Extended Inland Trout Season; Does it really matter?

With the recent DNR activity and voting up in Wisconsin, I wanted to reach out to one of the guys most in the know up there, and one of the best guides in the Driftless I know - Kyle Zempel, lead guide with Black Earth Angling.  A totally fishy dude, with a great eye and a great understanding of the environmental and how we impact it.  

(Write up courtesy of Kyle Zempel, of Black Earth Angling and Kyle Zempel Photography)


As of January 1st, 2016 Wisconsin's inland trout season will be 2.5 months longer, will it make a difference?

Currently, Wisconsin's inland trout season is as follows:

Catch and release (early season): 1st Saturday in March to the Sunday preceding the first Saturday in May.

**Season closes for one week before the regular season begins.

Regular Season: First Saturday in May to September 30th.

What will the new rules in effect as of January 1, 2016 look like?

Catch and Release (early season) will open on January 1st and remain open until the regular season opens on the first Saturday in May. There will be no week closure before the regular season opener. The regular season opener (first Saturday in May) will mark the day that folks who would like to bring a trout home with them can do so. The regular season will run from the first Saturday in May until October 15th (instead of Sept. 30th).

To sum that up, it will look as follows:

As of January 1, 2016:

Catch and release (early season): January 1, 2016 to the Friday before the first Saturday in May.


Regular (Catch and Release not required): First Saturday in May to October 15th

The regulations regarding bag limits will also be receiving a change. The regulations will be simplified. As of 2016, a stream will no longer have multiple regulations per stream. The stream will either be all RED, YELLOW, or GREEN in the regulations booklet. This is to simplify the regulations for those who plan to take fish home. 

The BIG question is will it really change anything? My answer is YES!!

To the common individual, being able to fish in January and February doesn't mean much as they will likely not tough out the cold. Many trout fishermen are an exception to this, they are not the common individual. Yes, for many folks this early extension to the season will not change anything because they don't knock the dust off their rod until late-April, but for some fisherman who struggle through the winter months waiting for the season to open so that they can “wet a line” this is great news. I have no doubts that there will be some individuals that will get out multiple times before March hits. I am one of them. When you hit a mild winter day, it is often just enough to get out and cast. Catching a trout is a bonus. While out doing some pre-season scouting I have witnessed fish rising to some really nice midge hatches and thought to myself “Wow, if only I could wet a line.” Now those of us who may struggle from seasonal depression can get out and heal our minds. We must keep in mind that angling isn't always about catching a fish, but getting out and recreating. The new season extension will now allow for the die-hards to get out and recreate instead of sitting in front of our computer/television screens.

Now, the two new “winter months” of fishing will affect mainly the die-hards, but the 15-day extension on the other end of things will have the bigger affect. It always broke my heart that when the leaves began to turn in the great state of Wisconsin, I had to pick up and head to Iowa's Driftless streams (not that there's anything wrong with Iowa) if I wanted to enjoy some Fall fishing. This will now be a different story. I've been asked why only until the 15th of October, why not until the end of October. I would like to clear this up as I have asked this question to the folks a the WI DNR and they have a legitimate reason. If you have ever fished in the WI Driftless area, you are likely aware that much of the fishing grounds are lands leased for public use or are easements. Well, many of these gracious land owners like to enjoy the sport of bow-hunting on their own property. During the middle of October Whitetail activity really picks up as rut begins to start. The landowners were concerned about a fisherman walking through their property spooking the deer they are after, negatively affecting their hunt. Nobody likes being high holed on a stream, we should have the same respect for others out enjoying the great resources we have in the state. So, the DNR met these landowners in the middle which has left the majority of people happy. They let us fish until October 15th and we stay off their property through the peak hunting season. I feel that it is more than fair seeing that most of these landowners are nice enough to open up their privately owned lands for public fishing use.  

The next issue I've had to address is the statement, “Isn't that when the trout spawn? Aren't you going to negatively affect that?” The answer to this question is both yes and no. If we (fishing community) are careless and don't pay attention to where we are wading then yes, we will negatively affect the spawning activity. However, if we are stewards of the sport and pay attention to what we are doing on the stream (much like taking the time clean our waders so we are not spreading invasives), this will not have a negative affect on the fish. Bottom line is pay attention, familiarize yourself with what, and where, reds are, and be sure to stay away from them. Make others aware - we are all in this together.


As a fishing guide I get a unique perspective on this because, well, I make money taking people fishing. The extra days especially on the fall end of things means potentially 15 more pay checks for me or my other guides. I expect to book up everyone of those days if the weather conditions in October hold up. That is a significant change for the guiding community. We are lucky enough that the Driftless Area has the fisheries to support numerous excellent fishing guides, and the extra potential guide days will help support these guides financially so that they are able to keep doing what they do best. This change however, is reaches much further than just supporting fishing guides. Many local businesses will see a positive impact due to the additional available fishing days. Motels/hotels, gas stations, bars, restaurants, and fly shops are just a few that are directly affected by the extension. I've had the pleasure of working with many business owners in the Driftless Area specifically, and they will tell you that trout fishermen and women are a major part of their customer base. They will likely see the positive impact on the October end of things more so than the winter side, but as a small business owner the extra income is always welcomed with open arms. 

Fishermen and Fisherwomen can now enjoy fishing amongst fall colors.