Fishing opener features hungry walleye, pike, panfish

MADISON, WI - 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 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 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 warm-up 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. The 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 2018 hook-and-line game fish season opens May 5, on inland waters for walleye, sauger, and northern pike statewide.
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 where each regulation applies.

Early fishing season safety tips
DNR recreation safety officials warn anglers that while ice cover may look sturdy in parts of Wisconsin, it's likely weakening fast as spring fights to take hold.
"No ice is safe ice, so the best advice is to stay off the ice," says Chief Warden Todd Schaller.
The slow seasonal transition serves as another reason to wear a life jacket when enjoying fishing from a boat or shore.
"The water is still cold, and hypothermia is a painful and dangerous possibility should you fall out of your boat or slip and fall into some water near the shoreline," Schaller says. "You may have up to two minutes in the cold water before the cold water chills your muscles to the point of inability to save yourself."
Anglers are reminded to dress in layers, not fish alone, take a cell phone and make sure someone knows your outing plans - including where you are and your anticipated return.
"And fish in an area that is familiar to you or that you have taken the time to learn about the characteristics of the area," Schaller says.
A good place to learn more is the local bait shop or local fishing club.
If your fishing plans involves a boat, please hold off enjoying alcoholic beverages or drugs before or during operating your boat. Wear your life jacket and encourage all passengers to wear one, too. At the least, make sure you have a life jacket aboard for each passenger - and do not overload the boat. Keep a radio on board to stay current on weather changes. Know the navigational rules of the water, and check your boat lights should you return after sunset. Check your First Aid kit and if your on-board flares will work, Schaller says.

Take precautions to avoid spreading fish diseases, 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.

SOURCE: Wisconsin DNR

Why zones? DNR explains new regulations for keeping northern pike

The new northern pike fishing regulations, which were announced recently and go into effect on the May 12, fishing opener, have three distinct zones to address the different characteristics of pike populations in Minnesota, according to the Department of Natural Resources.
Each of the zones – north-central, northeast and south – provide protection for different sizes of pike, and there are reasons for those differences.  
“We’re continuing to let anglers know there are new pike regulations for those who want to keep pike on inland waters,” said Chris Kavanaugh, DNR northeast region fisheries manager. “We also want to share the thinking behind the new regulations.”

North-central zone
The north-central zone is the largest of the three zones, and here the possession limit is 10 northern pike, but only two can be longer than 26 inches. All from 22 to 26 inches must be released.
“We’re responding to angler concerns about the over-abundance of small, or hammer-handle, pike in the north-central zone,” Kavanaugh said.  
Through anglers keeping small fish, but protecting the 22- to 26-inch pike, the objective in the north-central zone is to both reduce the abundance of small pike and allow medium size pike to grow larger.
The advantages of growing larger pike are two-fold. While protected these medium-size pike will eat small pike, helping reduce abundance of small pike. And when they eventually grow out of the protected size range they will be a more desirable size for keeping.  

Southern zone
In the southern zone, where reproduction is limited, the regulation intends to increase pike abundance while also improving the size of fish harvested.
Anglers in the southern zone can keep two fish, but the minimum size is 24 inches.
“The management issue in the southern zone is the opposite of what’s happening in the north-central zone,” Kavanaugh said. “With low reproduction, stocking is often necessary to provide a pike fishery in the south. Here we want to protect young pike and give them a chance to grow.”
Growth rates are much faster in these southern lakes so most will reach the 24-inch keeper size in a few years.     

Northeastern zone
In the northeastern zone, pike reproduction is good, but these lakes do not have the high density problems of the north-central zone since they still have a nice balance of medium to large pike. Here, it makes sense to provide protection for large pike while they still exist.
“The trophy pike of the Arrowhead Region have definitely made some great stories and photos over the decades,” Kavanaugh said. “But these fish grow slowly in the cold water and if too many anglers keep trophy pike here, they’ll be gone.”  
In the northeastern zone, anglers can keep two pike, but must release all from 30 to 40 inches, with only one over 40 inches allowed in possession.

