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“It’s been a long winter and people are eager to get out fishing and enjoy the excitement and tradition of opening day,” says Mike Staggs, Wisconsin’s fisheries director.
“The key will be for anglers to use early season fishing tactics since many fish species likely won’t have finished spawning,” he says.
Opening day of the 2013 regular inland fishing season follows the coldest March on record and is shaping up as the polar opposite of the 2012 season opener, which followed the hottest March on record.
As of April 15, many lakes are still ice-covered in northern Wisconsin and water levels are higher than normal on many rivers, according to U.S. Geological Survey’s WaterWatch (exit DNR) website for current stream flows and flood watch conditions.
Staggs says that anglers planning to travel for opening day will want to call ahead to local bait shops or check online sources to learn about ice conditions, water levels and fishing conditions and take appropriate precautions.
Longtime DNR fish biologists and technicians share their predictions for the opener and their tips for catching fish given the low water temperatures and late spawning. A few excerpts are featured below and more tips for fishing when spring is late arriving [PDF] can be found by searching the DNR website for “Fishing Wisconsin”
“When we have a late spring and ice-out we usually have the best early walleye fishing,” says Russ Warwick, longtime DNR fisheries technician based in Hayward. “The male walleyes are still shallow and are very hungry.”
Warwick says northern pike will likely be in the shallow weeds and feeding while bass and panfish will be very early pre-spawn on opening day and in deeper water than normal.
Longtime Madison lakes fish manager Kurt Welke says spring 2013 won’t be significantly different than any other opener. He expects things to be a little colder in the morning at first light and the bite may indeed be slower for fish being pursued with artificial rather than natural baits.
“I’d put my money on areas with good exposure to sun and whatever heat might have been driven into the system,” he says. “I’ll fish slower and deeper – no cast and crank – and try to keep my shadow behind me. I’ll be looking at the weather the days before for prevailing winds and any other advantages I can lever.”
Dave Seibel, longtime Antigo area fish biologist, expects that northern pike will be post-spawn and feeding heavily in bays and emerging plant growth. Walleye will be at peak spawn or immediately post-spawn and will be transitioning from spawning habitats to feeding habitats. Post-spawn walleye like to feed in shallow bays with emerging plant growth and woody habitat. Muskellunge and perch will be at peak spawn. Crappies and bluegills will be in the shallows enjoying the sun warmed water there and the food life that results from it.
Trout streams will likely still be running high and cool from spring melt waters and rains. Cool water trout fishing may be better in the afternoon, once the water has had a chance to warm and the bug life activates, he says.
“Whatever the weather and water temps, there is only one opening weekend,” Seibel says. “Get out and enjoy it and have a safe and memorable time on the water!
Season dates and regulations
The 2013 hook-and-line game fish season opens May 4 on inland waters for walleye, sauger, and northern pike statewide.
The largemouth and smallmouth bass southern zone opens May 4, while the northern bass zone opens for catch and release only from May 4 through June 14, with the harvest season opening June 15. Statewide, the harvest seasons for bass have a minimum length limit of 14 inches with a daily bag limit of five fish in total.
Musky season opens May 4 in the southern zone and May 25 in the northern zone. The northern zone is the area north of highways 77, 64 and 29, with Highway 10 as the dividing line.
Regulations haven’t changed from last year; find the “2013-2014 Guide to Wisconsin Hook and Line Fishing Regulations” and "Inland trout regulations" by searching the DNR website for "fishing regulations." Opening day bag limits for the Ceded Territory are also available online on the regulations web page and anglers are encouraged to check back frequently for any updates or to sign up for free fishing regulations updates.
Discounted licenses seek to reel in new anglers, lure others back to the water
For the second year, anglers who have never purchased a fishing license -- or who haven't purchased one in 10 years -- can get a discounted “first time buyers” license. The discounts are automatically applied when the license is purchased. Residents' discounted license is $5 and non-residents' is $25.75 for the annual licenses.
Anglers who recruit new people into the sport can get rewarded for their efforts. Wisconsin residents who have been designated as a recruiter three or more times within one license year are eligible for a discount on the license of their choice the next year.
Anglers can buy a one-day fishing license that allows them to take someone out to try fishing, and if they like it, the purchase price of that one-day license will be credited toward purchase of an annual license. The one day license is $8 for residents and $10 for nonresidents.
Buying a license is easy and convenient over the Internet through the Online Licensing Center on the DNR website at all authorized sales locations, or by calling toll-free 1-877-LICENSE (1-877-945-4236).
Wisconsin residents and nonresidents 16 years old or older need a fishing license to fish in any waters of the state. Residents born before Jan. 1, 1927, do not need a license and resident members of the U.S. Armed Forces on active duty are entitled to obtain a free fishing license when on furlough or leave.
Fish consumption advice online and more survey takers sought
DNR’s online search allows anglers to easily find consumption advice for the fish they eat from Wisconsin’s lakes. Anglers can select the waterbody they plan to fish to see a listing of the number of meals anglers can safely eat of various species to avoid buildup of environmental contaminants found in the fish.
General statewide advice calls for women of child-bearing years and children 15 and under to limit themselves to one meal of panfish a week and one meal of game fish a month. Older women and men are advised to limit to one meal of game fish a week and can enjoy unlimited panfish meals. More stringent advice applies to 154 waters where mercury or PCB levels are higher.
DNR and DHS are seeking more male anglers 50 and older to take an online survey [https://study.uwsc.wisc.edu/anglers/] about their fish consumption habits. The survey is aimed at helping better understand the link between fish consumption and health and to shape outreach efforts to better connect with people who eat a lot of fish. Videos about the general fish consumption advice are available in English, Spanish and Hmong and can be found on DNR's YouTube channel fishing playlist.
Anglers reminded to follow invasive species rules and report Asian carp sightings
Anglers can help keep Wisconsin fish and lakes healthy by following rules to avoid spreading aquatic invasive species like Eurasian water-milfoil and zebra mussels and the fish disease viral hemorrhagic septicemia.
Anglers are also encouraged to contact their local fish biologist when they catch Asian carp like those strays that have been documented in the Lower Wisconsin River and the Mississippi River. An angler reported to DNR in April that he caught a bighead carp below the Prairie du Sac dam on the Wisconsin River. Information about Asian carp species and photos to help identify the various species and tell the juvenile fish apart from native species can be searching the DNR website for Asian carp control.
Fishing Wisconsin by the numbers, 2012
2012 saw the second highest total number of fishing licenses sold in the last decade. The 1,310,553 sold was up from 1,275,405 in 2011. • In 2012, 29 percent of fishing licenses sold were to female anglers, a total of 372,339 licenses. • Anglers have 15,000 inland lakes, 42,000 miles of streams and rivers plus the Great Lakes shoreline and 260 miles of the Mississippi River to fish in Wisconsin.
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