each county in mid-April to finalize the recommendations after public comments have been received. Leftover spring turkey permits are being sold through the new "Go Wild" this week. About 4,900 left over permits remain for Zone 2, all for the last time period. Zone 2 permits will go on sale again on Saturday, March 26 at 10am. - Tom Isaac, wildlife biologist, Hartford
Dodgeville DNR Service Center area
Green County - Starting on March 1 until the first Saturday in May, the Albany Dam, Decatur Dam, and the Old Brodhead power house are fish refuges from the dam downstream for a distance of 500 feet. No fishing is allowed in these areas during this time. - Ryan Caputo, conservation warden, New Glarus
Fitchburg DNR Service Center area
Columbia County - Pasque flowers were seen this past Monday in full bloom. Spring peepers and chorus frogs are being heard. Water levels on the WI River are still very high, but are on their way down. Lone toms have been seen all over the county as many of the winter turkey flocks are breaking up. - Sara Kehrli, wildlife biologist, Poynette
La Crosse DNR Service Center area
La Crosse County - The Mississippi River in the La Crosse area is about six feet above normal and crested March 23, but with a prediction of rain and snow in the forecast, the river could rise further. The walleye and perch fishing had been good, but the rise in water levels has decreased fishing activity and the bite has slowed dramatically. Individuals are catching a few walleyes below the lock and dams using a river rigs tipped with minnows. Most anglers are having better luck fishing farther downstream and away from the main flow of the river. A lot of waterfowl have migrated into the area, including many common diver and puddle ducks species. Pelicans, tundra swans and bald eagles can be seen along the river with the eagles tending to young eaglets that have hatched. - Dale Hochhausen, conservation warden, La Crosse
Vernon County - People who feed birds should keep a sharp eye on the birds frequenting feeders during the coming weeks. Purple finches are a common early spring migrant in southern Wisconsin. Often confused with the resident, exotic house finch, with which it may associate at feeders, a male purple finch is more uniformly colored than house finches. Also note the purple finch's broad dark jaw stripe, dark ear patch, light stripe behind the eye, and large bill. Purple finch numbers typically peak in late April and the birds rapidly advance to their breeding areas in northern Wisconsin by early May. - Dave Matheys, wildlife biologist, Viroqua
Eau Claire DNR Service Center area
Chippewa River State Trail - The Chippewa River did flood some sections of the trail recently but caused only minor damage. The trail is passible but the road crossing at 770th Street west of Meridean did wash out. Use caution until the town can repair the road. - Calvin Kunkel, ranger
Wisconsin Rapids DNR Service Center area
Buckhorn State Park - The ice is completely off the lake. Castle Rock Lake is still in drawdown, but waters are high due to 3-plus inches of rain last week. Piers will be put out the end of April when the lake level is back up. Hiking trails are open and are fairly dry. Deer ticks are now active. Sandhill cranes have been seen and heard around the park. Tom turkeys have been seen displaying to hens already. - David Sanda, park manager