Pull up a pail and help family and friends discover that ice is nice when it comes to fishing in Wisconsin – doubly so when the fishing is free.
Wisconsin’s first winter Free Fishing Weekend is set for Jan. 19 and 20. Residents and nonresidents alike can fish anywhere in Wisconsin for free. No licenses or trout stamps are needed. This includes all inland waters and Wisconsin’s side of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River.
“We invite everybody to get out and start a new tradition,” says Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp. “Ice fishing is all about family, friends and fun. It’s a great time to get out, get some fresh air and try fishing from a new perspective.”
Wisconsin has long had a Free Fishing Weekend during the open water season; it’s the first Saturday and Sunday in June. The winter Free Fishing Weekend was established under Act 168, a law passed last year aimed at boosting participation in fishing, hunting and other traditional outdoor recreation.
Wisconsin’s winter Free Fishing Weekend arrives at a time of growing interest in ice fishing: 110,000 more Wisconsin adults 16 and over reported ice fishing in 2010 than the previous decade. That’s an estimated 590,700 Wisconsinites 16 and over enjoying the hard-water season, according to the most recent National Survey on Recreation and the Environment.
And now that temperatures are finally more seasonal and allowing lakes and rivers to freeze over, there are plenty of places to go fishing in a state with more than 15,000 lakes, 42,000 miles of flowing rivers, and bordered by two Great Lakes and the Mississippi River.
During Free Fishing Weekend, rules governing the number and size of fish anglers can keep are still in place, as are fishing season dates. Go to DNR’s online fishing regulations (dnr.wi.gov) to look up the rules for inland lakes.
People fishing lakes within state parks will need to purchase a state parks vehicle pass.
Veterans share ice fishing tips
Benefit from fish managers’ insights gained from years of managing Wisconsin’s fish and trying to catch fish in the winter. Veteran managers Terry Margenau, Skip Sommerfeldt and Kurt Welke offer their tips for fishing for northern pike, walleye and panfish, respectively, on the ice fishing pages of the DNR website.
Sommerfeldt, who has three daughters, also passes along his tips for making ice fishing fun for the whole family. A couple of his ironclad rules for fishing with kids: Make sure they’re dressed for the weather and don’t make them suffer out in the cold. Bring along skates, and also let them play and make up their own fun – using some of the tools of the trade.
Loaner ice fishing gear available
Nearly 20 of DNR’s tackle loaner sites across the state have ice fishing tip-ups and jigging rods available for people to borrow. People will need to use their own ice auger, take over an abandoned hole or ask the angler fishing near you on the ice to drill a hole or let you borrow their auger, says Theresa Stabo, DNR’s aquatic education coordinator.
There is no charge to borrow the equipment – just enjoy the day fishing in Wisconsin and return the equipment in the condition you found it in so the next person can enjoy it, Stabo says.
More information about the tackle loaner program is available at the DNR website.