Some Ice Fishing in May
The first Saturday in May is always marked with a big red circle on my calendar because that’s when fishing season opens in Wisconsin. After a crazy spring full of blizzards and arctic temperatures, there are actually some lakes in the northern part of the state that still have ice on them. Luckily, the Governor’s fishing opener had an ice-free lake and warm temperatures to lure anglers out for opening weekend.
Governor Scott Walker held his annual fishing opener event on the Chetek Chain of Lakes this year as part of a tradition started by Governor Warren Knowles back in 1965. Governor Knowles was an avid fisherman who established this event to highlight angling opportunities and increase fishing tourism in many different parts of the state. Local fishermen (and women) from the Chetek area reported two weeks ago there was still about twenty inches of ice on the lake. Some were worried it would not be completely melted by the time opening weekend hit. I’m happy to report that the lakes were clear of ice and that the turnout was great.
Fishing is a relaxing pastime and a staple of Wisconsin’s sporting heritage but it also brings in a lot of great economic and tourism benefits for local businesses and the state. Over one million fishing licenses are sold each year and these funds go towards restocking lakes, managing fisheries and restoring water quality. On the tourist side of things, bait shops, hotels, campgrounds, restaurants, gas stations and many other local businesses look forward to the arrival of anglers from all over the country each year. In Wisconsin, fishing adds $2.3 billion to the economy and supports 22,000 jobs. The Chippewa Valley is no stranger to the presence of anglers, as I am sure you know.
Western Wisconsin is full of lakes, rivers and streams, which provide a variety of fishing opportunities. There are over 250 lakes in Chippewa, Eau Claire and Clark County alone. Whether you’re looking for trout or trying to snag that big muskie, there are plenty of places to explore and try your luck. I would suggest some of my favorite locations, but a good fisherman never tells anyone about their secret spots (unless you pay a guide to tell you).
Down in Madison, the Legislature recently added a new fishing method to the law books. This new method is called “noodling,” which is not to be confused with the foam noodles found in swimming pools or even spaghetti noodles. This word is actually used to describe catching a catfish with your bare hands. This method of fishing, which is popular in southern states and something you might have seen on television, requires a brave fisherman or woman to feel around the lake or river bed for holes where a catfish might be. You’ll know you’ve found one if they nibble on your finger. The fisherman must then try to hold the fish by its gills or mouth to pull it out of the water. Of course, you must be very fast or it will thrash its way out of your hands!
Noodling is one example of how fishing regulations can change, so it is important to check the most recent copy of Wisconsin Hook and Line Fishing Regulations produced by the Department of Natural Resources each year for updated rules. Researching local bag limits and what species of fish are in each lake is a good practice for all anglers. It would be disappointing to go fishing for muskie in a lake that only has panfish.
If you did not get a chance to get out on the water or were not successful during the fishing opener, don’t worry about it too much. You’ll have plenty of time this summer to hook some fish for the grill, find that trophy to mount on the wall or maybe even give noodling a try. As the old saying goes, a bad day of fishing is still better than a good day in the office!
For more information on fishing regulations and licenses, please check out the Department of Natural Resources’ webpage: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/fishing/.