Wisconsin’s early catch-and-release trout season opens March 1 on streams that are loaded with fish but might take some work to reach during the earliest days of the season, state fish biologists say.

“My advice for anglers? Snowshoes,” says Jordan Weeks, the Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist for Crawford, La Crosse, Monroe and Vernon counties. “If you can get to the streams, it will be worth it. They’re loaded with fish.”

Trout populations have generally increased statewide, and the number of fish in all sizes examined have increased since 1950, according to a University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point analysis released in 2011 and discussed in “A Trout Treasury,” an April 2011 Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine article.

Two weeks out, deep snow stands between anglers and those fish. But warmer temperatures forecast for the next few days make it hard to predict exactly what conditions anglers will find on the earliest days of the season, and also, what the rest of the season will look like as Wisconsin experiences the coldest winter in a generation.

“Deep snow will make accessing and fishing the streams quite difficult for at least the early part of the season,” says Gene Van Dyck, fisheries biologist for Richland and part of Iowa counties. “The best fishing will start after most of the snow has melted and the streams settle down, which really doesn’t take too long once most of the snow is gone.”

The trout populations in the southwestern part of the state are in excellent condition for both numbers and average size, along with some large fish, Van Dyck says.

In northwestern Wisconsin, Marty Engel, fisheries biologist stationed in Baldwin, reports that trout streams in the Pierce County area are covered with more ice than normal. Deep snow depth also remains an issue along the streams and road ways. “Temperatures are expected to rise during the next few weeks which should improve the amount of open water available to early season anglers,” he says.

Trout anglers seeking early season fishing opportunities in Iron and Ashland counties should try the larger stream systems near State Highway 77 between the Towns of Cayuga in central Ashland County and Upson in north central Iron County for the best accessibility, says Lawrence Eslinger, fisheries biologist for Iron and Ashland counties.

And Max Wolter, fisheries biologist in Hayward, says the Namekagon River is a good bet. “Flows are pretty consistent in March and even if the river comes up a bit it usually doesn’t get off-color. Brown trout up to 18 inches are abundant and fish up to 22 inches are seen regularly in electrofishing surveys. Look to the tributaries and mouths of tributaries for brook trout.”

Where ever anglers choose to fish early opening season, that extra effort is worth it, as longtime angler Len Harris writes in “Bitten early by the big trout” in the February 2014 Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.

“Early season trout fishing is cold and stark. The snow is typically deep and I wear out easier,” Harris writes. “The environment is not inviting like the lush greens of summer, but there is an allure to those days of frozen guides and numb fingers. The long winter has made me forget the gnats and mosquitoes of late September. My heart yearns to brave the crisp cold days of Wisconsin’s early season. I like to be the first one to place a footstep in fresh snow on opening morning. It makes me feel like I am the first angler to ever set foot on that stream.”

Season details

The early catch-and-release trout season opens at 5 a.m. on March 1 and runs until midnight April 27.

Most trout streams are open to early fishing with the exception of most Lake Superior tributaries and most streams in northeast Wisconsin; check the current trout fishing Regulations pamphlet for specific waters. Printable maps, tips for early season fishing, and more information can be found on the early inland trout fishing season page of the DNR website.

Anglers are not required to use barbless hooks but must use artificial lures and flies.

Trout population reports for 2014 and more

Learn more about trout abundance and size on popular streams and access information for the same in these 2014 early trout season forecasts [PDF], some filed in the last few days and others filed by state fisheries biologists in late 2013 for inclusion in DNR’s 2014 Wisconsin Fishing Report. That 16-page tabloid newspaper will be available online in March as well as in hard copy at DNR Service Centers and included in the April Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.

Logo courtesy Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

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