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More lakes opening up in time for fishing season opening day

Published by Central Office May 1, 2018

Contact(s): Justine Hasz, fisheries director, 715-896-9558; Todd Schaller, chief warden, 608-381-8927; Mike Vogelsang, northern district supervisor, 715-356-5211 x 239; Bob Hujik, western district supervisor, 715-839-3731; Brad Eggold, Great Lakes district supervisor, 414-382-7921; Tim Simonson, Southern district supervisor, 608-275-3239; Dave Boyarski, Eastern district supervisor, 920-746-2865; Dave Giehtbrock, fish culture leader, 608-266-8229

Get a line on regional conditions from DNR regional fisheries supervisors

MADISON - More northern Wisconsin waters are opening up in time for the May 5 inland fishing season opener and walleye are likely to have finished spawning in many places and ready to put on the feedbag, state fisheries officials say.

"It's been a long winter. Time to get outdoors and have some fun," says Justine Hasz, Wisconsin's fisheries director.

"Fishing opening day is a great tradition, and the warmer weather last week and predicted for this week should set the stage for some good fishing. I'm hoping to catch some walleye and crappie this weekend."

More lakes in northern Wisconsin are thawing in time for the May 5 inland fishing season opener. Fisheries biologist Tammie Paoli shows off a nice northern pike captured during late April surveys on Oconto Falls Pond.  - Photo credit: DNR
More lakes in northern Wisconsin are thawing in time for the May 5 inland fishing season opener. Fisheries biologist Tammie Paoli shows off a nice northern pike captured during late April surveys on Oconto Falls Pond. Photo credit: DNR

Much of the state is forecast to enjoy temperatures in the 70s this week, and that means that ice conditions can be highly variable and changing quickly, says Chief Warden Todd Schaller. Anglers planning to travel to northern Wisconsin to fish will want to check in with local bait shops or fishing clubs to get a read on local ice and fishing conditions.

"No ice is safe ice, so anyone venturing out should use caution and know before you go," Schaller says. He also advises anglers to wear life jackets, fish with someone else, take a cell phone and tell someone your plan including where you are and when you'll return.

While stocking of catchable size inland trout has occurred in southern inland waters, deliveries of fish to some northern inland waters will be delayed beyond the May 5 fishing opener at due to road weight limits and ice conditions.

"Weather conditions haven't allowed us to stock all the fish we planned by the inland opener but we're working on it as fast as we can," says Dave Giehtbrock, fish culture leader. "We are waiting for road limits and ice to go off in the north."

In all, about 740,000 catchable rainbow, brown, brook and lake trout will be stocked in more than 400 waters this spring. Anglers planning on targeting inland waters due for stocking can search the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov, for "catchable trout" to determine if fish have been delivered to their water.

Updates from district fisheries supervisors on fishing conditions

Lake Michigan

Coho fishing is already heating up in the southern end of Lake Michigan and should continue to improve through late spring and early summer.   - Photo credit: DNR
Coho fishing is already heating up in the southern end of Lake Michigan and should continue to improve through late spring and early summer. Photo credit: DNR

Coho fishing is already heating up in the southern end of Lake Michigan and should continue to improve through late spring and early summer. Coho generally follow an annual clockwise migration pattern around Lake Michigan's southern basin. They congregate in waters of Indiana and Illinois in early spring, and as the season progresses and water temperature increases, most coho follow the Illinois and Wisconsin shore north. They typically provide fast action, and multiple strikes are common. People can visit the Lake Michigan outdoor fishing report on the DNR website to sign up to get the latest fishing reports for Lake Michigan and Green Bay in their inbox or find the reports online. - Brad Eggold, Great Lakes district fisheries supervisor

Lake Superior

The ice fishing season is wrapping up as ice conditions deteriorate and Lake Superior is slowly opening up for boats. Currently access to open water is available from Port Wing to Cornucopia and from Saxon (Saxon will be closed for the season beginning May 15, 2018). Anglers are reporting success in the near shore areas targeting Brown Trout and Coho.

