Future looking bright for area fishing opportunities

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Prairie du Chien angler Brian Matousek shows a nice crappie he caught earlier this fall in Pool 10 of the Mississippi River. The future continues to look bright for fishing in Southwestern Wisconsin. (Photo submitted)

This nice brown trout was caught in a Southwest Wisconsin stream this past season. (Photo by Len Harris)

By Ted Pennekamp

 

Wisconsin has been ranked high in various publications over the years for its outstanding outdoor and angling opportunities, and so it is with a recent survey by LawnLove.com, which ranks Wisconsin seventh in the country.

LawnLove.com may not be well known as an authority, but they used Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Field and Stream and Scheels as sources for information about angling opportunities in each state.

Folks in the greater Prairie du Chien area and beyond, however, don’t need any surveys to tell them how good the fishing is in pools 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the Mississippi River, as well as the Lower Wisconsin River, the Kickapoo River, the Grant River and the many area trout streams. 

“The good old days for fishing are right now,” said Senior Fisheries Biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in La Crosse Jordan Weeks. “There has been a steady increase in numbers and size of most species of fish over the past 20 years.”

Weeks said that over the years, the DNR has been refining its stocking practices regarding the proper genetics, while also improving fish habitat in the Mississippi River. 

“Fish populations have become more stable, and we are constantly reviewing the regulations in order to protect fish adequately,” said Weeks who noted that there are one or two major federally funded habitat improvement projects per year in the Southwestern Wisconsin area of the Mississippi River. One such project is the $17 million McGregor Lake Project in Pool 10. The McGregor Lake Project began dredging and construction two years ago and was designed to be a five-year project.

In addition, dedicated crews have been conducting projects every year on area trout streams. These projects are funded through trout stamp money as well as funding from organizations such as Trout Unlimited.

Weeks said fishing license sales in Wisconsin have gone up about 10 percent in the past two years. He attributed part of this increase to COVID which has had an effect whereby people want to take more advantage of outdoor recreational opportunities.

DNR Stream and River Systems Biologist Bradd Sims said the stream resources in Southwest Wisconsin continue to do well. Sims began working in Grant County in 1998 and will continue to do so through 2021, although he began a more statewide position in September.

“Grant County offers anglers ample opportunities for wadable and non-wadable stream fishing,” said Sims. “Trout and smallmouth bass streams are doing quite well. The fishing is good for both smallmouth bass and trout. Most anglers think of trout when looking at our wadable streams but smallmouth bass fishing can be just as productive.”

In addition, Sims said the overall outlook for fishing in the Lower Wisconsin River is good to excellent.

“Flowing through Crawford and Grant counties, the Wisconsin River is very productive supporting a diverse fishery for anglers,” said Sims. “Species targeted most by anglers are channel catfish and walleye. Other species with fishable populations include flathead catfish, smallmouth bass, gar (longnose and shortnose), shovelnose sturgeon, and lake sturgeon.  White bass and sauger are also available but in lower numbers. Non-traditional species such as redhorse, drum, buffalo, and rock bass are available as well. Other features associated with the river such as side channels, backwater lakes, and sloughs offer anglers a whole different experience with good to excellent fishing for bluegill, crappie, perch, largemouth bass, northern pike, and non-traditional species such as bowfin (also known as dogfish).”

Fishing from kayaks and canoes has become popular, said Sims, who noted that anglers are hitting the water with fishing gear and paddles, particularly in the backwaters of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers where large boats are not able to access. These anglers get back in water that is not as heavily pressured and see much success. 

 

Sims said there have been various projects on Grant County streams in recent years. “Looking at the past two to three years, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) in partner with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and private landowners completed two trout habitat projects on the Grant River where it crosses County K at Klondyke Park. Work was completed along 5,000 feet of the Grant River. The Harry and Laura Nohr Chapter of Trout Unlimited, in partner with private landowners, Roh Excavating, the NRCS, and WDNR, has been working within the Blue River watershed. They have completed three projects on the Blue River totaling 16,600 feet. Projects were completed in the vicinity of County Q and Stanek Road as well as Bowers Road. They have also completed one project on Six Mile Branch (3,300 feet). This was located where Six Mile Branch crosses County Q. These habitat projects benefit the local trout resource by improving instream habitat, bank stability, and riparian habitat. Anglers will benefit by having more trout to fish for and better accessibility.”

Sims said streams can sometimes become a bit too productive for their own good and, thus, regulations are changed accordingly.

“Trout streams can be too productive sometimes supporting an abundance of trout that have slower growth rates and do not achieve a quality size,” said Sims. “Crooked Creek, Big Green River, Borah Creek, Little Grant River, and Big Spring Creek have all or portions of the stream with high brown trout abundance with many trout of smaller size. The bag limit on these waters was increased from three to five. Anglers may keep five fish under 12 inches on all or portions of these waters. This helps reduce the number of smaller trout while improving the number of quality size trout. Recent surveys on the Big Green River indicate this regulation is working with an increase in the number of trout over 12 inches. Anglers should be sure to check the local regulation where they are fishing.”

Sims said that while working in the field, he and other crew members typically see more anglers on trout streams throughout the season rather than a huge crowding on opening day. 

“I’ve worked 23 years as a fisheries biologist for Grant County,” said Sims. “During this time, we observed consistent use of our trout resources by anglers. What do I mean by consistent? Historically, we would see more use of our trout streams during the opening two to three weeks with little pressure during the middle or end of the season. Now, with self-sustaining trout resources, early catch and release season, and extension of the harvest season, we do not observe the crowding of anglers during opening day that historically crowded Grant County trout streams. Instead, we see the same anglers enjoying the trout resources throughout the entire season.

“Other contributions helping reduce the crowding of streams include more public property available for anglers and trout habitat projects increasing the miles of good fishable water. We now see a consistent use of anglers for the entire season with some crowding happening during the last two weeks of the season. I attribute the late season crowds to anglers wanting to get out and enjoy trout fishing one more time before closing in the fall. Another trend I have observed is the number of anglers traveling to Grant County. I talk with more anglers from other counties and states than I have in the past. The word is out on how well our Driftless streams are doing and anglers are taking advantage.”

Sims noted that inland trout stamp sales remained stable until 2020 when there was just over a 20% increase in sales. Like many other outdoor activities, it appears more people are fishing during the pandemic, he said.

Sims said the future looks good for stream fishing in Southwest Wisconsin. 

“Recent surveys have shown trout numbers steady or improving in most of the Grant County trout streams,” said Sims. “This past summer we sampled trout in higher numbers than in past surveys and trout were present in areas where we have not seen trout before. With the dry winter and spring, the natural reproduction was very good for this area. Young of the year (age 0) trout were near record numbers for many of our surveys. If the 2021 year class continues to survive, the future is looking bright.”

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