Other considerations
Anglers who want to keep pike will need to be prepared to measure them. Those planning to take advantage of the expanded bag limit on small pike should familiarize themselves with the extra cuts it takes to fillet the fish.
New pike regulations do not affect border water fishing regulations or special regulations that cover individual lakes, rivers and streams.
Darkhouse spearing regulations for pike differ slightly and those regulations are listed in the spearing section of the regulations booklet.
For more information on the new zone regulations visit or contact a local area fisheries office. Contact information can be found at or in the printed fishing regulations booklet.

SOURCE: Minnesota DNR

Use these spring walleye fishing tips from a longtime fish manager

MADISON, WI - Walleye will be high on anglers' target list when the regular fishing season opens May 5.
It's a good bet many anglers will be stalking ol' marble eyes whether from a boat, shore, or they may even need tip-ups in the still frozen northern lakes.
Longtime fisheries manager and supervisor Steve Gilbert shares his walleye fishing tips honed over three decades of fishing for the species and managing walleye populations in northern Wisconsin.
His overarching advice?
"There is no substitute for time on the water," he said. "Experiment to see what they want and when they want it. The rewards of catching Wisconsin's most popular fish are well worth the effort!"
Walleye can be a challenging species to fish for because they require finesse fishing at many times of the year. Early spring is an exception as spawning fish congregate in specific shallow water habitat or shortly after spawning they move in to newly emerging plant beds to feed.
Try Gilbert's tips to improve your success.

Why to fish walleye in the spring
Wisconsin's regular fishing season opens the first Saturday in May and that's a good time for walleye anglers to hit it hard. Walleye have typically finished spawning when the opener rolls around, and post spawning is a good time to go. This year they will likely still be in spawning mode in the northern third of the state unless we get some warm weather soon.
The fish are hungry and there's not a lot of food available, both of which make them vulnerable at that time, and can increase angling success. DNR creel surveys show May is when the biggest proportion of walleye is harvested by anglers.

When to fish
The May bite usually occurs early and late in the day. You'll want to fish morning hours until about 9 a.m. or get out on the water after 5 p.m. for the best bite. Males will congregate next to the best spawning habitat (rock/cobble) at this time.
If you plan to fish in the middle of the day, male fish will be congregated just off the spawning areas in slightly deeper water especially on sunny days.

Where to fish
Look for rocky areas along wind swept shorelines and points on the main lake. As spawning comes to an end, bigger fish move into shallower, warmer bays looking to feed. Fish weed lines in these areas. Wading shorelines in the evening or early morning can be effective at this time of year when fish are in the shallows.
Use a hydrographic map of the lake you plan to fish to identify these key areas in advance. Once on the water, don't waste time in unproductive spots. If you don't get a bite in 15 to 20 minutes, move on to the next spot.

What gear to use
A jig and minnow combination works best early in the season. Use a 1/16-ounce jig, live bait rigs or crank baits. Try using different color jigs - yellow, green, chartreuse or red - because on some days, the color can make a big difference. You will need to use slightly heavier jigs under windy conditions to keep the bait in contact with the bottom where the fish are.
Select a 6 1/2- to 7-foot spinning rod and reel combo filled with light line. A mistake many people make is they use too heavy a line. Use 4- to 6-pound test line except when you're using crank baits. Most of the time when I'm using crank baits I use 10- to 12-pound test line.
In June and the summer months as water temperatures rise, night crawlers are best on weed edges. Also, slip bobbers or a light jig tipped with half a night crawler can work great just before and during the spring mayfly hatch. As the water warms into the 70s, leeches work great and are durable at these warmer temperatures. During mid-summer anglers will need to start looking for walleye in deeper water using these same methods.

How to fish
Work the jig and minnow slowly right along the bottom. If you're using a minnow imitating crank baits, casting shallow running crank baits after dark along rocky shorelines or outside weed edges can be very productive.

