Minnesota's fishing opener: What people need to know

The tradition of fishing opener in Minnesota centers around roughly half a million anglers going fishing the day the season opens for walleye, sauger, northern pike and trout in lakes – this year on Saturday, May 12. Here are some reminders for the 2018 fishing opener.
Take a mom fishing
Mother’s Day is Sunday, May 13, and fishing opener weekend doubles as Take a Mom Fishing Weekend. Mothers who are residents of Minnesota can fish without a license from Saturday, May 12, to Sunday, May 13. Fishing is allowed only for species that have open fishing seasons.
Wear a life jacket
Cold water kills. Anglers are reminded to not just bring it – wear a life jacket. It’s the one action most likely to help in surviving a fall into cold water. Thirty percent of boating fatalities take place in cold water defined as generally below 70 degrees. In spring, this is typically from ice-out until early summer. The cold water shock “gasp reflex” can incapacitate even the strongest swimmer if they aren’t wearing a life jacket. A life jacket gives you a fighting chance in cold water.
To keep pike, measure first
New regulations will be in effect for catching and keeping northern pike on inland waters. The pike regulations have three zones to address the different characteristics of pike populations in Minnesota. Maps, regulations and more information can be found at mndnr.gov/pike.
Anglers who plan to keep pike must be able to reliably measure their fish. To do this, lay the fish flat on its side, squeeze the tail from tip to tip, and measure from the nose or jaw (whichever is longer) to the farthest tip of the tail when fully extended.
Check regulations
Anglers are reminded to check the 2018 Minnesota Fishing Regulations Booklet, especially noting any special regulations that apply to individual lakes, rivers and streams. Regulations as well as lake information through the DNR’s LakeFinder site can be found at mndnr.gov/fishmn.
Ice out at the buzzer?
The lingering cold weather delayed ice-out on Minnesota lakes and rivers, and even if ice does go out on many lakes in time for opener, the delay was making it difficult for DNR crews to have the 1,500 public water accesses it manages ready in time. There are about 3,000 public water access sites statewide and the DNR’s Parks and Trails Division manages about half of them.
Anglers also are advised that some rivers and lakes are at flood levels. Many river access sites are under water and there are some reports of lakes with high water where boaters may be required to proceed at slow or no-wake speeds on the entire lake.
For more information including a map showing where ice-out has occurred, check mndnr.gov/wateraccess.
Possibly break a record
Anglers, who catch and release northern pike, can earn state records through an expansion of a DNR record fish program that previously included only lake sturgeon, muskellunge and flathead catfish in the catch-and-release category. There also is a catch-and-keep category; guidelines for both are at mndnr.gov/recordfish.
Purchase a fishing license
Anglers from the ages of 16 to 89 are required to have a valid fishing license, aside from mothers taking advantage of Take a Mom Fishing Weekend. Purchase licenses at any DNR license agent, online with a mobile or desktop device at mndnr.gov/buyalicense, or by phone at 888-665-4236. Mobile buyers receive a text or email that serves as proof of a valid fish or game license to state conservation officers. Licenses must be in anglers’ possession when fishing or traveling from an area they were fishing. The top two fishing-related regulation violations are for not having a license in possession, and not having a valid license.

SOURCE: Minnesota DNR

High water, warm temperatures shortens sturgeon spawning run

Wisconsin DNR Senior Fisheries Biologist/Winnebago System Sturgeon Biologist

This year’s sturgeon spawning run on the Winnebago System will certainly be remembered as a weird one.  
The high water made it difficult to capture large numbers of fish, and the warm temperatures last week condensed the spawning activity at each location.
Normally, we get two days at the Shawano Dam where we can handle large numbers of sturgeon. There were a lot of fish spawning at the dam. We attempted to capture fish on each side of the river, but only combined to handle 16 fish.
The 2018 spawning run is all but over. After a quick look at our tagging results, we handled roughly 1,078 fish. This number is quite a bit lower than what we have handled in recent springs, but that reduction is largely attributable to the high water this spring. The fish were spawning in large numbers at all of the traditional spawning sites, but they simply were spawning in deeper water and thus not as vulnerable to our sampling gear.
I know that many folks came out to see the sturgeon spawn at New London, Shiocton and Shawano this spring. The spawning on the Wolf River provides such a unique opportunity for people to see these large fish spawn in shallow water and it’s always very rewarding to see people interested in the resource and the work that our crew does to manage the population.

