Waters in southern two-thirds of Wisconsin are open while northern lakes are in play.
Opening day of the 2018 regular inland fishing season follows the coldest and snowiest April on record, meaning it’s a pretty good bet many of anglers’ favorite fish species will be hungry and ready to bite, state fisheries officials say.
“May fifth is approaching fast, although if you live in the north you might still think we are in the middle of winter with all of the ice,” says Wisconsin Fisheries Director Justine Hasz. “For those of you in southern Wisconsin the waters have been open for a few weeks and are starting to warm up nicely.
“No matter where you spend your opening day fishing, anglers should find the northern pike and walleye are hungry and if you prefer to set your tackle at panfish focus on shallow waters that warm early.”
The late winter weather means that as of April 23, many lakes are still ice-covered in northern Wisconsin, but waters in the southern two-thirds of Wisconsin are open and northern rivers are open as well, Hasz says. Regardless of whether there is still ice in some parts of northern Wisconsin, the fishing season is open as of May 5, even if anglers need to use ice fishing gear where the ice is safe.
“We’re hoping the warmup predicted this week into next will help thaw more lakes up north,” says Hasz, who went ice fishing in the Woodruff area over the weekend. “If the northern lakes are still locked up, the rivers are a good option for some good walleye and pike fishing.”
Walleye are anglers’ number one target, according to surveys, and Wisconsin has hundreds of waters with naturally self-sustaining populations. In addition, more walleye fishing opportunities will be available this year as more than 1.275 million extended growth walleye stocked in 2013 and 2014 under the Wisconsin Walleye Initiative are now at catchable size.
The wintry conditions have delayed stocking of catchable trout in some of the 400 waters where stocking is planned. Heavy snow, road conditions and road weight restrictions combined to push back delivery of fish last week in northern Wisconsin so crews are playing catch up this week and are still not able to reach some sites. DNR will provide an update later this week of the waters that won’t be stocked in time for opening day.
Season dates and regulations, including new trolling rule
The largemouth and smallmouth bass southern zone opens May 5, while the northern bass zone opens for catch and release only from May 5 through June 15, with the harvest season opening June 16. 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 5 in the southern zone and May 26 in the northern zone. The northern zone is the area north of highways 77, 64 and 29, with Highway 10 as the dividing line.
Trolling now allowed statewide, but different rules for different counties:
The biggest change in regulations concerns trolling. Rules on motor trolling which were considered temporary over the last few years have been replaced by permanent trolling rules.
Trolling means fishing by trailing any lure, bait or similar device that may be used to attract or catch fish from a boat propelled by a means other than drifting, pedaling, paddling, or rowing. Casting and immediate retrieval of a bait, lure or similar device while the motor is running (or “position fishing”) is not considered trolling.
New this year, motor trolling is legal on all inland waters with either:
- 3 hooks, baits or lures per person with no maximum number of lines trolled per boat or
- 1 hook, bait or lure per person with a maximum of 3 hooks, baits or lures trolled per boat
- Review a map and list of waters [PDF] where each regulation applies.
Keep Wisconsin fish and waters healthy by taking precautions to avoid spreading fish diseases and invasive species:
A 2016 study by DNR showed the spread of aquatic invasive species is stable, indicating prevention efforts may be working. Anglers can help prevent the spread of VHS and other fish diseases and aquatic invasive species like Eurasian water-milfoil and zebra mussels by taking a few simple steps.
- Remove all plants, animals and mud from boats and trailers and fishing gear.
- Drain all water from boats, motors, and livewells.
- Never move plants or live fish away from a waterbody.