It’s all starting to come together for one segment of Wisconsin anglers.
Yes, unseasonably warm weather and, in turn, poor ice conditions in the state have made it a challenge for anglers to get out on the lakes.
But this is stream fishing, and trout fishing. And, in Wisconsin, an adjustment to the fishing calendar, reported improvements in the field and that unusually balmy early-winter weather could make it a season to remember.
The expanded early catch-and-release trout season opened Jan. 2 — or about two months earlier than usual — and runs until Friday, May 6 on many inland state rivers and streams. The regular “keeper” trout season opens that next day — Saturday, May 7 — so there’s no season closure; there had been a one-week break between the two seasons in the past.
A 2015-2016 fishing license and trout stamp are required to fish the expanded season, with a 2016-2017 fishing license and trout stamp needed on and after April 1, 2016 (go to dnr.wi.gov/Permits/ for more information).
When the changes were first announced early in 2015, there were some who thought that, because of typically cold weather in January and February in Wisconsin, there probably were few who would take advantage of the expanded season. But trout fishermen — and stream fishermen in general — are a hearty bunch, known for battling the elements to get their fix. And, so far this year, the elements have not been a factor.
And, ongoing improvements to habitat can’t hurt the cause.
Based on surveys of about 300 waterways over the last two years, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said that the agency’s fisheries biologists are upgrading the classifications of 14 streams and newly classifying another 27 that, for the first time, have been documented as sustaining trout populations. Six of the newly classified streams have earned the coveted Class 1 designation, the DNR said.
Joanna Griffin, DNR trout specialist, said the stream survey and classification work helps the agency prioritize streams for improvement and qualify projects for funding from trout stamp sales.
“The classification process also provides a way to engage local community members and angling groups with efforts to reduce runoff and adopt best-management practices for entire watersheds,” Griffin said.
The DNR said it uses three categories to classify trout streams to ensure adequate protection and proper management: Class 1, Class 2 and Class 3.
Class 1 steams, such as a newly upgraded segment of Black Earth Creek in Dane County and newly classified streams in Iron, Pierce and Sauk counties, sustain healthy populations of wild trout through natural reproduction and require no stocking. Wisconsin currently holds some 5,289 miles of Class 1 trout streams — about 40 percent of the state’s total trout stream mileage.
According to the DNR, Class 2 waters contain some natural reproduction, but not enough to use available food and space, thus requiring stocking to maintain a desirable sport fishery. Trout survive and grow well in these waters, which account for about 6,126 miles — or 46 percent of the total trout stream mileage, the DNR said.
Class 3 waters provide marginal habitat with no natural reproduction or carryover of the stocked fish, the DNR said, adding that Wisconsin holds some 1,817 miles of Class 3 trout streams — about 14 percent of the total. Through habitat improvement efforts, some Class 3 streams can sustain natural reproduction and achieve a Class 2 ranking, as seen with streams in Buffalo and Trempealeau counties over the last two years, according to the DNR.
The survey work also leads to a better understanding of trout populations in key waters and played a role in the development of simplified regulations that will debut during the regular trout season in May, the DNR said. The regulations will create more uniformity for anglers who fish on various trout streams and within small geographic areas, the agency said, adding that under the new system, maps (online and in the regulations pamphlet) will indicate one of three regulation possibilities:
- Green means go fish, with no length limit, a bag limit of five fish and no bait restrictions.
- Yellow means caution, with an 8-inch length limit, a bag limit of three fish and no bait restrictions.
- Red means special regulations are in place, and anglers are advised to stop and understand the regulations before fishing.
For more on the regulations, go to dnr.wi.gov/topic/fishing/outreach/TroutRegReview.html. For a list of early season streams, go to dnr.wi.gov/topic/fishing/documents/regulations/TroutEarlySeason.pdf.