Trout Season Opens Early This Year

Expanded catch-and-release season, stream reclassifications greet trout anglers in the New Year

MADISON — Trout anglers have much to celebrate in 2016 as an expanded early trout season gets underway and ongoing habitat improvements are contributing to upgraded stream classifications.

The expanded early catch and release trout season started at 5 a.m. on Jan. 2 and runs until Friday, May 6 on many inland state rivers and streams. The regular trout season opens Saturday, May 7, 2016.

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The early trout season opened January 2 and runs until May 6.
Photo Credit: WDNR

A 2015-2016 fishing license and trout stamp are required to fish during the Jan. 2-March 31, 2016 period. A new 2016-2017 fishing license and trout stamp will be required on and after April 1, 2016. Access DNR’s online licensing system by searching for “licenses, permits and registrations.”

Meanwhile, based on surveys of some 300 waterways over the past two years, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologists are upgrading the classifications of 14 streams and newly classifying another 27 that for the first time have been documented as sustaining trout populations. Six of the newly classified streams have earned the coveted Class 1 designation.

“Shared efforts by property owners, angling groups such as Trout Unlimited and DNR are contributing to very real improvements in Wisconsin trout streams,” said DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp. “At the same time, we believe the expanded early trout season and simplified regular season rules will create even more opportunities for anglers from Wisconsin and beyond to enjoy these world-class waters. We’re pleased these initiatives are working hand-in-hand to benefit the environment and the economy.”

Joanna Griffin, DNR trout specialist, said the stream survey and classification work helps DNR prioritize streams for improvement and qualify projects for funding from trout stamp sales.

“The classification process also provides a way to engage local community members and angling groups with efforts to reduce runoff and adopt best management practices for entire watersheds,” Griffin said.

A young lady catches a nice brown trout while winter fishing.

A young lady catches a nice brown trout while winter fishing.

DNR uses three categories to classify trout streams to ensure adequate protection and proper management: Class 1, Class 2 and Class 3. Class 1 steams, such as a newly upgraded segment of Black Earth Creek in Dane County and newly classified streams in Iron, Pierce and Sauk counties sustain healthy populations of wild trout through natural reproduction and require no stocking. Wisconsin currently holds some 5,289 miles of Class 1 trout streams, about 40 percent of the state’s total trout stream mileage.

Class 2 waters contain some natural reproduction, but not enough to use available food and space and require stocking to maintain a desirable sport fishery. Trout survive and grow well in these waters, which account for about 6,126 miles or 46 percent of the total trout stream mileage.

Class 3 waters provide marginal habitat with no natural reproduction or carryover of the stocked fish. Wisconsin holds some 1,817 miles of Class 3 trout streams, about 14 percent of the total. Through habitat improvement efforts, some Class 3 streams can sustain natural reproduction and achieve a Class 2 ranking, as seen with streams in Buffalo and Trempealeau counties over the past two years.

The survey work also leads to a better understanding of trout populations in key waters and played a role in the development of the simplified regulations that will debut during the 2016 regular trout season. The regulations will create more uniformity for anglers who fish on different trout streams and within small geographic areas. Under the new system, maps online and in the regulation pamphlet will indicate one of three regulations:

  • Green means go fish, with no length limit, a bag limit of five fish and no bait restrictions;
  • Yellow means caution, with an 8 inch length limit, a bag limit of three fish and no bait restrictions; and
  • Red means special regulations are in place. Anglers are advised to stop and understand the regulations before fishing.

To learn more about the regulations, visit¬†and search “trout review.” A list of early season streams can be found on the website.