Wisconsin 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.
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: http://dnrmaps.wi.gov/DNRManagedLands/. From the “More” drop-down menu, check “DNR recreational lands” and from the “tools” drop-down menu, check “legend.”
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:
- from the water,
- from a point of public access on the stream, or
- with the permission of the riparian (i.e., landowner).
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