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ARCHIVED Weekly News Published February 22, 2011

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UW-Stevens Point study points to improved trout population statewide

60 years of survey records show more fish overall, and in all sizes examined

STEVENS POINT -- Wisconsin brook and brown trout populations statewide have generally increased over the last 60 years, according to a new University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point analysis of state trout surveys.

"We see a general, overall increase in the catch per stream mile of trout, and in trout in all the size ranges examined, in fisheries surveys conducted since 1950," says Nancy Nate, Ph.D., the principal investigator and a scientist at the UW-Stevens Point Fisheries Analysis Center.

Nate and fellow researchers Andy Fayram and Joanna Griffin, fisheries analysts at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, plumbed DNR databases for results from thousands of fish surveys the DNR conducted between 1950 and 2010 using electrofishing equipment. The equipment delivers an electric current to the water that stuns the fish so they can be collected, weighed and measured before being returned to the water. Catch per stream mile is used as an indicator of abundance in streams.

Fayram says it's the most comprehensive look ever at what's happening in Wisconsin's trout streams statewide. The DNR contracted with Nate to conduct the analysis to help provide information as part of its review of its trout program.

What Nate and her fellow researchers found was higher numbers per stream mile of trout statewide overall, and increased numbers per stream mile in each of the size ranges examined: brook trout over 7, 8 and 9 inches, and brown trout over 7, 9 and 12 inches.

Not as clear, however, are the reasons why trout numbers increased, including the role regulations played, one of the original questions she hoped to answer.

"At the very least we can say that trout populations have continued to improve under Wisconsin's current regulatory structure," Nate says.

Veteran state fish biologists say the factors fueling salmonids' success vary somewhat by region, but that changing land use and improved land management are factors. Habitat improvement work done by DNR and partners, anglers' embrace of catch-and-release fishing, and DNR's shift to stocking more trout spawned from wild fish also are factors, as are regulations, acquisition of sensitive lands along streams, and beaver control in northern Wisconsin.

Trout fishing regulations

Nate also was interested in determining, to the extent possible, the efficacy of different trout angling regulations on trout populations as Wisconsin reviews its trout program and readies for a public participation process to learn how trout anglers' fishing habits and preferences have changed over the past two decades.

Before the category system of regulation took effect in 1991, an angler could keep 10 trout over 6 inches from most streams. The system placed all trout streams in one of five categories (now reduced to four) and applied base regulations to each category. Among the "special regulation" streams, about 3 percent of Wisconsin trout water, there were 36 different regulation types that restricted gear, bag limits, seasons, and size limits in various combinations.

Nate found that this diversity of regulations and the lack of contrast to streams with no regulations to serve as controls made it hard to determine how a given regulation category performed compared to others. In general, however, she found that streams with a daily bag limit of three and an 8-inch minimum for brook trout had the highest total density and density of fish greater than 9 inches among the four regulation categories.

Conversely, streams that had one of the "special regulations" had high densities of total brown trout and of brown trout greater than 12 inches, though the densities were only statistically higher than densities in streams with a daily bag limit of 5 and a 7-inch minimum.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Nancy Nate, UWSP (715) 342-5338; Andy Fayram (608) 267-7654



Early catch and release trout season opens March 5

MADISON - These are the good old days of fishing: anglers venturing out for the early catch-and-release trout season that opens March 5 should generally find more fish and more miles to fish than in the past 60 years.

"Trout abundance is at or near all-time highs on most waters in western Wisconsin," says Heath Benike, fish manager for Barron and Polk counties. "Several good year classes are recruiting into area trout fisheries and fishing should be good to excellent on many local waters."

Fish managers across the state are echoing his assessment, and now, a new UW-Stevens Point analysis backs that up: Trout populations have generally increased statewide, and the number of fish in all sizes examined have increased, since 1950.

And the state has more miles of trout streams to enjoy: 10,631 miles of trout streams, up from 9,562 in 1980, although not all of them are open for the early season.

"The biggest factor this early season will be anglers' ability to get to the streams with the large amount of snow present in western Wisconsin, but anglers should not get discouraged," Benike said.

Until the snow melts, anglers should focus their efforts during the warmest part of the day, usually around noon to 4 p.m. when water temperatures are higher and trout are most active. "After the snow has melted, trout activity will increase considerably and in mid-late April some of the biggest trout of the season are caught as the fish become more active and aggressive," he says.

Season details

The early catch-and-release trout season opens at 5 a.m. on March 5 and runs until midnight May 1. Most trout streams are open to early fishing with the exception of most Lake Superior tributaries and most streams in northeast Wisconsin; check the current trout fishing regulations pamphlet for specific waters. Anglers are required to use artificial lures and flies; barbless hooks are not required.

More trout waters to fish

Wisconsin's official list of classified trout streams was updated last year and contains 58 more streams that have been classified as trout waters since 2002. Most of those 260 miles are found in west central and southern Wisconsin counties and will be open for the early season.

