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DNR offers opportunity for free fishing, fun

John Gozdzialski

Free often comes with a footnote, or a condition, but what we are offering you is 100 percent free, so come join us for the second annual winter Free Fishing Weekend, Jan. 18-19.

Have some free fun, but be safe. Always approach ice as unsafe.

If the ice is 2 inches or less, stay off the ice; 4-inches are enough for ice fishing on foot. It takes 5 inches for a snowmobile, or ATV; 8-12-inches for a small car or pickup and 12-15-inches for a medium track.

Before you go out, make sure you are dressed properly, have a charged cell phone, personal flotation device or float jacket and ice rescue claws. If fishing alone, make sure you tell someone where you are going and when you will be back.

Now that you are properly prepared, come join us Saturday and Sunday.

The beauty of ice fishing is that it can be a solitary, serene experience done alone on a turned-over pail, with a friend or family member in a pop-up shelter, or a social gathering in a fully equipped ice-fishing house.

I have enjoyed all the options, but none more enjoyable than ice fishing over the years with my now grown three sons. We have our favorite lakes for bluegill, northern pike and walleye.

When they were younger, they also chased tip-ups, competed for the biggest fish bragging rights, and when the fish weren’t biting, tossed the football around.

These are mental scrapbook memories we treasure and again were brought up, along with photos of past years, over the recent holiday season.

No fishing license or Great Lakes salmon stamp is needed to fish any Wisconsin water. This includes all inland waters and Wisconsin’s side of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River and other boundary waters. Other fishing rules apply, such as limits on the number and size of fish anglers can keep and any seasons when anglers must release certain fish species.

Ice fishing is a great way to get outside during the winter and to fish anywhere without a boat and Free Fishing Weekend is a great time to discover what it’s all about – fun with friends and family and, of course, the fish.

So gather friends or family, get the thermos and tackle box out. Or invite a new friend to frozen water fishing. Get the kids to turn off the video games, and try some real fun.

It doesn’t have to be official, or organized, but that is good too. We encourage fishing groups, local chambers of commerce, youth group leaders and others to consider hosting their own Free Fishing Weekend events and to fill out an electronic form with their event details so DNR can help publicize those events that are open to the public.

DNR tackle loaner sites have ice fishing gear for loan that groups and individuals can use, and the agency can supply limited quantities of age appropriate materials about ice fishing, fish populations, and fishing in general.

If you haven’t tried ice fishing, we encourage you to do so to find out why interest in winter fishing is growing. About 110,000 more Wisconsin adults ages 16 and over reported ice fishing in 2010 than the previous decade. That’s an estimated 590,700 Wisconsinites, according to the most recent National Survey on Recreation and the Environment, ages 16 and over enjoying the hard-water season.

Looking for ideas, or more information, our customer service folks are here for you. Stop by one of our service centers, or call seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., toll free, 1-888-WDNRINFo (1-888-936-7463). Or, online, go to and search ice fishing.

So, come on out this weekend and make a memory.

John Gozdzialski is the northern region director for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.