In an effort to improve panfish size on 93 Wisconsin lakes with the potential for bigger fish, new regulations take effect on April 1.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is putting the experimental regulations in place following a process that involved more than 3,500 survey responses, more than 30 public meetings, multiple questions on two spring hearing questionnaires before the Wisconsin Conservation Congress and approval by the Natural Resources Board.
Max Wolter, DNR senior fisheries biologist and panfish team leader, said the rules are part of a 10-year management plan that also focuses on habitat improvement and predator management to boost panfish on specific lakes across Wisconsin.
There is no change to bag limits on most general inland waters, which will still have the statewide bag limit that provides for a harvest of 25 fish per day for species including bluegill, pumpkinseed, sunfish, crappie and yellow perch.
"Panfish are the target of more anglers in Wisconsin than any other group of fish and through our fisheries survey work, we've identified key lakes where panfish size has declined over time," Wolter said. "We appreciate the support we've received from anglers throughout this process and we believe the new regulations will produce positive results on the lakes we've identified together."
With panfish, fewer, larger fish can produce significantly more fillet meat than many smaller fish. In fact, just four 8 inch bluegills produce more fillet meat than 25 bluegills measuring 5 to 6 inches. It takes panfish about six or seven years to reach that 8 inch size, at which point their rate of growth slows. In Wisconsin, bluegills 9 to 10 inches (which are often male) can be as old as 14 to 16 years.
Heavy harvesting on some lakes and chains of lakes currently prevents most panfish from surviving beyond age 4 (when they measure in at 5 inches).
Three different experimental bag limits are being applied to 93 lakes to determine which is most efficient at improving panfish size. The new rules will be evaluated initially in five years and again in 10 years to determine whether they are improving panfish size as well as whether anglers continue to support the changes.
The daily limits on the high potential lakes will take one of the following forms:
✔ 25/10. Under this rule, a total of 25 panfish may be kept per day but no more than 10 of any one species.
✔ Spawning season 15/5. Under this rule, a total of 25 panfish may be kept per day except during May and June when a total of 15 panfish may be kept but no more than five of any one species.
✔ 15/5. Under this rule, a total of 15 panfish may be kept per day but no more than five of any one species.
DNR fisheries biologists are currently posting signs at boat landings and public fishing spots on the affected lakes in anticipation of the rule change on April 1. Although the general inland fishing season opens Saturday, May 7 this year, panfish have a year round season and the change in regulations coincides with the timing of the new fishing license year.
"A good way for anglers to think about it is to look for the new regulations in the 2016-17 Guide to Wisconsin Hook and Line Fishing Regulations when they get their new licenses," Wolter said.
For a complete list of lakes that will be governed by the experimental regulations, check out the factsheet. To learn more about the plan and experimental regulations, search the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov for "panfish plan."