Trout anglers asked for it and they got it.
A year ago, they enjoyed a January, catch-and-release opener beginning at 5 a.m. the first Saturday of the month.
This year, the early, artificial lures-only season opens Saturday.
Area fisheries biologists expect the season, and the general season that follows much later in the warmer days of May, will provide really good fishing conditions. Only the weather could put a damper, maybe more accurately a freezer, on good fishing. Surface or shore ice is the main concern.
“After the fall rains, the water levels are back to normal,” said Bradd Sims, a Department of Natural Resources’ fish biologist for Grant, Iowa, Lafayette and Richland counties who works out of Dodgeville, Wis. “The water is clear and stable. Fishing should be good.”
Jordan Weeks, in La Crosse, said trout populations are high, not historically so as in 2012, but there are some bigger fish and he said there has been fantastic reproduction in the streams in and around La Crosse and Vernon counties.
Some of the state’s better trout fishing has traditionally been in southwest Wisconsin.
As with most early seasons, clear water means anglers are going to have to be more cautious approaching likely fishing holes, Sims said.
“The fish can be a little spooky but they can see the lures a lot easier with the clear water. The numbers are good, even in Richland County where the fall flooding washed out some of the silt and made for better spawning conditions in the future,” Sims said.
One prized stream in Lafayette County, Steiner Creek, is now about 4-to-1 brook-to-brown trout. This small water is a catch-and-release stream during the regular season, too, for both trout.
Surface ice over portions of the water can be a hardship for anglers in January and February in southwest Wisconsin.
Weeks expects anglers to hook onto a few bigger fish now that the population is not at record highs.
“A bit lower densities provide some relief for trout food. It’s not a bad thing (lower density) and it can lead to bigger fish. We continue to have fantastic reproduction, too,” Weeks said. “That, with flushing out the streams with the fall flooding and exposing gravel areas, should produce some high levels of young-of-the-year trout next summer, both brown and brook trout.”
Work on finding truly wild brook trout through genetics could continue to put stream reproduction on a good path for the future.
“Typically, if there are brown and brook trout in a stream, the brown trout win and there have been some cases in Grant County of mixed streams going to 100 percent browns in a few years,” Weeks said. “Streams that have good brook trout conditions can be pushed the other way by catch and release on the brookies and harvest only on the browns.”
But conditions, such as colder waters, have to exist for that (more brook trout) to happen.
Weeks scores the outlook, weather permitting, at very, very good for streams in his region.
The early trout season closes May 6, followed by the opening of the regular season the next day on Saturday, May 7, at 5 a.m. The regular trout season closes Oct. 15.