More than 2 million anglers spend $1.5 billion in Wisconsin annually on fishing and the early-season anglers who ventured out opening day, May 4, of the regular inland season stood a good chance of enjoying fast action and big fish.

Mike Vogelsang, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) fisheries supervisor for northern Wisconsin, said walleye spawning probably  only took three to five days on many lakes due to the late ice out, though once the spawn is over, fish will be hungry and linger close to the shore where they are more easily targeted by anglers.

Walleye are anglers’ No. 1 target, according to surveys and Wisconsin has hundreds of waters with naturally, self-sustaining populations. In addition, more walleye fishing opportunities will be available this year as more than 1.926 million extended-growth walleye stocked in 2013, ’14 and ’15 under the Wisconsin Walleye Initiative are now at catchable size.

Anglers interested in pursuing other species will find good prospects as well. 

Trout anglers also may want to check the list of hundreds of waters where DNR crews have been stocking catchable size trout. About 600,000 rainbow, brown, brook and lake trout are planned for stocking. These fish were raised at hatcheries in Fitchburg, Osceola, and St. Croix Falls. 

Bass, muskie dates

The 2019 hook-and-line game fish season opened May 4 on inland waters for walleye, sauger and northern pike statewide.

The northern bass zone opened May 4, with largemouth bass allowed for harvest and a catch-and-release season for smallmouth bass through June 14. The harvest season on smallmouth bass in the northern bass zone opens June 15. 

Statewide, the harvest seasons for bass have a minimum length limit of 14 inches with a daily bag limit of five fish in total. There are some exceptions to the statewide length and bag limits, so be sure to check the 2019-’20 Wisconsin hook-and-line fishing regulations for a fishing area.

Muskie season opened May 4 in the southern zone and opens May 25 in the northern zone. The northern zone is the area north of highways 77, 64 and 29, with Highway 10 as the dividing line.

Buying a license

Wisconsin residents and nonresidents 16 years old or older need a fishing license to fish in any waters of the state. Residents born before Jan. 1, 1927, do not need a license and resident members of the U.S. Armed Forces on active duty are entitled to obtain a free fishing license when on furlough or leave.

The regular annual fishing license is $20 for residents and $50 for nonresidents. Anglers who have never purchased a fishing license or who haven’t purchased a fishing license in 10 years can get a discounted “first-time buyer’s” license. Residents’ discounted license is $5 and nonresidents’ is $25.75 for the annual licenses.

If a person is eligible for the first-time buyer’s license, that license will be the first listing on his or her computer screen and it’s also what the license agent will see when an eligible buyer comes in seeking a license.

People can buy fishing licenses at or purchase in person at any authorized license agent or DNR service center.

Big impact

Wisconsinites love fishing, reflected in the fact that the American Sportfishing Association estimated that nearly 2,068,470 anglers spend $1.5 billion while fishing in Wisconsin with an overall economic benefit of $2.3 billion to the state of Wisconsin.