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December 30, 2014

Madison lakes provide fishing opportunites in all seasons.Madison lakes provide fishing opportunites in all seasons.

DNR again offering Winter Free Fishing Weekend Jan. 17-18

MADISON -- Whether you prefer a high-tech, low-tech or no-tech approach, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources can help you hook into some fun this ice fishing season.

If you haven't visited the aisles of your favorite sporting goods retailer lately, you'll be amazed by the array of underwater cameras, sonar fish finders, portable ice shelters and high-torque augers available for ice fishing enthusiasts. With participation in the sport growing - some 590,700 state residents now take part, up from 479,900 in 2000 according to the most recent National Survey on Recreation and the Environment - it's no wonder the gear options continue to expand.

"There's a lot of innovative equipment out there that makes ice fishing more comfortable, particularly in extreme winter conditions," says Justine Hasz, DNR section chief for fisheries services. "But all you really need for fun during the hard water fishing season is a pole, a bucket and some bait. And a fishing license, of course. I actually go for the low-tech approach myself because it means you don't have to haul as much out on the sled. "

In addition, Hasz notes, anyone who would like to give ice fishing a try can pursue a completely no-tech option by borrowing equipment through DNR's tackle loan program during the third annual Winter Free Fishing Weekend on January 17 and 18. Ice fishing gear is available at 19 loaner site, eight of which are at state parks with fishing access. Augers are in short supply, however, so you may have to make friends with someone who can drill you a hole once you get out there. Call ahead to verify equipment is available, with numbers listed on the DNR website, by searching "fishing equipment for loan."

While you can fish without a license or Great Lakes salmon stamp on all Wisconsin waters during the Free Fishing Weekend event, state park entrance stickers are required and other fishing rules still apply, such as limits on the number and size of fish anglers can keep. Theresa Stabo, Wisconsin's angler education director, said the event offers a great opportunity for families to get outside and enjoy Wisconsin's waters without a boat.

Ice Fishing
Free Ice Fishing weekend is a great opportunities to introduce families to ice fishing.
WDNR Photo

"Free Fishing Weekend provides a great introduction to ice fishing and we hope to lure in families as well as young adults who enjoy the outdoors and would like to give it a try," Stabo says. "Whether you are after consistent action with panfish or something bigger like walleye or northern pike, it's quite a thrill to see what's on the end of your line when you haul it up through the ice."

At the moment, DNR fisheries experts are reporting strong activity in the northern part of the state including Chequamegon Bay of Lake Superior as well as lakes in Burnett, Iron, Marathon, Portage Sawyer, Shawano and Washburn counties. Max Wolter, DNR fisheries biologist in Sawyer County, reports walleye and northern pike have been biting consistently in 5 to 15 feet of water.

Al Niebur, fisheries biologist in Shawano and Waupaca Counties, reports good action on some of the shallower lakes or impoundments where anglers are catching bluegill, crappie, perch, bass and northern pike.

"You don't need a lot of fancy gear to fish these waters - simple jig poles for panfish and a few tip ups for pike or bass," Niebur says.

In the southern part of the state, Hasz notes, lack of consistent ice means anglers are eager to get out and enjoy a sport that is part of Wisconsin's fishing heritage. "We also hope to see lots of new faces giving it a try during the Winter Free Fishing Weekend," she says.

Groups encouraged to host Free Fishing Weekend events

Stabo encourages fishing groups, local chambers of commerce, youth group leaders and others to consider hosting a Free Fishing Weekend event.

"We really hope that event organizers will pitch their events to adults who have never had the opportunity to ice fish and to families who want to learn together. Every weekend is Free Fishing Weekend for kids - they just need someone to take them," she says.

Several events are already scheduled on Saturday, January 17 at:

To host an event, fill out an electronic form with details so DNR can help publicize activities that are free and open to the public. In addition to making equipment available at the DNR tackle loaner sites, the department can supply limited quantities of age appropriate materials about ice fishing, fish populations and fishing in general. The event planning form is available on DNR's Free Fishing Weekend web page. Go to and search "Free Fishing Weekend."

Learn more about ice fishing at online chat Jan. 15

Join DNR ice fishing experts for a live online chat set for Tuesday, Jan. 15 from noon to 1 p.m. Get the latest on the 2014-15 ice fishing season, the upcoming Free Fishing Weekend and ask questions about Wisconsin fish populations.

Participate live by visiting and look for the box on the right to enter the chat, or search the phrase "ask the experts." Or, enter via DNR's Facebook page by clicking the "Cover it Live Chat" box at the top. The online chats are archived and available for viewing after they are held.

Enjoying your catch

With ice fishing, the fun doesn't stop once you've landed your catch. Some of Wisconsin's most frequently caught fish during the winter months - including panfish and walleye - are also some of the tastiest.

Candy Schrank, an environmental toxicologist who coordinates the fish consumption advice issued by DNR with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, encourages ice anglers to check on the current guidance. An online search tool allows anglers to use a drop down menu to select the county and lake or river they are fishing to bring up consumption advice for fish species on that water. An advice booklet, videos and other materials are also available on the "Eat Your Catch" pages of the DNR website.

Ice safety information available

This winter's unpredictable weather means all winter sports enthusiasts including anglers should exercise care while out on the ice. A variety of tips to help assess ice conditions can be found on DNR's ice safety page.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Justine Hasz, fisheries services section chief, 715-896-9558,, Theresa Stabo, DNR angler education director, 608-266-2272,; Candy Schrank, 608-267-7614,

Last Revised: Tuesday, December 30, 2014

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