Opportunities Galore for Beginning Anglers
Want to get your kids hooked on fishing? You'll find ample opportunities in Wisconsin. While the Badger State is famous for large, elusive game fish like the muskie, its wide variety of panfish and other easily catchable species make it perfect for beginning anglers. Here are a few early season tips for fishing coaches and their pupils, as well as information on several programs designed for kids.
One of the best ways to get the fishing bug to bite your family is to catch a mess of bluegills. Ounce for ounce, they may be the one of the toughest fighting fish on the planet, and hooking into one is an exciting experience for even veteran anglers.
Bluegills are also enthusiastic feeders, which makes them an ideal target for novices. In fact, during spring and early summer, males guarding spawning beds will attack nearly any bait put in front of them. Look for spawning beds in shallow water near weeds, then rig your child's line with a bobber 15 to 18 inches above a small hook baited with a bit of worm (or almost anything else) on 4 to 6 lb. test line. You'll also have success using a colorful 1/8 oz. jig tied 15 to 18 inches under the bobber. More advanced anglers might want to try light spinning gear with a small popper tied behind a plastic bubble or a lightweight flyrod and popper -- the action you'll get off those set-ups can make even the most grizzled anglers giddy.
Bluegills hit the spawning beds when the water reaches 67 degrees, so start looking for them in mid-May in southern Wisconsin and late May to mid-June in central and northern Wisconsin. Return some spawners to their beds so you can enjoy the fish year after year.
One of Wisconsin's tastiest fish, yellow perch, can be caught year-round. Perch prefer cooler water, so spring is one of the best times to target them. Common across most of Wisconsin, these fish can be easily caught and are another great species with which to start the kids.
Perch tend to be bottom feeders, so hang a minnow or worms about a foot off the bottom and be pay close attention -- their bite is lighter and harder to detect than a bluegill's and you have to set the hook at first nibble. Perch are schooling fish, and typically they are either biting or they aren't. So if you don't find any action after a half dozen tries...move on.
Have you ever heard the term "feeding frenzy"? White bass fishermen swear it was coined to describe this species when they catch up with a school of minnows at the surface. Finding a feeding school of white bass is a great way to catch your limit in spring when they are migrating in the open water of lakes and wider rivers. Just cast a bucktail, spinner or minnow look-alike plugs into the action and you'll get your share of bites.
Some fishermen prefer to target white bass at night, using a lantern to attract schools into casting range. These scrappy fighters can reach a foot and a half in length, so hooking one can be a memorable battle for anglers of any size.
One of the state's most popular game fish, northern pike are a great species to target once youngsters get a little more angling experience under their belts. While the backwaters and sloughs of the Mississippi River are great northern pike habitat in spring, this voracious predator can be caught almost anywhere and during any season.
Tempt them with spinners, spoons and pike plugs cast to the edges of weedbeds, or try jigging with live bait such as minnows.
Wisconsin's Fishing Equipment Loan Program
Want to introduce your child to fishing but hesitant to invest in expensive rods, reels and other gear? Check out the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' website for loan programs and other recommended kid-friendly spots. Through this innovative program, little anglers (and their parents) can "test the waters" by borrowing rods, reels, hooks and other fishing gear for no charge at select state parks and DNR field offices across the state.
Equipment is available on a first-come, first-served basis and may be borrowed for up to one week. To ensure availability, requests should be made in advance to the specific DNR field office or state park from where the equipment will be picked up. Most locations offer closed- and open-face fishing rods and reels, casting plugs, bobbers, hooks, line and sinkers. BYOB - Bring Your Own Bait.
Free Fishing Weekend
The DNR's annual Free Fishing Weekend is a great opportunity for children to learn to fish. Every year, the first consecutive Saturday and Sunday in June is designated as Free Fishing Weekend throughout the state of Wisconsin. All the waters of the state are open, including state waters of the Great Lakes and rivers bordering Wisconsin. Residents and nonresidents of all ages can fish without a fishing license (or trout or salmon stamps) over these two days.
However, all other fishing regulations (length limits, bag limits, etc.) apply. So pack up the family or call your friends and head to the water. Fishing clinics and special activities are planned at state and local parks throughout Wisconsin during Free Fishing Weekend.