Online maps and interactive maps will make all of the trout waters easier to find and provide other information to increase anglers' success. The maps, along with other information to help you find easy public access to trout waters and some new places to fish, are available on DNR's Early Trout Season web page.

Public lands provide easy access

To help provide easy access to trout streams and to protect critical trout habitat areas, the DNR has invested in acquiring property and securing permanent easements. Statewide, land acquisitions have protected more than 107,000 acres of sensitive fish habitat areas since 1960, the vast majority of them for trout. DNR also has secured permanent easements along nearly 13,000 acres, a cheap and effective way to protect critical habitat and provide fishing access because the property stays in private hands.

Find these public fishery areas online on the DNR Fisheries Areas web pages.

See all DNR publicly owned lands, easements on private lands allowing for public access, and trout stream classifications by using interactive maps on the DNR Managed Lands web pages: From the "More" drop-down menu, check "DNR recreational lands" and from the "tools" drop-down menu, check "legend."

Stream access rules on private lands

Trout anglers are reminded to follow Wisconsin's law when fishing public streams on private property. That law is essentially, "keep your feet wet."

Navigability determines whether a water is public or private and navigable streams are public waters. Because navigable waters are public, they may be used for fishing, provided public access is available, or provide you have permission of the landowner to cross their property to reach the water.

Anglers may use any exposed shore area of a stream without the permission of the riparian (i.e., landowner) only if it is necessary to exit the body of water to bypass an obstruction. In addition, a member of the public may not enter the exposed shore area except:

Obstructions could consist of trees or rocks, shallow water for boaters or deep water for wading trout anglers. The bypass should be by the shortest possible route.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Steve Hewett, section chief for fisheries management and policy (608) 267-7501



Wolves increase predation on Wisconsin livestock in 2010

MADISON - An increase in wolf depredations to livestock in 2010 supports a Department of Natural Resources request to the U.S. Department of the Interior for delisting of the gray wolf in Wisconsin, say DNR officials. The full report is available online.

"Forty-seven farms had confirmed depredations on livestock in 2010 compared to 28 in 2009," said Adrian Wydeven, DNR conservation biologist and wolf program coordinator. "This coincides with 2010 when the department's ability to remove problem wolves was the most restricted since 2002, due to court actions preventing lethal control."

Biologists feel the increase in depredations is a result of increasing wolf populations and a lack of lethal control options.

Wisconsin petitioned the U.S. Department of the Interior for delisting of the gray wolf in April 2010. Minnesota filed a similar petition in March 2010. Interior is currently is developing a delisting proposal that will be available for public comment by spring 2011, and complete delisting by the end of 2011. Delisting would return management of the gray wolf to the states, and tribes. All three Great Lakes states with wolves have federally approved management plans. Wisconsin's plan allows for lethal control of wolves depredating on livestock, and pets on private lands by government trappers and landowners.

Biologists will meet with agency and volunteer wolf tracker to review surveys conducted over the 2010-2011 winter on April 15 at the Day's Inn in Wausau on Rib Mountain Road. Interested public are invited to sit in on the meeting to see how wolf numbers are determined by the DNR. Officials expect to have a preliminary late winter wolf population estimate at the end of the meeting on April 15. A final population estimate would be out in late May after all survey data are studied, verified and reviewed.

Owners of livestock and hunting dogs are compensated for their losses. Total loss payments in 2010 for livestock and dogs exceeded $200,000 and since 1985 has totaled over $1 million.

Wisconsin officials believe these loss payments could be reduced substantially by passing management of the gray wolf to the state.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Adrian Wydeven (715) 762-1363



Inland game fish season closes March 6

MADISON - Anglers should be aware that the game fish season on most inland Wisconsin waters closes at the end of the day on Sunday, March 6.

The panfish seasons remain open year-round as does the season for certain game fish on select lakes and rivers, including much of the Wisconsin River and its impoundments. Waters that remain open are listed in the fishing regulations and on the Department of Natural Resources Web site.

In addition, an early trout season opens 5 a.m. on March 5 and continues until Sunday, May 1 at midnight. The early season is catch-and-release only, and only artificial lures may be used while fishing for any species of fish on trout streams. Beginning this year, anglers are no longer required to use barbless hooks during the early trout season, but are still required to use only artificial lures while fishing for any species of fish on trout streams.

Most trout streams are open to early fishing with the exception of most Lake Superior tributaries and most streams in northeast Wisconsin. Check the "2011-12 Trout Fishing Regulations and Guide" to verify which waters are open during the early season. The early trout season web pages of the DNR Web site provide a link to those regulations, tips on the flies and techniques to use - as well as other information - to help make your early trout season more enjoyable and successful.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Steve Hewett, section chief for fisheries management and policy (608) 267-7501



Father and son hunters come to warden's aid

Conservation wardens usually work alone. It is not unusual for a warden to be out in the field, far from backup, conducting an investigation, encountering armed hunters, sometimes in failing light. It's not a job for the faint of heart.

