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ARCHIVED Weekly News Published December 13, 2011

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Ice fishing gains 110,000 anglers over the last decade

MADISON - One hundred ten thousand people can't be wrong.

That's how many more Wisconsinites are ice fishing these days than a decade ago, according to results from a recently released national recreation survey.

"Clearly more people are getting interested in ice fishing in Wisconsin, which is great," says Mike Staggs, Wisconsin's fisheries director.

"It's a low cost way to try fishing or to extend your season if you're a veteran open water angler. It's as easy as drilling a hole -- or finding a hole someone else left behind -- and using some basic equipment to catch some fish for dinner."

An estimated 590,700 Wisconsinites 16 and over report they ice fish, up from 479,900 in 2000, according to the most recent National Survey on Recreation and the Environment. Department of Natural Resources staff are using results from the federally funded survey and other studies to develop its 2011-2016 Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan.

Terry Margenau, a DNR fish supervisor in Spooner and an avid ice angler, credits the sport's growing popularity to several factors, perhaps primarily to the development of specialized ice fishing gear.

"I'm not talking just about the basics, but more on the creature comforts side and, of course, technology," he says. "I have never been one to freeze my buns off for a fish, so have always traveled with a shelter and a heater.

"But now shelters have evolved drastically to be light and made of high quality fabric, heaters are better and safer, and take your pick on sleds to transport your gear. Not to mention the apparel now available to keep you warm. Anglers are equipped to catch fish and be comfortable while doing it."

Margenau also thinks more people are ice fishing because it provides angling opportunities that don't require a boat. And more second-home owners from the Twin Cities, Milwaukee and Madison metro areas seem to be spending more of their winters in the Northwoods as the internet makes it easier to set up a home office anywhere.

"Tag returns from fish tagging we have done supports the contention that historically the winter is dominated by residents," he says.

25-inch walleye
Skip Sommerfeldt caught this 25-inch walleye early in the 2010-2011 ice fishing season. He had the most flags and caught the most fish in 27 years. See Ice Fishing Wisconsin for the rest of his fishing diary.
WDNR Photo

Skip Sommerfeldt, a DNR fish biologist based in Park Falls and an avid angler, adds a few other reasons for the growing popularity, including increased media coverage and the popularity of recreational television shows, the milder winter temperatures and lower snow totals than in past years, which make it more comfortable to be outside, and an increase in the amount of leisure time, whether through the growing ranks of retired Wisconsin citizens and a higher unemployment rate that makes more 'fishing time' available to some.

"And to toot our own horn -- the success of Wisconsin's fisheries management program," Sommerfeldt says. "Season limitations, size regulation and various management activities have ensured that there is an abundance of sport fishing opportunities all throughout Wisconsin."

And lastly, says Sommerfeldt, who ice fished 93 of 96 possible days last year and recorded both a record number of flags and fish caught, "it's just plain fun! There's nothing like watching the slow steady turn on the spindle of your tip-up and knowing that there's a big fish on the end of the line ...and then seeing that fish fill the hole as you slide it out onto the ice."

Lack of ice slows start of hard water season...but wait a while and then whoa Nellie!

Moderate temperatures this fall -- against a backdrop of rising temperatures statewide over the last 50 years -- are conspiring to push the hard water season back. While there's some ice formation in northern Wisconsin, it's behind normal, fish biologists are reporting, and all but the smallest southern waters are wide open, they say.

Once the ice forms solid, get ready for some fishing fun. Early ice offers some of the season's best fishing, and with the holidays coming up, anglers might just have more time to get outside when the fish are biting.

Ice Fishing Wisconsin an online resource for the hard water season

While waiting for the ice, anglers can get ready for their first trip by visiting Ice Fishing Wisconsin on the DNR website. Find tips for great fishing and for successful outings with kids, lists of places to go fishing, and the latest diary entry from avid ice angler Skip Sommerfeldt, a fish biologist who's kept detailed records of his ice fishing on the same Price County lake for the last 20 years.

Once the fish start biting, check the DNR Outdoor Report every week for reports on what's biting and where, and consider sharing your stories and photos via DNR's Facebook page or Twitter account!/WDNR.

Follow rules to prevent spreading fish diseases

Ice anglers eager to start the hard water season are reminded to take steps to prevent spreading VHS and other fish diseases and aquatic invasive species.

Viral hemorrhagic septicemia, a virus that can infect several dozen fish species and cause them to bleed to death, has been confirmed in all of the Great Lakes and in the Lake Winnebago system. Testing to date has shown that the virus has not spread to new waters, but 2011 results showed that healthy-looking yellow perch in Wisconsin waters of Lake Michigan were infected with VHS virus even though there was no fish kill, and earlier this year VHS was as the cause of a fish kill that left thousands of gizzard shad floating in the Milwaukee harbor ship canals.