May 5, 2018, marks the opening season for catch and release smallmouth bass in the lake and walleye and northern pike in the connected tributaries and sloughs. Although the ice may still be limiting open water access, the walleye and northern pike opener should allow for opportunities from the shoreline or one of the boat ramps that is ice free. As the ice slowly declines this spring the nearshore fisheries will pick up and targeting brown trout and coho salmon should allow for a successful fishing trip. Lake trout make up the bulk of anglers' catch in Lake Superior and a recent increase in the population is leading to high angler success. As summer approaches Lake Trout will begin to provide a spectacular offshore fishing opportunity.- Brad Ray, fisheries biologist, Lake Superior field unit

St. Louis River: The river is nearly ice-free throughout its length from Fond du Lac to Lake Superior. Walleye and northern pike fishing open on Saturday, May 12, and muskellunge and bass (largemouth, smallmouth) open on Saturday, May 26. All species carry minimum length limits and their populations contain plenty of "keeper" size fish. To fish the St. Louis River, you will need a fishing license from the state of your residence. For example, if you are a Wisconsin resident, you need a Wisconsin resident license; this allows you to fish both in Wisconsin and Minnesota waters of the river. Anglers fishing boundary waters are reminded to carry a paper copy of their fishing license.

Bois Brule River and other south shore tributaries to Lake Superior: The fishing season on many Lake Superior tributaries opened on Saturday, March 31. The Bois Brule River Steelhead fishing continues to offer catch-and-release and harvest opportunities. The minimum length limit for steelhead is 26 inches, as it is for all tributaries. The river has fished well this spring, although recent runoff has caused the river's flow to increase and clarity to decrease. - Paul Piszczek, fisheries biologist based in Superior

Northern Wisconsin

As of April 29, lakes north of Highway 8 still have very solid ice. In northern tier counties such as Oneida, Vilas, Ashland, Bayfield, and Douglas, anglers are using extensions on their augers due to the thick ice cover that still remains. It is expected that ice will remain through next week and into the fishing opener for northern counties, and it's difficult to predict at this point what state it will be in. Small shallow lakes may be open, but larger lakes could have ice that's not quite safe to walk on, and too socked in to launch a boat. When ice-out does occur, walleye will be the most sought after species. Walleye spawning will be very active and during late ice-out years peak spawning activity occurs quickly and could be over in as little as three to five days. Walleye anglers will definitely want to focus their efforts in the shallows, particularly along rock and cobble shorelines. Live bait combos such as jigs and minnows always bode well early in the season, as do small minnow stick baits and crank baits.- Mike Vogelsang, northern Wisconsin fisheries district supervisor

DNR walleye surveys on open waters so far in 2018 are showing some nice fish, like these displayed by fisheries biologist Addie Dutton, center, and fisheries technicians Tanya Meives, left, and Danyelle DeBoer, right.  - Photo credit: DNR
DNR walleye surveys on open waters so far in 2018 are showing some nice fish, like these displayed by fisheries biologist Addie Dutton, center, and fisheries technicians Tanya Meives, left, and Danyelle DeBoer, right. Photo credit: DNR

Southeastern Wisconsin

The walleye reigns supreme for the 2018 fishing opener in southeastern Wisconsin. Thanks to the stocking efforts of the Wisconsin Walleye Initiative, several strong year-classes of walleye have been established in many waterbodies in southeast Wisconsin. Along with stocking walleye, new fishing regulations will also be employed to protect these growing walleye populations from overharvest while providing catch-and-release opportunities for anglers. Beginning with the 2018 fishing opener, a county-wide 18-inch minimum length and daily bag limit of three fish will be in effect for walleye in waters in Kenosha, Racine, Sheboygan, Walworth, Washington, and Waukesha counties unless otherwise noted. This regulation is a management tool designed to encourage potential natural reproduction by protecting females from harvest prior to their first spawning, maximize yield of harvestable fish and provide quality walleye fishing for years to come.