Hook a catfish and get hooked on fun

Consider the lowly catfish.
With its long, whisker-like barbels and flattened face, it might not be the prettiest fish swimming in Minnesota’s waters. But more and more anglers around the state are finding it an attractive species, both for sport and for the frying pan.
“Catfish are hard fighters, and they’re widely considered fine table fare,” said Mario Travaline, a fisheries biologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Fishing in the Neighborhood program. “Usually, if you can find one, you’ll find several. And they can be fished with simple tackle and a variety of baits.”
Once stigmatized as common river dwellers that were unappreciated at dinner time, catfish have been growing in popularity as people learn that they’re fun to fish for and good to eat, as long as you follow the same consumption advisories that apply to other fish.
Some of those changing perceptions are the result of fishing shows that have highlighted catfish angling, and the many high quality opportunities easily available in Minnesota.
“People saw these big fish being pulled up and thought, that looks like fun,” said Joel Stiras, a DNR fisheries specialist who’s been studying the habits of catfish and other river species for the past decade. “It’s also something that can be done without a major investment. You don’t need a $20,000 boat and $20 lures. You can pretty easily catch fish of good size, and in good numbers with simple tackle.”
When Stiras mentions “fish of good size,” he’s not kidding. While the state record for walleye is 17-1/2 pounds, channel catfish weighing 20 pounds are not uncommon in some of Minnesota’s large rivers. And 30- to 40-pound flatheads – the other species of catfish in the state – are well within reasonable expectation on the Minnesota River and elsewhere. The state record for a flathead catfish, caught on the St. Croix River in Washington County, is 70 pounds – about the size of an average 10-year-old child.
While rivers are the best place to fish for big catfish, the DNR also stocks channel catfish in about two dozen lakes around the metro region to provide close-to-home angling prospects. To find an interactive map go to the Catfish in the Metro webpage.
Channel catfish will eat almost anything. Nightcrawlers are commonly used for bait, or anglers can try “Mario’s magic,” as recommended by the DNR’s Travaline: Cut some cheap hot dogs in half, put them in a zip-close bag along with some garlic powder and a package of red or purple gelatin mix, and let it sit overnight. Slip the hot dog on a hook with a weight above and put it in the water.
“You might have to fight off some sunfish,” Travaline said. “But if you get it near a channel catfish, they can’t resist.”
Flathead catfish are predators and respond best to live bait – a bullhead, white sucker or creek chub works well. Look for areas where faster currents are broken by fallen trees, logs and rocks. May to early June offers some of the best catfish action, and flatheads tend to be more active at night.
The season for flatheads runs from April 1 through Nov. 30, while channel cats can be caught year-round. Anglers can have a total of five catfish in possession, but only two can be flatheads, and only one can be bigger than 24 inches.
The Red River of the North is nationally recognized as a great place to hunt for big channel catfish. The 240 miles of the Minnesota River from Granite Falls to Fort Snelling is the best place in the state to catch flatheads, and it’s an excellent choice for channel cats as well. And with four state parks and numerous other public lands along its course, finding a place to launch a boat or fish from shore is easy.

Catfish facts
* Minnesota has two species of catfish: Flathead catfish and channel catfish.
* The state record flathead catfish weighed in at an even 70 pounds, and was caught on the St. Croix River in Washington County in 1970.
* The state record channel catfish was caught on the Mississippi River in Hennepin County in 1975, tipping the scale at 38 pounds.
* Flatheads tend to return to the same site to overwinter in large groups of fish that remain so stationary that sediment accumulates on them.
* After spawning, the male flathead drives the female off the nest, which he then guards, fanning water over the eggs until they hatch.
* Contrary to popular belief, catfish don’t sting people with their barbels (the long whisker-like appendages around their mouth). They do, however, have sharp, stiff spines along their dorsal and pectoral fins (the ones on the top and sides of the fish). Anglers can easily be poked by these spines if they don’t handle the fish appropriately.
* Catfish have been described as “swimming tongues” because they have taste buds on their barbels, along the sides of their bodies, and near their tails. These help them locate food in the murky water of rivers.