Here is what anglers need to know to help prevent the virus and other fish diseases from spreading:

  • Follow bait rules. Buy bait from Wisconsin bait dealers. If you take minnows home after a day fishing and you've added lake water or fish to their container, you can return with them only to that same waterbody 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.
  • Don't move live fish away from the water. Keep the fish you catch and 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.

Following these rules will protect Wisconsin lakes and rivers and anglers' pocketbooks: a citation for carrying live fish away from a water runs $343.50, while the penalty for failing to drain the water from fishing equipment is $243.

Wisconsin ice fishing fast facts
  • An estimated 590,700 Wisconsinites 16 and older report ice fishing, up from 479,100 in 2000-1 and 496,900 in 1994-5.
  • Ice fishing trails only sledding, snowmobiling and ice skating outdoors as the most popular of outdoor winter ice and snow sports.
  • Anglers spent 11 million hours ice fishing in 2006, the most recent year for which statistics are available. That's 21 percent of the total 52 million hours spent fishing across all of the 2006-7 license year.
  • Anglers reported catching 14 million fish while ice fishing, and keeping 6.6 million of them, or less than half. During the open water season, about one-third of all fish caught are kept.
  • Panfish, northern pike and walleye, are the top species caught, in order, with 11.7 million, 866,000, and 750,000, respectively.
  • In 2011 there were 122 ice fishing tournaments held in the state. For 2012 so far there are 56 approved permits, with likely many more to come in as folks continue to submit applications.

Sources: DNR statewide mail survey of anglers during 2006-7 license year; 2011-16 SCORP

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Terry Margenau - (715) 635-4162



Early-season ice not safe for humans, vehicles

MADISON -- Ice fishers and outdoor enthusiasts are urged to remain patient when it comes to winter's early ice cover, which state conservation wardens classify as not thick enough to safely support a human -- much less any type of vehicle.

Todd Schaller, recreation safety chief for the Department of Natural Resources, says the ice always is unpredictable but it is nearly certain to be too weak to be considered safe during these weeks of weather's transition from late fall to early winter.

Conditions vary throughout the state with some of Wisconsin still having open water and other areas developing a thin ice layer.

"It is important that ice fishers use caution if conditions in their area allow them to venture out," Schaller said. "If ice thickness is unknown, stay on the shore and stay dry. The ice fishing season will be here soon."

Schaller says people should use this time to brush on some ice safety precautions. Review these with others who enjoy the outdoors - especially any children. Ice poses dangers on ponds, lakes and rivers.

"You can enjoy the winter and stay safe at the same time," he says. "Follow these safety tips."

How to dress:
  • Dress for the conditions. That means the proper clothing and equipment. Please include a U.S. Coast Guard-approved Personal Flotation Device (vest or coat) that will help you stay afloat and slow body heat loss should you fall in. Extra mittens and gloves should be standard so you always have a dry pair.
  • Wear ice creepers on your boots. These are idea to prevent slips.
Before you go:
  • Contact local sport shops to ask about ice conditions on the lake or river you want to fish.
  • Learn about the water you are going to use. Know if the lake has inlets, outlets or narrows that have currents known to thin the ice.
When you go:
  • Do not go out alone. If you do, carry a cell phone and let someone know where you are and your expected return time. Follow that timeline.
  • Carry a spud bar to check the ice while walking to new areas during daylight only.
  • Carry a couple of spikes and a length of light rope in an easily accessible pocket to help pull yourself - or others - out of the ice.
  • Do not travel in unfamiliar territories at night.
Watch out for this:
  • Look for clear ice. Clear ice is generally stronger than ice with air bubbles in it or with snow on it.
  • Watch out for pressure ridges or ice heaves. These can be dangerous due to thin ice and open water and may be an obstruction you may hit with a car, truck or snowmobile.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Todd Schaller - (608) 267-2774



Biologists seek feedback on Lake Michigan salmon stocking

MADISON -- Five years after cutting the number of chinook stocked in Lake Michigan by 25 percent, Wisconsin and three other states are reviewing if the reduction worked and encouraging anglers to weigh in.

"We cut the lake-wide stocking quite a bit five years ago to better balance the trout and salmon out there with the available food supply. We said at that time we'd review how it worked," says Bill Horns, Great Lakes fisheries specialist for the Department of Natural Resources.

"Anglers report that the chinook and coho they caught in 2011 were big and robust, so we're not hearing a lot of concern from anglers, but we want to follow through on the promise we made to revisit the issue."