SOURCE: Wisconsin DNR

Minnesota DNR crews face challenges with late ice-out

The lingering cold weather is delaying ice-out on Minnesota lakes and rivers, which could make it difficult for DNR crews to have the 1,500 public water accesses it manages ready in time for the May 12, fishing opener.
“I want Minnesotans to know that we are doing everything we can to get ready for the fishing opener,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “But mostly what we need are warmer temperatures and sunshine.”
There are approximately 3,000 public water access sites statewide, and the DNR’s Parks and Trails Division manages about half of them.
“Winter weather is always a challenge to Minnesota’s public water access sites,” said Nancy Stewart, water recreation program consultant. “Because of the late ice-out this year, DNR crews will have a shorter window than usual to get boat ramps and docks ready for the May 12, fishing opener, but we will have as many of them ready as possible.”
Every year, repairs are needed at hundreds of sites, because freezing temperatures and ice cause concrete to crack and buckle on the ramps. In some years, crews can get a head start on that work, even before ice-out, but snow has prevented them from assessing damage, and the ramps can’t be re-leveled until the ground thaws.
In the meantime, crews are busy rehabbing docks by, for example, changing bumpers and wheels as needed so that they’ll be ready to pop in when the time comes.
“Even if every last dock isn’t in by the opener, there will be places to fish and boat,” said Stewart.
Helpful resources on the DNR’s Public Water Access website ( include:
* A map showing where ice-out has occurred.
* Phone numbers for DNR Area Offices for updates.
* Boaters and anglers can also get their questions answered by calling the DNR Info Center: 888-646-6367 (8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday).

SOURCE: Minnesota DNR

Hundreds of walleye waters offer great fishing in 2018

MADISON, WI - Anglers in Wisconsin will likely find far more walleye waters to fish than they'll have time to visit in 2018.
"Walleye are found naturally in our larger lakes and rivers and Wisconsin represents the heart of North American walleye distribution," said Justine Hasz, Wisconsin's Fisheries Director.
"Larger lakes all over Wisconsin, especially in northern Wisconsin, provide great walleye fishing and the same is true for our major rivers, from the Mississippi to the Wisconsin to the Wolf and Fox River systems."
About half of Wisconsin's 1,000 lakes with walleye sustain their populations through natural reproduction. These waters do not need to be stocked and produce walleye populations that are 3 to 10 times higher than waters that are stocked at even the highest levels.
This year anglers will have more walleye fishing opportunities thanks to Gov. Scott Walker's Wisconsin Walleye Initiative, which seeks to stock larger extended growth fingerling walleye in some lakes to jumpstart natural reproduction and in others to enhance fishing in waters that have long relied on stocking for walleye fishing opportunities.
More than 1.275 million extended growth walleye fingerlings were stocked in 2013 and 2014 under the initiative and should be catchable size now.
Learn more about "Walleye and Wisconsin" in this special 2015 Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine issue.
Try these resources to find a walleye water to fish in 2018:
* List of key Wisconsin naturally reproducing walleye waters.
* List of waters receiving Fingerling stocked in 2014.
* Fingerling stocked in 2013 under the Wisconsin Walleye Initiative.
* Wisconsin Fishing Report walleye forecast.