SOURCE: Minnesota DNR

More lakes opening in time for fishing opener

MADISON, WI - More northern Wisconsin waters are opening up in time for the May 5, inland fishing season opener, and walleye are likely to have finished spawning in many places and ready to put on the feedbag, state fisheries officials say.
"It's been a long winter. Time to get outdoors and have some fun," says Justine Hasz, Wisconsin's fisheries director. "Fishing opening day is a great tradition, and the warmer weather last week and predicted for this week should set the stage for some good fishing. I'm hoping to catch some walleye and crappies this weekend."
Much of the state is forecast to enjoy temperatures in the 70s this week, and that means that ice conditions can be highly variable and changing quickly, says chief warden Todd Schaller. Anglers planning to travel to northern Wisconsin to fish will want to check in with local bait shops or fishing clubs to get a read on local ice and fishing conditions.
"No ice is safe ice, so anyone venturing out should use caution and know before you go," Schaller says.
Schaller also advises anglers to wear life jackets, fish with someone else, take a cell phone and tell someone your plan including where you are and when you'll return.
While stocking of catchable size inland trout has occurred in southern inland waters, deliveries of fish to some northern inland waters will be delayed beyond the May 5, fishing opener due to road weight limits and ice conditions.
"Weather conditions haven't allowed us to stock all the fish we planned by the inland opener but we're working on it as fast as we can," says Dave Giehtbrock, fish culture leader. "We are waiting for road limits and ice to go off in the north."
In all, about 740,000 catchable rainbow, brown, brook and lake trout will be stocked in more than 400 waters this spring. Anglers planning on targeting inland waters due for stocking can search the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov, for "catchable trout" to determine if fish have been delivered to their water.
Coho fishing is already heating up in the southern end of Lake Michigan and should continue to improve through late spring and early summer. Coho generally follow an annual clockwise migration pattern around Lake Michigan's southern basin. They congregate in waters of Indiana and Illinois in early spring, and as the season progresses and water temperature increases, most coho follow the Illinois and Wisconsin shore north. They typically provide fast action, and multiple strikes are common. People can visit the Lake Michigan outdoor fishing report on the DNR website to sign up to get the latest fishing reports for Lake Michigan and Green Bay in their inbox or find the reports online, according to Brad Eggold, Great Lakes district fisheries supervisor

Lake Superior
The ice fishing season is wrapping up as ice conditions deteriorate and Lake Superior is slowly opening up for boats.
Currently, access to open water is available from Port Wing to Cornucopia and from Saxon (Saxon will be closed for the season beginning May 15. Anglers are reporting success in the near shore areas targeting Brown Trout and Coho.
May 5, marks the opening season for catch and release smallmouth bass in the lake and walleye and northern pike in the connected tributaries and sloughs. Although the ice may still be limiting open water access, the walleye and northern pike opener should allow for opportunities from the shoreline or one of the boat ramps that is ice free.
As the ice slowly declines this spring, the nearshore fisheries will pick up and targeting brown trout and coho salmon should allow for a successful fishing trip. Lake trout make up the bulk of anglers' catch in Lake Superior and a recent increase in the population is leading to high angler success. As summer approaches lake trout will begin to provide a spectacular offshore fishing opportunity, said Brad Ray, fisheries biologist, Lake Superior field unit.
St. Louis River: The river is nearly ice-free throughout its length from Fond du Lac to Lake Superior.
Walleye and northern pike fishing open on Saturday, May 12, and muskellunge and bass (largemouth, smallmouth) open on Saturday, May 26. All species carry minimum length limits and their populations contain plenty of "keeper" size fish.
To fish the St. Louis River, you will need a fishing license from the state of your residence. For example, if you are a Wisconsin resident, you need a Wisconsin resident license; this allows you to fish both in Wisconsin and Minnesota waters of the river. Anglers fishing boundary waters are reminded to carry a paper copy of their fishing license.
Bois Brule River and other south shore tributaries to Lake Superior: The fishing season on many Lake Superior tributaries opened on Saturday, March 31. The Bois Brule River steelhead fishing continues to offer catch-and-release and harvest opportunities. The minimum length limit for steelhead is 26 inches, as it is for all tributaries. The river has fished well this spring, although recent runoff has caused the river's flow to increase and clarity to decrease, said Paul Piszczek, fisheries biologist based in Superior.

