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Wisconsin fishing opener may be dogged by late ice-out on northern lakes

Rivers (but not the St. Louis) may be better options for early fishing.

Boats crowd a narrows on the West Fork of the Chippewa River during the 2014 Wisconsin inland fishing opener. Rivers may be a good opening day option again this year with ice clinging to some northern Wisconsin lakes into May.
Sam Cook / File / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — It’s happened several times before, including as recently as 2018, as Mother Nature offers up a frigid spring and the ice lingers on many northern Wisconsin lakes into May.

This year it will again be close whether far-northern lakes lose their ice in time for the 12:01 a.m. general Wisconsin fishing opener Saturday, May 7, for walleye, pike and other species.

Levi Potter at Hayward Bait and Tackle said he believes most, if not all, lakes in the Hayward area will be fishable by the opener.

“Some of the smaller lakes that have water flowing through them already are open, like Hayward Lake, and even the bigger lakes have open water now around the edges," Potter said Wednesday. “Grindstone (Lake) around here may be about the last to go, but I’m thinking they will be open in time. It’s going to be close.”

An opening day Wisconsin walleye fell for this jig and minnow combination on Lake Nebagamon. It remains unclear if the ice will be out of some northern Wisconsin lakes in time for this year's May 7 fishing opener.
Sam Cook / 2010 file / Duluth News Tribune

If lakes aren’t accessible, or even if they are, another option is to fish rivers. Most northern Wisconsin rivers have lost their ice, and many offer prime fishing opportunities for walleye, pike, panfish, musky and bass — either from shore or in canoes or small boats.


Options include the St. Croix, Totagatic, Chippewa, Namekagon, Yellow, Bad and Red Cedar rivers. And even smaller streams, especially where they enter into or empty out of local lakes, also provide good gamefish opportunities early in the season, said Jarrid Houston, the News Tribune’s fishing columnist and a local guide from South Range, Wisconsin.

“The St. Croix River starts in Solon Springs and is probably my favorite. The Totagatic, down by Minong, has always been a fun river as well and can be robust with fish some years, especially around the dam areas," Houston noted. “The Chippewa has been an often go-to waterway that we have had plenty of success over the years for opener, especially the areas near by the “Big Chip’’ Chippewa Flowage.

"The Namekagon River down by Trego can be a blast in the spring for plenty of opportunistic bites. Same goes with the Red Cedar River down by Rice Lake. The Yellow River holds a good amount of fish near the big Yellow Lake and is a great spot all open water season long as well.”

Some of these rivers have small boat and canoe landings, while others are better suited for fishing from shore, Houston noted, but “all are beautiful flowing waters and all have fish in them.”

Jarrid Houston of South Range is a fishing guide ( houstonsguideservice.com ) on Minnesota and Wisconsin inland waters, the St. Louis River and, in winter, on Lake Superior.

Wisconsin walleye anglers
Anglers fish on the Chippewa River on opening day of Wisconsin's walleye season in 2014. Rivers may be a a good option for this year's May 7 Wisconsin walleye opener, especially if some northern lakes still have ice on them.
Sam Cook / File / Duluth News Tribune

Across the border in Minnesota, virtually all lakes in the northern half of the state were still ice covered as of Wednesday. Pickerel Lake in southern Aitkin County opened April 24, five days behind its average ice-out date, and was the farthest north ice-free lake in the state. Minnesota's fishing opener is May 14.

Anglers are reminded that all of the St. Louis River Estuary, even the Wisconsin side, remains off-limits and closed to walleye fishing until the Minnesota general fishing opener May 14.

Wisconsin 2022 fishing seasons

  • General inland fishing: May 7–March 5, 2023.
  • General inland trout: May 7–Oct. 15.
  • Largemouth bass, Northern Zone, harvest allowed: May 7–March 5, 2023.
  • Smallmouth bass, Northern Zone, harvest allowed: June 18–March 5, 2023.
  • Large and smallmouth bass, catch and release: at all other times of the year.
  • Musky, Northern Zone, harvest allowed: May 28–Dec. 31.
  • Musky, Southern Zone, harvest allowed: May 7–Dec. 31.
  • Northern pike: May 7–March 5, 2023.
  • Walleye: May 7–March 5, 2023.
  • Free Fishing Weekend: June 4-5.

Where to buy a license
In Wisconsin, kids 15 and under fish without a license every day. So do anglers born before 1927. For everybody else, a variety of license options can get you out on the water quickly and easily. First-time license buyers get a discount, as do those who haven’t purchased a license for 10 years or more. Get your license at gowild.wi.com or at license agents at stores across the state.


Find a boat landing or shore-fishing site:
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources created a statewide inventory containing over 2,000 identified public boat access sites and over 100 developed shore fishing sites. It’s an app. Go to dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/fishing/boataccess.html .

Walleyes from hatcheries and in some northern lakes are turning up mostly female.

Recruit new anglers, get rewards

Wisconsin is trying to get veteran anglers to recruit new people into the sport. You can recognize the person who introduced you to the sport by telling the DNR. The agency will then reward him or her with points toward a discounted license the next year.

Wisconsin residents who have been designated as a recruiter three or more times within one license year are eligible for a discount on the license of their choice the next year. Call at 888-936-7463 and be ready to give your customer number and your recruiter's customer number. Recruiter points are available only for Wisconsin residents.

New Northwestern Wisconsin fishing regulations for 2022

  • Butternut Lake (Ashland/Price counties) muskellunge: minimum length limit of 40”; daily bag limit of 1.
  • Flambeau River, including waters of the North Fork Flambeau River, between Turtle Flambeau Dam and Thornapple Flowage Dam (Ashland, Iron, Price, Rusk, Sawyer counties) walleye: 15” minimum length limit; walleye from 20-24” may not be kept; only one over 24” may be kept; daily bag limit of 3.
  • Loretta Lake (Sawyer County) panfish: daily bag limit of 25 in total.
  • Namekagon River from Trego Dam to the confluence with the St. Croix River (Burnett, Washburn counties) muskellunge: minimum length limit of 50"; daily bag limit of 1.
  • Sand Lake (Sawyer County) walleye: 15” minimum length limit; walleye from 20-24” may not be kept; only one over 24” may be kept; daily bag limit of 3.
  • Schoolhouse Lake (managed as a chain with same regulations as Durphee Lake in Sawyer County) largemouth and smallmouth bass: no minimum length limit; daily bag limit of 5 in total chainwide. Panfish: daily bag limit of 15; no more than 5 of each species chain-wide. Walleye: 18” minimum length limit; daily bag limit of 3 chain-wide.
  • South Fork Flambeau River (Price, Rusk and Sawyer Counties) walleye: 15” minimum length limit; walleye from 20-24’ may not be kept; only one over 24” may be kept; daily bag limit of 3.
  • Tiger Cat Chain of Lakes (Sawyer County) largemouth and smallmouth bass: no minimum length limit; 14-18” protected slot; only one may be over 18” long; daily bag limit of 5 in total.

For a complete list of Wisconsin fishing regulations, go to dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/fishing/regulations .

John Myers reports on the outdoors, environment and natural resources for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at jmyers@duluthnews.com .

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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