Horns invites anglers to review information on the web about the Lake Michigan Stocking Strategies workshops and to email him at or call at (608) 266-8782 with their feedback on how the stocking reductions worked and suggestions to guide future trout and salmon stocking on Lake Michigan.

Anglers also can attend a Lake Michigan Stocking Strategies conference being planned for next summer. Stocking decisions for 2013 and beyond will be based on the data presented and discussed at that public conference.

"So far, we've had a good cross-section of the angling public represented in limited workshops to scope out the process," says Brad Eggold, who supervises DNR's southern Lake Michigan fisheries team. "Now we want to reach out to more anglers to help us get ready for the public meeting this summer."

Fishing club reps help shape summer stocking meeting

Representatives from fishing groups across the Great Lakes region have met with fish biologists from Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois to formally launch the review of salmon and trout stocking policy in Lake Michigan. They are discussing the process, the information needed, and stocking options for Michigan State's Quantitative Fisheries Center staff to run through computer models to see how the different scenarios would affect fish and forage populations.

Fishing club representatives present at the earlier workshops included Duane Nadolski, a member of the Ozaukee Great Lakes Sport Fishermen chapter and also a member of the Wisconsin Federation of Great Lakes Sport Fishing Club; John Hansen, a member of the Milwaukee Great Lakes Sport Fishermen chapter and Racine Salmon Unlimited, and Todd Pollesch, who is Wisconsin's sport fish advisor to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. Mark Hassenburg, a member of the Kenosha Great Lakes Sport Fishermen chapter and Henry Koltz of the Southeast Chapter of Trout Unlimited, are expected to also participate in the final workshop in late January to finalize options and presentations for the summer conference.

Stocking reduction the "right move at the right time"

DNR fish biologists believe the lake-wide reduction was successful in its goal of assuring the stability of the salmon forage base, especially alewives. While the lake-wide stocking reduction was 25 percent, most of the reduction was in Michigan, where there's been good natural reproduction. But Wisconsin also sliced its stocking by 21 percent starting in 2006, Horns says.

"We think the reduction was the right move at the right time, especially when we look at what's happened in Lake Huron," he says. "Today, the chinook fishery of Lake Huron has collapsed, while Lake Michigan remains strong."

In Lake Huron, naturally reproduced chinook flooded the system in the early years of this decade and depleted the alewife population. The problem was exacerbated by the invasion and proliferation of quagga mussels, which started changing the lake ecosystem and contributed to the alewife decline there, he says.

Wisconsin anglers' reports of catching bigger, more robust fish were backed up by the fish that turned up in DNR egg collection facilities this fall. Both the number and size of fish was up.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Bill Horns - (608) 266-8782 or Brad Eggold - (414) 382-7921



State residents recycling millions of electronics through E-Cycle Wisconsin

EDITOR'S ADVISORY: This article has been updated from when originally published.

MADISON -- Just two years after its start, E-Cycle Wisconsin has grown to be one of the most successful electronics recycling programs in the country, according to data compiled by the Department of Natural Resources.

From July 2010 to June 2011, E-Cycle Wisconsin registered collectors took in more than 35 million pounds of old televisions, computers and other electronics from Wisconsin households and schools. This is equal to 6.2 pounds per person, one of the highest rates among states with electronics recycling laws.

"If you think about it, that's 35 million pounds of valuable materials going back into the production stream instead of sitting in someone's basement or a landfill," said Brad Wolbert, solid waste and recycling specialist in the DNR waste and materials management program. "E-Cycle Wisconsin has been good for the economy and for the environment."

Wisconsin's electronics recycling law, passed in 2009, bans some electronics, like televisions and computers, from landfills while requiring that electronics manufacturers fund an electronics recycling program for households and schools. To help ensure responsible recycling, collectors and recyclers participating in the program must register with the DNR and meet certain standards.

"We've received a very positive response from collectors and recyclers in the program," Wolbert said. "The increased volume of electronics is helping recyclers in the state expand while reducing costs for local governments and taxpayers. E-Cycle Wisconsin is boosting the economy without a large government footprint."

Among the program's biggest successes has been expanding the locations where state residents can bring electronics for recycling. There are now nearly 400 permanent electronics collection sites and several dozen temporary collection sites registered with E-Cycle Wisconsin. That's a 68 percent increase from February 2010, soon after the program began. Collection sites can be found in 68 of the state's 72 counties.

Properly recycling old electronics this holiday season will help E-Cycle Wisconsin continue to grow. See the E-Cycle Wisconsin page of the DNR website for a list of collection sites by county and more detailed program results.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Brad Wolbert at (608) 264-6286.


Read more: Previous Weekly News

Last Revised: Tuesday, December 13, 2011

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