Walleye, panfish, pike, oh my! Wisconsin sport fishing season opens Saturday

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Saturday is the opening day of big game fishing season in Wisconsin, and 17-year-old Spencer Dahl has big plans to hit all of his summer fishing hotspots on day one.

Then he plans to start again on Sunday.

Spencer, an Ozaukee County resident, and his friends like to cruise the waters of Lake Michigan and the Milwaukee River in search of pike and bass, sometimes on foot and sometimes by kayak or boat.

“Our strategy is to find the places where normally people wouldn’t like to fish, like going off the roads and walking through deep bushes and brush,” Spencer said.

Spencer Dahl poses with a big catch in Fredonia in June 2021. Photo courtesy of Spencer Dahl.

This year, he and his friends are upping the ante with a contest to see who can catch the most weight. There are rules — every catch must be photographed, weighed, and timestamped — and there’s a prize: a $20 gift card to Fleet Farm.

“It’s going to be a fun weekend,” he said.

Spencer and his friends will join thousands of other anglers across the state who take part in the opening weekend festivities, when fishing resumes after a hiatus from March to May each year between the summer and fishing seasons. on ice.

Justine Hasz, director of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Fisheries Management, said fishing seasons and areas are designed to protect fish when they spawn.

“Fish actually spawn in different water temperatures,” she said. Walleye, for example, spawn when the temperature is in the low 40s. Sturgeon like temperatures around 50 degrees, and crappie prefer the upper 50s, near 60 degrees.

“So the different seasons are really trying to help us protect those adults as they spawn to produce next year’s classes of fish.”

Waiting for the ice to melt

Wisconsin sells about 1.4 million fishing licenses each year.

Any angler 16 and older must purchase a Wisconsin fishing license, which is available online as well as at a number of local bait shops, chain stores, and gas stations. Licenses can be purchased year-round and are valid for one year.

As of April 30, Hasz said just over 310,000 licenses had been sold, which is down from the same period in 2020 and 2021.

Hasz said the lower numbers are likely due to colder spring weather.

“Since late April, the ice conditions in the northern part of the state have made it difficult for people to fish for species that were open,” Hasz said.

Where she lives, near Woodruff, ice finally began to break away from the lakes last week, although some larger lakes may still have portions of ice cover.

Hasz said it’s not unusual to see ice early in the fishing season, but it’s a bit unusual for such a late season. Because the season always opens on the first Saturday in May, the 7th is the last possible start.

“The biggest thing it does is that even though the ice has just broken off, those water temperatures are really quite cold. So the fish in the northern part of the state might not be as active. than those in the southern lakes,” Hasz said.

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And it could be worse.

“In 2013, I think they were ice fishing when the fishing season opened,” Hasz said.

Warmer weather for the opening weekend

Fortunately, the weather this weekend appears to be quite warm, and Hasz said she expects license purchases to pick up just before Saturday.

That’s good news for companies like Hayward’s Angler’s Haven Resort – a bar and restaurant offering cabin rentals on Lake Courte Oreilles.

On Wednesday, owner Kelsey Gensmer was busy staining the patio deck and getting ready for their grand opening weekend.

“We’re usually very busy this weekend,” Gensmer said. “We open the Friday before fishing, so everyone comes over excited to come here and get their pizza and their beer that they haven’t had all season.”

With the ice conditions, Gensmer said opening weekend can be a bit risky, so they usually have a few rentals open, but they’re already booked for the rest of the summer. And Gensmer said she was delighted to meet new guests and anglers.

“I just hope everyone has a safe and good fishing opening weekend,” Gensmer said. “Check all the new regulations for fishing… get your fishing licenses.”

How to Fish Responsibly

Having a fishing license is only part of being a responsible fisherman.

Each lake or body of water has different regulations for the fish in it – usually size and catch limits. Hasz said these rules are often posted at boat landings, but can also be found on the DNR’s website, where you can search by county and body of water.

Hasz said anglers should also be aware of their catch and release methods. This means limiting the time fish are out of the water and handling them with wet or gloved hands to protect their delicate scales.

“We want to make sure that when these fish are released, they have the best chance of surviving and growing and allowing other people to catch them,” Hasz said.

And she said the safety measures aren’t just for the fish.

Hasz said the water, especially in the northern part of the state, is still very cold. Wearing a life jacket is an easy way to protect yourself.

“I just want to make sure the anglers we have across the state are having fun and having fun on the water safely,” Hasz said. “I love seeing people take advantage of these incredible resources that we have in Wisconsin.”

And if you fish near Woodruff, you might see her on the water this weekend.

“I like fishing for bluegill and crappie,” Hasz said. “If I get walleye I really appreciate that, but I like when there’s a little more action on the end of my line.”

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