SOURCE: Wisconsin DNR

New estimate shows healthy Mille Lacs smallmouth bass population

Since the late 1990s, Mille Lacs Lake has become an increasingly popular destination for anglers who want to catch trophy-sized smallmouth bass.
Until now, it wasn’t known how many of these fish – prized more for their fight than their fillets – called the lake home. A population estimate completed in 2018 shows there are some 67,000 smallmouth bass in the 128,000-acre lake.
“This looks like a healthy population,” said Tom Jones, regional fisheries treaty coordinator with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “This estimate roughly represents the number of adult bass in the lake. It does not include bass under 12 inches.”
The population estimate would not have been possible without the help of the Mille Lacs Smallmouth Alliance and Minnesota B.A.S.S. Nation. The Mille Lacs Smallmouth Alliance kept detailed records of their catches and provided length and tag numbers from more than 2,100 smallmouth bass. Minnesota B.A.S.S. Nation held several tournaments on Mille Lacs, including the statewide Tournament of Champions, and anglers provided similar data for more than 1,600 bass.
“Mille Lacs is the number one bass fishery in the United States right now, and we just want to help protect it,” said Jim DeRosa, president of the Mille Lacs Smallmouth Alliance. “We’re really thrilled that we could play a small part in that.”
In 2013, smallmouth bass regulations changed to allow anglers more opportunity to keep smallmouth on Mille Lacs Lake. The move was made to permit anglers to keep some fish during a time when the walleye harvest has been restricted or prohibited. During the past five seasons, smallmouth bass regulations have varied, but they generally have allowed harvest of bass under 17 inches. A 20-inch smallmouth bass is generally regarded as a trophy fish.
“One thing smallmouth anglers were concerned about was that allowing harvest would mean fewer big bass,” Jones said. “That’s not what we’ve seen with the most current assessment. About half of the smallmouth are over 17 inches, and that is consistent with what we’ve seen in past assessments of Mille Lacs smallmouth.”  
In 2016 and 2017, Mille Lacs Lake hosted the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship, and in 2017 Bassmaster Magazine named Mille Lacs Lake the best bass fishery in the nation.
“We recognize Mille Lacs is a world-class bass fishery, and we’re committed to protecting it,” said Jones. “Now that we have a good estimate of the abundance of smallmouth bass, we look forward to working with Minnesota bass groups and the Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee this summer to discuss potential long-term regulations.”    
While Mille Lacs has long been known for walleye, the growth of the lake’s smallmouth bass population is a fairly recent phenomenon. During the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, smallmouth started showing up in DNR assessments more frequently. And anglers were hooking more of them.
“When fishing pressure increased in the late 1990s, that’s when we decided to protect smallmouth bass,” Jones said. “We thought the population was fragile at the time.”
From 2000 to 2012, anglers on Mille Lacs were limited to one bass over 21 inches, and a very small number of fish were harvested each year. The DNR’s first assessment of Mille Lacs smallmouth bass in 1999 supported the decision to restrict harvest of smallmouth bass, but a 2009 assessment found smallmouth bass in much higher numbers and in a much wider portion of the lake.
Though anglers have been allowed to keep more bass since 2013, creel surveys indicate that interest in keeping bass is low. The average number of bass kept each year is about 2,800. In recent years, anglers have caught and released more than 125,000 bass.
“Based on the estimated number of smallmouth bass in the lake and the number that anglers catch each year, it’s clear that these fish are being caught more than once,” said Tom Heinrich, DNR area fisheries supervisor in Garrison. “The anglers who are releasing those bass are helping maintain the lake’s incredible bass fishery.”    
Bass season on Mille Lacs opens Saturday, May 12. Prior to Saturday, May 26, all largemouth and smallmouth bass must be immediately released. Beginning May 26, the combined bass possession limit is three, with only one bass over 21 inches. All bass 17 to 21 inches must be immediately released.
More information about Mille Lacs Lake can be found at

SOURCE: Minnesota DNR

Northern pike added to state’s catch-and-release record program

Anglers who catch and release northern pike can earn state records through an expansion of a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources record fish program that previously included only lake sturgeon, muskellunge and flathead catfish in the catch-and-release category.
“These catch-and-release records have really caught on and now we’re adding northern pike into the mix,” said Mike Kurre, DNR mentoring program coordinator. “Photos of these fish have ramped up awareness of Minnesota as a go-to state for trophy fish.”
This category of the DNR’s record fish program lets anglers submit photos and documentation of potential record fish they catch and release. Anglers send one photo of the fish displayed alongside a measuring stick, ruler or tape, and one photo of the angler with the fish.
“Catch-and-release fishing remains a time-honored tradition and when anglers release these large fish they give others the chance to catch them later,” Kurre said.
Die-hard anglers and DNR Fisheries staff pushed for the record category, added in 2016, to recognize people who catch trophy fish while also supporting the catch-and-release ethic already shared by many anglers. The option remains to participate in the traditional category of records based on certified weight of fish caught and kept.
To be eligible for any state record, anglers must obtain a valid license and the fish must be caught in season. Anglers may fish for a species only when a season is open, even when catch-and-release angling.
Detailed guidelines for participating in both the catch-and-release and certified weight categories can be found at Fishing regulations and season dates can be found at
Anglers who catch large fish also have the option of participating in the Minnesota Fishing Hall of Fame’s Master Angler program, which recognizes 60 fish species. Information about that program is available at

SOURCE: Minnesota DNR