Fortunately, most hunters are law abiding and most are scrupulous about gun safety. And there are some, more than a few, who will go out of their way to help another person - even a conservation warden.

Among them are David Kobbervig and his son, Dustin, both of Mineral Point, who were honored this past Friday as co-recipients of 14th annual Wisconsin Ethical Hunter Award. Their actions on the final day of the 2010 gun deer hunt left one warden with a warm feeling of gratitude.

On that day conservation warden Jeff King of the state Department of Natural Resources was responding to a report of a tagged, abandoned deer carcass. The report came in through the DNR violation hotline (800-TIP-WDNR.) This was not unusual. Wardens rely heavily on tips from hunters during the gun season.

There were unrelated groups of hunters on the large property, a former game farm turned organic farming operation, who had signed in at the farmhouse for agricultural damage deer kill permits. David Kobbervig, a 61-year-old survivor of quintuple bypass heart surgery, was among them. Having heard a warden was en route, Kobbervig and his son, Dustin, stopped hunting so they could assist King. While Dustin scouted the 880-acre property for additional carcasses, he was to report to his father by two-way radio, who would relay the information to King.

Dustin had recruited another hunting team, a father and daughter, and those two found a second deer, field dressed and tagged and left to lie on the ground for three days. Dustin and the others located a deer stand near each carcass, each positioned over a bait pile. Lafayette County is in the CWD management zone, and baiting is illegal.

It is also illegal, in the CWD zone, to go more than 24 hours without registering a tagged deer.

"By the time I got there, they had found all the deer that were there to be found," King said. "They had found the two deer stands, and they found the bait piles."

King obtained the name of the hunter who'd shot the deer from the numbered and dated tags. David, who works on the property, obtained the sign-in list from the farmhouse, and King determined the suspect had been on the property at the time.

King, faced with two violations - hunting over bait and failing to register deer - had to seize the evidence, a physically demanding piece of work. Dustin got on the phone and six hunters showed up. The first guy, who King pegged as the ringleader, said, "OK boss, we're here. What do you need?"

Within a few minutes, both deer stands had been removed from trees, and the stands, deer carcasses and bait were all loaded into the warden's truck.

"It was an awesome experience," King said. "It could have been a two-hour job for me, and we got it done in 15 minutes."

Then everyone took off. King was still in the area when the suspect's vehicle appeared. He approached and did a standard firearms check. The suspect said he was picking up his deer. They went to the location, the warden described where the deer had been and the man said, "those are my deer." He said he was unaware of the registration rule or that it was illegal to use bait.

When they got back to the truck, King did a records check. Turns out the man was wanted on a criminal warrant for deer poaching in Buffalo County. He'd failed to show up in court. That is unusual. King asked the Lafayette Sheriff's Department to run an FBI check and the man came back as a convicted felon with what police call a lengthy sheet. This meant he was a felon in possession of a firearm, which is another crime. King took him into custody and transported him to the county jail.

King recalls that earlier, when he was in the woods with the suspect his cell phone rang. It was David Kobbervig who'd figured out the warden was still in the field, a quarter mile from the road, with the suspect, working in the dark.

"Are you OK?" he asked the warden. "I'll come down if you want. I mean, you just never know these days."

King was moved.

"That really struck a chord with me," he said. "Not only did this guy care for the resource and care about the rules and the image of hunters in Wisconsin, he cared about me."

Warden supervisor Steve Dewald, who co-founded the Ethical Hunter Award with the La Crosse Tribune and outdoor writers Bob Lamb and Jerry Davis, said the fact that other hunters quickly came to help David and Dustin Kobbervig demonstrates that they too were concerned about the state's natural resources which belong to the public.

Dewald and the outdoor writers founded the award because most news stories about hunters involve violations, creating a false impression about hunters in general, most of whom follow not only the rules but a personal code of ethics.

"Dustin and David recognize that poachers steal wildlife from ethical hunters," Dewald said. "With the low number of wardens in Wisconsin, we rely on these ethical hunters to be our eyes and ears."

David and Dustin Kobbervig told Bob Lamb they were humbled by the award and simply wanted people to follow the rules.

"We've hunted for years and haven't broken any laws," the elder Kobbervig said. "We always try to help people when we're hunting. I always tell Dusty someday it will come back to help us, but I didn't think it would be something like this."

FOR MORE INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT: Steve Dewald, DNR warden supervisor, La Crosse, (608) 785-9970; Ed Culhane, DNR communications, Eau Claire, (715) 839-3715.


Read more: Previous Weekly News

Last Revised: Tuesday, February 22, 2011

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