More than 2 million anglers spend $1.5 billion in Wisconsin annually on fishing and the early season anglers who venture out on opening day, this Saturday, May 4, of the regular inland season stand a good chance of enjoying fast action and big fish, the DNR reports

Windy, warmer weather is expected to open up the remaining frozen lakes in far northern Wisconsin, while waters in the southern two-thirds of the state are already open and some major rivers are experiencing flooding.

“Not having a crystal ball, it’s hard to say exactly what we’ll find opening day, but I’m thinking most ice will be off the lakes several days prior to the opener,” says Mike Vogelsang, Department of Natural Resources fisheries supervisor for northern Wisconsin.

“Usually when you have these late ice outs, it’s a good thing for anglers. More walleye are up in the shallows and ready to eat. We’ll hope for cloudy weather with a little bit of a chop to start the season off with a bang for anglers.”

Walleye spawning should take only 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 and can be more easily targeted by anglers.

Walleye are anglers’ number one 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, 2014 and 2015 under the Wisconsin Walleye Initiative are now at catchable size.

Anglers interested in pursuing other species will find good prospects as well, according to DNR forecasts.

Trout anglers may also want to check the DNRs online 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. To find the locations, species and numbers of trout stocked this spring, search the DNR website for “catchable trout.”

Regulations and reminders

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

The southern bass zone season opens on May 4, with harvest allowed for largemouth and smallmouth bass. The northern bass zone also opens on 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 specific fishing areas.

Musky season opens May 4 in the southern zone and 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.

Buy your 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 non-residents. 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 buyers” license. Residents’ discounted license is $5 and non-residents’ 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 through the online Go Wild site,, or purchase in person at any authorized license agent or DNR service center.

Reeling in big numbers

Wisconsinites love fishing, reflected in the fact that American Sportfishing Association estimates 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. Nationally, there are an estimated 49 million anglers with a $125 billion economic impact.

Other fishing facts include:

• In Wisconsin, 20% of adults fish, twice the national average. Nearly 40% of adults 16 and older say they fish, although they may not do so every year nor buy a license every year.

• Anglers have a lot of waters to choose from, with more than 15,000 lakes, 44,000 miles of perennially flowing streams, 1,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, and 260 miles of the Mississippi River.

• Wisconsin boasts more than 13,000 miles of trout streams, with nearly 5,400 miles of high quality, Class 1 trout streams.

• Wisconsin anglers catch an estimated 88 million fish and keep about 33 million fish, or a little more than one-third. While walleye is the top target, panfish are the most frequently caught and consumed.

• More musky world records have been landed in Wisconsin than anywhere else. The state and world record is a 69-pound, 11-ounce fish taken from the Chippewa Flowage. Also credited to Wisconsin is the world record hybrid musky, 51-pound, 3-ounces from Lac Vieux Desert.

• A 2016 study commissioned by the Wisconsin Tourism Department found that “The outdoors” and outdoor recreation are the number one travel motivators for adult travelers living in Minnesota, Missouri, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa and Indiana, states that Wisconsin competes with for tourists. These travelers ranked Wisconsin’s top strengths relative to the other states’ strengths as beautiful fall colors, excellent fishing, truly beautiful scenery, great for exploring nature and good for viewing wildlife and birds.

Prevent aquatic invasive species

DNR and UW Division of Extension staff remind anglers that one of the best ways to maintain quality fishing opportunities through this season and beyond is to take action to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.

Anglers can help prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species by performing the following actions:

INSPECT your boat, trailer, and equipment.

REMOVE any attached aquatic plants or animals.

DRAIN all water from boats, motors and all equipment.

NEVER MOVE live fish away from a waterbody.

DISPOSE of unwanted bait in the trash.

BUY minnows from a Wisconsin bait dealer. Use leftover minnows only under certain conditions.