Northern Wisconsin
As of April 29, lakes north of Highway 8 still have very solid ice. In northern tier counties such as Oneida, Vilas, Ashland, Bayfield and Douglas, anglers are using extensions on their augers due to the thick ice cover that still remains. It is expected that ice will remain through next week and into the fishing opener for northern counties, and it's difficult to predict at this point what state it will be in.
Small shallow lakes may be open, but larger lakes could have ice that's not quite safe to walk on, and too socked in to launch a boat.
When ice-out does occur, walleye will be the most sought after species. Walleye spawning will be very active and during late ice-out years peak spawning activity occurs quickly and could be over in as little as three to five days. Walleye anglers will definitely want to focus their efforts in the shallows, particularly along rock and cobble shorelines. Live bait combos such as jigs and minnows always bode well early in the season, as do small minnow stick baits and crank baits, said Mike Vogelsang, northern Wisconsin fisheries district supervisor.
Southeastern Wisconsin
The walleye reigns supreme for the 2018 fishing opener in southeastern Wisconsin.
Thanks to the stocking efforts of the Wisconsin Walleye Initiative, several strong year-classes of walleye have been established in many water bodies in southeast Wisconsin.
Along with stocking walleye, new fishing regulations will also be employed to protect these growing walleye populations from overharvest while providing catch-and-release opportunities for anglers. Beginning with the 2018 fishing opener, a county-wide 18-inch minimum length and daily bag limit of three fish will be in effect for walleye in waters in Kenosha, Racine, Sheboygan, Walworth, Washington, and Waukesha counties unless otherwise noted. This regulation is a management tool designed to encourage potential natural reproduction by protecting females from harvest prior to their first spawning, maximize yield of harvestable fish and provide quality walleye fishing for years to come.
If you're looking for walleye this opener head out to the Rock River and Lake Koshkonong in Jefferson County, Fox Lake in Dodge County, Pewaukee Lake in Waukesha County, Random and Big Elkhart Lakes in Sheboygan County, Delavan and Geneva Lakes in Walworth County, and Tichigan Lake in Racine County. Recent DNR spring fishery surveys indicate these waters will offer abundant walleye fishing experiences for anglers during this year's open-water season, said Laura Stremick - Thompson, Waukesha fisheries field unit supervisor.

Southwestern Wisconsin
It's been a wild spring for weather but weather looks good for the weekend after the front moves through mid-week.
Fish populations look very good with walleye spawning finished on most lakes with Lake Mendota being the exception, where fish should be in shallow with water temperatures still in the low 40s. For the lakes that have warmed up to the mid-50s, expect fish to be in post-spawn patterns in flats adjacent to those spawning areas. The water on most lakes hasn't hit that clear water phase where daphnia become abundant and filter the phytoplankton from spring turnover, but it is right around the corner. Choose lures that account for the water clarity and in clear water choose natural colors and slower presentations.
Walleye populations are looking great in southwestern Wisconsin, and lakes are supporting two to six adult fish per acre with a strong year class from the 2014 plantings being 15-17 inches.
Bass are beginning to move in, holding in those pre-spawn locations and can be found near fresh aquatic plant growth. The same can be said for bluegills and crappies. Look for warmer water and new plant growth. This can concentrate those pre-spawn fish as they feed on invertebrates and insects on the plants.
Muskies may still be patrolling the shallows and looking for spawning habitat. They may be visible, but not always interested in biting.
The Wisconsin River is up and flows are very high so be careful on the river.
Most of the walleyes that spawn up by the Dells are returning to Lake Wisconsin, so concentrating jigging on those current breaks at the top end of the lake can be very productive this time of year, said Dave Rowe, Fitchburg fisheries field unit supervisor.

Eastern Wisconsin
Green Bay should be ice free by the opener and walleye angling should be very good.
Area rivers and streams are fairly high now, but if we don't get significant rain in the next two weeks then water levels will recede. Most of the Oconto, Peshtigo and Menominee river impoundments are ice free and offer a variety of angling opportunities.
Manitowoc lakes are ice free and offer a mostly bass, pike, panfish fishery. Forest and Florence county lakes are iced in, but anglers could enjoy trout fishing as long as the rivers and stream flows decrease before the opener.
Anglers on the Winnebago system can look forward to some good walleye fishing in both the rivers and lakes as mature walleye are returning downstream from spawning marshes on the upper Fox and Wolf Rivers. Anglers had fantastic fishing earlier in April during the upstream movement. On the lake, a mix of hungry immature walleye and early returners should provide action.
The late winter and cooler water temps may cause bass, bluegill and crappie fishing to be somewhat slower until water temps warm up into the 60s, said Dave Boyarski, east district fisheries supervisor.

Western Wisconsin
Lakes in the western part of the state should be ice-free for the opener.
Walleye will most likely be on the post spawn feed and anglers using jigs and minnows should find success. Lake Wissota and Holcombe Flowage are popular opening weekend walleye waters. Anglers fishing the Wisconsin River system will also find walleye in a post spawn feed. Slower current areas downstream of the dams will offer the best action.
Anglers targeting trout will find optimum conditions as streams have cleared up and are returning to normal flows. Wooly buggers, various streamers and nymphs will be flies of choice for fly fishermen, while spinners and small minnow imitation crank baits will be the spin fisherman's favorites. With the weather warming up the opener is looking good, according to Bob Hujik, western District Supervisor - Bureau of Fisheries Management.

