With warmer weather on the horizon, anglers in Wisconsin are heading out to their garages and sheds to shake the dust off their fishing poles and tackle boxes. Some may be studying maps or Googling potential fishing sites; others may be rushing to stake out their favorite spot or keeping secret their honey hole. Regardless of what they’re fishing for, they are ready to get out to the water and enjoy that serene moment created when a fisherman throws that first cast after a long winter.
Early catch-and-release season for trout began in January and is just about to wrap up in early May, ushering in the general open season for trout and salmon in inland streams, springs and spring ponds. Opening day for all fishing in Wisconsin traditionally begins the first Saturday in May.
Brad Simms, a fisheries biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, has talked to several early season trout anglers who have reported successes in southwest Wisconsin streams already. Concerns stemming from high water last fall and snow melt early this spring have evaporated, with Simms expecting another good year for inland trout fishing.
Streams in southwest Wisconsin provide habitat for brown trout, brook trout and rainbow trout, although you may not find all these species in one stream. The Lower Wisconsin River Region and the northeastern portion of the Pecatonica River Region contain some of the most productive brown trout water in the Driftless Area, while brook trout are scarce in that area due to lack of good habitat for them.
Simms recommended a cluster of high-density streams in close proximity to each other located north of Military Ridge and State Highway 18. These mostly cold-water streams weave through northern Grant and Iowa counties, along with Richland, Vernon and Crawford counties, and offer diversity in their fish and landscape.
According to the 2019-2020 Guide to Wisconsin Trout Fishing Regulations, Simms and other fisheries biologists recommend the following streams in that grouping for their ability to produce fish and their ease of access: Big Spring Creek, Big Green River, Castle Rock Creek, Blue River and Borah Creek, all in Grant County.
Another popular grouping of trout streams in southwest Wisconsin can be found south of State Highway 18, Simms said. Most of these streams are warm-water streams, accessible in the Lancaster and Fennimore areas in Grant County, as well as streams in and around the Mineral Point area in Iowa County.
Fisheries biologists also recommend streams in eastern Iowa County and western Dane County, including Gordon Creek, Iowa County; and Black Earth Creek, Dane County. However, these streams are easily accessible by residents of Madison and surrounding communities, and with public access, can receive heavy fishing pressure. In fact, the DNR claims Black Earth Creek as one of the most heavily fished trout waters in the state.
Lafayette County also has some trout streams, but trout fishing is pretty limited in that area, Simms added.
Before planning a trout fishing trip, Wisconsin anglers can visit https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/Fishing/trout for a number of resources, including information on licensing, bag limits and accessibility. Maps are also available for download, and a new tool has been recently released to aid trout fishers.
The Trout Regulations and Opportunities User Tool, or T.R.O.U.T., was designed to help trout anglers find places to fish, but also includes information on trout regulations, classified trout waters, public land and DNR fishing easements. With more than 13,000 miles of trout streams in Wisconsin, the tool will help anglers explore trout waters easily from their phones.
The official Guide to Wisconsin Trout Fishing Regulations for 2019-2020 can also be downloaded from the DNR website and can also be requested when visiting local vendors offering licenses and stamps for anglers.
Those fishing for trout are required to have a Wisconsin fishing license as well as an inland trout stamp, Simms said. An interactive map of Wisconsin fishing license sales locations can be found at https://dnr.wi.gov/Permits/CSRSP/LicenseAgents.aspx if you’d like to purchase in person; licenses and stamps can also be purchased online through the DNR’s Go Wild website at gowild.wi.gov.