Published March 18, 2011, 10:02 AM

DNR all ears on trout regulation changes

State fish managers are asking anglers to help review Wisconsin's trout fishing regulations.

By: The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis., Superior Telegram

State fish managers are asking anglers to help review Wisconsin's trout fishing regulations.

The state Department of Natural Resources has scheduled more than 30 meetings across the state in late March and early April to discuss trout regulations.

Twenty years ago, the DNR adopted a five-category system of trout rules in which fishing regulations were based on a stream's size and characteristics of the trout population. Small streams with smaller trout generally had reduced size and higher bag limits.

Fish managers have reviewed the regulations every five to 10 years, and those internal reviews have led to changes and simplifications of regulations.

"This time around, our trout team was putting together some ideas for possible changes for our 2010 review when we decided we needed to take a step back," said Marty Engel, fish manager for Dunn, Pepin, Pierce and St. Croix counties.

"We realize that the trout world has changed significantly since we moved to the category system and last asked anglers what they wanted from their trout fishery," he said. "We think it's crucial to understand more about those changes before we go any further with our review."

Meeting attendees will have a chance to tell DNR fish biologists their feelings about trout fishing and how they think it could be improved. They also will be asked to fill out a survey with questions that include where and how often they fish, how often they keep trout, the size of trout they keep and what streams they consider good for fishing trout.

DNR biologists will present information about a recent statewide analysis of trout populations.

Verbal feedback and survey answers will be used to fine tune a statewide mail survey of randomly selected trout anglers scheduled for fall, Engel said.

Trout fishing generally has improved in the state during the past 20 years, biologists say. Recent studies show increased brook and brown trout populations and more streams have been classified as trout streams, a change largely related to changes in land use. Angler attitudes and habits also have changed, with an increase in catch-and-release fishing.

Tim Meyer of Eau Claire, president of the Chippewa Valley-based Clear Water Chapter of Trout Unlimited, said the four-category system works, although the special regulations category could be simplified further.

"It can use some simplification, but the biologists really need the flexibility for some of these regulations," he said.

In some cases the DNR lacks money for assessing whether the special regulations are working, Meyer said. For example, Duncan Creek near Bloomer, a brook trout stream, has a 10-to-14-inch slot size, but he rarely catches a trout of that size.

It may be that trout don't reach the slot size, or that anglers don't respect the slot size. The lack of fish that size also could be because those fish are difficult to catch, he said.

"In Duncan, they really haven't gone back and done a lot of followup ... Maybe we just can't catch the biggest fish. That's a real possibility," he said.

Trout Talk

Meetings to review state trout fishing regulations in northwest Wisconsin will take place at the following locations and times:

Douglas and Bayfield counties – 6 p.m. March 30 in the Brule Town Hall, Brule.

Barron, Polk, Washburn, and Burnett counties -- 6 p.m., April 5, Shell Lake Community Center, Shell Lake.

Eau Claire, Chippewa, and Pepin counties and part of Dunn County -- 7 p.m., Thursday, DNR Headquarters, 1300 W. Clairemont Ave., Eau Claire.

Copyright (c) 2011, The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis./Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.