SOURCE: Wisconsin DNR

DNR urges extreme caution on late-season ice

Lakes in every part of Minnesota are experiencing later-than-usual ice-out, but temperatures are rising and the Department of Natural Resources reminds anyone venturing onto remaining ice to use extreme caution – or stay off altogether.
During the past week, conservation officers throughout the state report deteriorating ice conditions and instances of people and equipment falling through.
“Just because you can access a lake doesn’t mean it’s safe to do so,” said Rodmen Smith, director of the DNR Enforcement Division. “Ice this time of year is dangerously deceptive and can change markedly in a matter of minutes – and within just a few feet.”
So far during the 2017-2018 ice season, there have been six ice-related fatalities in Minnesota. All involved people breaking through while riding a recreational vehicle, and the most recent occurred April 23, in St. Louis County.
Anyone who heads onto the ice this time of year should use a chisel to check the strength of the ice frequently and be sure to wear a life jacket or float coat, according to Lisa Dugan, DNR boat and water safety outreach coordinator. Adults also should be vigilant about keeping children away from ice and open water unless they’re accompanied by a responsible adult.
For more safety tips, see the DNR’s ice safety page.

SOURCE: Minnesota DNR

Minnesota, Wisconsin DNRs to discuss Mississippi bag, size limits

Minnesota and Wisconsin natural resources departments will hold five public input meetings in mid-May to kick off a multi-state review of bag and size limits for gamefish on the Mississippi River between Hastings, MN, and the Iowa border.  
The public meetings will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. as follows:
* Monday, May 14, Twin Bluff Middle School, 2120 Twin Bluff Road, Red Wing, MN.
* Tuesday, May 15, Wabasha-Kellogg High School, 2113 Hiawatha Drive, Wabasha, MN.
* Wednesday, May 16, Prairie du Chien City Hall, 214 E. Blackhawk Drive, Prairie du Chien, WI.
* Thursday, May 17, WI DNR Service Center, 3550 Mormon Coulee Road, La Crosse, WI.
* Tuesday, May 22, Winona Middle School, 1570 Homer Road, Winona, MN.
While the meetings will include a brief overview of existing and historical regulations for gamefish species on this stretch of the Mississippi, most of the time during each session will be devoted to gathering input.
“We don’t have any specific proposals for changes to bag limits or size restrictions,” said Kevin Stauffer, Lake City area fisheries supervisor for the Minnesota DNR. “But many of these regulations have been in place for 50 years, and we’d like to hear what people who fish the river have to say about them, and whether they think any changes are in order.”
The Minnesota and Wisconsin DNRs are working together on the review with an eye toward maintaining consistent regulations on the Mississippi River flowing between the two states. All gamefish species will be discussed, including sunfish, crappie, largemouth and smallmouth bass, northern pike, white bass, walleye, sauger, catfish and yellow perch.
Input gathered from these meetings, along with other fisheries data, may be used to develop recommendations for possible regulation changes agreeable to both states. After that, each state would have to go through its own official rule-making process, with additional opportunities for public comment. The earliest any changes might go into effect would be 2020.

Winnebago System sturgeon spawning season begins

Wisconsin DNR Senior Fisheries Biologist/Winnebago System Sturgeon Biologist

The 2018 lake sturgeon spawning run on the Wolf River is officially underway.  
Fish began spawning at the Sturgeon Trail in New London last evening/early this morning and our crew was out there tagging fish this afternoon.  
The fish were not spawning real heavy as there were only a few active pods working, but we were able to handle 45 fish.  
We checked a few other spots between New London and Shawano this afternoon and to my knowledge the Sturgeon Trail is the only location with actively spawning fish.  
There were some fish exhibiting "cruising" behavior at Bamboo Bend in Shiocton and numerous other sites, but these fish were not yet actively spawning.  
Cruising behavior normally means that spawning activity is very close, so I believe spawning will commence at these sites within the next day or two.  
New London will be the best location for interested spectators to see fish Monday and that will be the starting location for our tagging crew Monday morning.  
The weather forecast for the next couple of days looks great, so don't wait too long to get out and see the sturgeon spawn on the Wolf River!