If you're looking for walleye this opener head out to the Rock River and Lake Koshkonong in Jefferson County, Fox Lake in Dodge County, Pewaukee Lake in Waukesha County, Random and Big Elkhart Lakes in Sheboygan County, Delavan and Geneva Lakes in Walworth County, and Tichigan Lake in Racine County. Recent DNR spring fishery surveys indicate that these waters will offer abundant walleye fishing experiences for anglers during this year's open-water season.- Laura Stremick- Thompson, Waukesha fisheries field unit supervisor

Southwestern Wisconsin

It's been a wild spring for weather but weather looks good for the weekend after the front moves through mid-week. Fish populations look very good with walleye spawning finished on most lakes with Lake Mendota being the exception, where fish should be in shallow with water temperatures still in the low 40s. For the lakes that have warmed up to the mid-50s, expect fish to be in post-spawn patterns in flats adjacent to those spawning areas. The water on most lakes hasn't hit that clear water phase where daphnia become abundant and filter the phytoplankton from spring turnover, but it is right around the corner. Choose lures that account for the water clarity and in clear water choose natural colors and slower presentations.

Bluegill and crappie, like this black crappie fisheries biologist Dan Oele displays, are moving in and holding in their pre-spawn locations in southern Wisconsin and can be found near fresh aquatic plant growth.      - Photo credit: DNR
Bluegill and crappie, like this black crappie fisheries biologist Dan Oele displays, are moving in and holding in their pre-spawn locations in southern Wisconsin and can be found near fresh aquatic plant growth. Photo credit: DNR

Walleye populations are looking great in southwestern Wisconsin and lakes are supporting two to six adult fish per acre with a strong year class from the 2014 plantings being 15-17 inches. Bass are beginning to move in and are holding in those pre-spawn locations and can be found near fresh aquatic plant growth. The same can be said for bluegills and crappies. Look for warmer water and new plant growth. This can concentrate those pre-spawn fish as they will feed on invertebrates and insects on the plants.

Muskies may still be patrolling the shallows and looking for spawning habitat. They may be visible but not always interested in biting.

The Wisconsin River is up and flows are very high so be careful on the river. Most of the walleyes that spawn up by the Dells are returning to Lake Wisconsin so concentrating jigging on those current breaks at the top end of the lake can be very productive this time of year. - Dave Rowe, Fitchburg fisheries field unit supervisor

Eastern Wisconsin

Green Bay should be ice free by the opener and walleye angling should be very good. Area rivers and streams are fairly high now but if we don't get significant rain in the next two weeks then water levels will recede. Most of the Oconto, Peshtigo and Menominee river impoundments are ice free and offer a variety of angling opportunities. Manitowoc lakes are ice free and offer a mostly bass, pike, panfish fishery. Forest and Florence county lakes are iced in but anglers could enjoy trout fishing as long as the rivers and stream flows decrease before the opener.

Anglers on the Winnebago system can look forward to some good walleye fishing in both the rivers and lakes as mature walleye are returning downstream from spawning marshes on the upper Fox and Wolf Rivers. Anglers had fantastic fishing earlier in April during the upstream movement. On the lake, a mix of hungry immature walleye and early returners should provide action. The late winter and cooler water temps may cause bass, bluegill and crappie fishing to be somewhat slower until water temps warm up into the 60s.- Dave Boyarski, east district fisheries supervisor

Western Wisconsin

Lakes in the western part of the state should be ice-free for the opener. Walleye will most likely be on the post spawn feed and anglers using jigs and minnows should find success. Lake Wissota and Holcombe Flowage are popular opening weekend walleye waters. Anglers fishing the Wisconsin River system will also find walleyes in a post spawn feed. Slower current areas downstream of the dams will offer the best action. Anglers targeting trout will find optimum conditions as streams have cleared up and are returning to normal flows. Wooly buggers, various streamers and nymphs will be flies of choice for Fly Fishermen, while spinners and small minnow imitation crank baits will be the spin fishermen's favorites. With the weather warming up the opener is looking good. - Bob Hujik, western District Supervisor- Bureau of Fisheries Management

Last Revised: Tuesday, May 01, 2018

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