Madison — Anglers have a great reason to celebrate the New Year thanks to the return of early trout season. The season starts at 5 a.m. on January 7 and runs until midnight May 5.
Joanna Griffin, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources trout specialist, said the early catch-and-release season offers opportunities for everyone willing to wade or walk a stream bank in winter.
"Last year was the first year for the extended early catch-and-release trout season. We received very favorable feedback from anglers," Griffin said. "The extended trout season is generating new interest in trout fishing and encouraging more people to take advantage of our world-class trout streams. In addition to the exhilaration of the experience, there's also a beneficial economic impact since dedicated trout anglers are willing travel to new streams in pursuit of great fishing opportunities."
The unique challenge of trout fishing in winter has led to spirited discussion about whether fly rods or spinning rods are best suited for frosty conditions. The consensus of DNR fisheries biologists? Both work just fine as long as anglers are able to maintain enough dexterity to target their casts accurately and change things up when a chosen lure or fly is not producing action, Griffin said.
As for where to fish, Wisconsin's official maps of classified trout streams have been updated and feature more than 41 additional streams that have been classified as trout waters since 2014. Most of these 292 miles are found in west central and southern Wisconsin counties and will be open for the early catch-and-release season.
Trout populations are particularly strong in western Wisconsin, where there is about 6 inches of snow and the streams in the Eau Claire area are generally running clear. Heath Benike, DNR fisheries supervisor in the region, said anglers using midge, mayfly or scud patterns should do well early in the angling season.
DNR crews have completed many habitat restoration projects this past field season. Anglers wanting to fish some of these recently restored waters should check out the Kinnickinnic River in St. Croix County, Sand and Gilbert Creeks in Dunn County, Fall Creek in Pepin County, Swinns Valley Creek in Buffalo County, Beaver Creek in Trempealeau County and Weister and Spring Coulee Creeks in Vernon County.
Griffin said the expanded early catch-and-release season was developed in response to feedback from anglers; this feedback also contributed to an extended fall harvest season, which this year will extend until October 15.
Additional information about where to fish and local regulations can be found using DNR's TROUT tool, which was designed to help trout anglers find places to fish including classified trout waters, public land and DNR fishing easements. To learn more about the regulations, visit DNR.wi.gov and search "trout regulations."
Early season anglers must have a valid 2016-2017 fishing license and a trout stamp; licenses are valid from the April 1 through March 31 the following year. Access DNR's online licensing system by searching "GoWild.wi.gov."
Enjoy fishing Wisconsin's trout streams in winter. The views can be spectacular, the fish are biting and it's great to be outdoors.