Free fishing weekend Jan. 16-17

People of all ages and experience levels are encouraged to explore the outdoors during Free Fishing Weekend. You can fish almost anywhere in Wisconsin without a license or trout stamp Jan. 16-17.

Most Wisconsin waters are included in this event, except for spring ponds. Before you go, review information about the early trout season and the trout regulations. If you see a season date listed for a specific body of water, you’re free to fish there, although some waters may be catch-and-release only.

All other inland waters and Wisconsin’s side of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River are open for you to test your skills and try your luck. Remember: All regulations and seasonal restrictions are still in force.

Looking for kid-friendly fishing locations? Check out the guide at the DNR website.

Input sought on elk management

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is accepting public input on an update to the state’s elk management plan through Jan. 23.

The management plan outlines objectives and strategies to guide elk management in the state through 2030. Review the proposed plan and view a summary presentation on the DNR website.

Those who wish to provide comment may do so by emailing or by mail: Wisconsin DNR, Attn: Scott Roepke, 910 Highway 54E, Black River Falls, WI 54615.

“The restoration of elk to Wisconsin is a tremendous conservation success story. We’re looking forward to implementing the approaches identified in this draft update to the elk management plan with the input and support of the public,” said Scott Roepke, DNR wildlife biologist. “The management plan emphasizes a science-based approach to managing our state’s elk population and will also address diverse issues from tourism potential to agricultural damage.”

Once widespread here and across North America, elk were eliminated from Wisconsin in the 1880s due to unregulated hunting and habitat loss. More than 130 years later, they once again live in Wisconsin’s central and northern forest regions. From a population of 25 elk reintroduced in 1995, and with the help of a second reintroduction effort that started in 2015, the state’s total elk population is quickly approaching 400 animals, providing significant viewing and hunting interest in the state.

To learn more about Wisconsin elk, visit the DNR website.

Tips for ice fishing with kids

I’m getting lots of experience ice fishing with small kids. Our 5-year-old is nuts about fishing and the 2-year-old has recently decided she thinks it’s pretty cool, too. Here are some tips, all literally gained through blood, sweat and tears, that might help you have successful fishing trips with little ones.

Broadening your targets is a great move with young kids. If you go all-in on catching one species you are more likely to have a bust trip. Find areas like shallow weed flats that will hold multiple species of panfish and predators. You often won’t know what’s willing to bite on a given day until you get out there. Diverse approaches help, too. Jigging while having tip-ups out is the optimal arrangement.

I like to use smaller minnows on our tip-ups when fishing with the kids. If you read that and worry about catching snake pike and perch, well, that’s exactly the point. Getting that flag to pop up as often as possible will keep them interested, even if some of them end up being false alarms.

Today’s pop-up shacks are a real boon when fishing with kids. Getting them out of the wind will greatly extend the longevity of a trip. Ours is always filled with snacks, and that certainly helps, too.

“Flashers” are all the rage among panfish anglers now, but I would argue that an underwater camera is the better tool for fishing with kids. Being able to show them what’s down there or, better yet, prove that there are fish down there, is educational and motivating for young anglers.

And last, embrace the silliness. If you are fishing tip-ups it means you have two free hands to do something else to pass the time. Some of my best memories of early ice fishing trips are skating around and playing pond hockey while waiting for a flag to pop. Make a fort, throw a ball around. Our lakes are really just giant athletic fields in the winter. Good luck!

Fishing report

By Trent Hoff, Hayward Bait & Bottle: This last week has brought consistent temperatures in the 20s and not a lot of sun, which has helped keep ice conditions steady. The ice thickness hasn’t improved very much though. Driving a vehicle on the ice is still not a good idea on area lakes. ATVs and snowmobiles are OK to take on most lakes except the larger lakes with deep basins.

Reports of walleye have varied in depth from lake to lake. Most have reported 10 to 20 feet of water. Working drop-offs, ledges and bars seem to be the most productive spots with transitions from weeds to sand. Medium shiners or walleye suckers on tip-ups or jigging spoons tipped with a minnow is what most area fishermen are using.

Northern pike can still be found in about 10 to 15 feet of water on average. Fishing close to vegetation has been where the majority of pike being caught are found. Depending on the lake, large shiners and northern suckers on tip ups has been the most favored method.

Perch are ranging in about 15 to 25 feet of water. They can be found on a variety of structure including weeds to sandy bottoms transitions, sandy humps, and even muck bottom on certain water bodies. Tungsten jigs, Kender K-Rips or T-rips can trigger a strike.

Bluegill are hitting on a variety of lead and tungsten jigs. Demon jigs are a good lead jig or Skandia jigs if you prefer tungsten.

Crappie have been hitting in 20 to 30 feet of water. Main basins have been most productive and have been biting on a range of lures. Chicken Jigs, Skandia jigs or Kastmaster spoons are all good options.

Most species are hitting best early in the morning as the sun is coming up but the afternoon window seems to be better. To find the active fish you may have to be on the move and don’t be afraid to leave the inactive fish for better opportunities.

(Copyright © 2021 APG Media)

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