Fishing Through Ice: State sponsors free ice fishing weekend

Whether you prefer a high-tech, low-tech or no-tech approach, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources can help you hook into some fun this ice fishing season.

If you haven’t visited the aisles of your favorite sporting goods retailer lately, you’ll be amazed by the array of underwater cameras, sonar fish finders, portable ice shelters and high-torque augers available for ice fishing enthusiasts.

With participation in the sport growing – some 590,700 state residents now take part, up from 479,900 in 2000, according to the most recent National Survey on Recreation and the Environment – it’s no wonder the gear options continue to expand.

“There’s a lot of innovative equipment out there that makes ice fishing more comfortable, particularly in extreme winter conditions,” says Justine Hasz, DNR section chief for fisheries services. “But all you really need for fun during the hard water fishing season is a pole, a bucket and some bait. And a fishing license, of course. I actually go for the low-tech approach myself because it means you don’t have to haul as much out on the sled.”

In addition, Hasz notes, anyone who would like to give ice fishing a try can pursue a completely no-tech option by borrowing equipment through DNR’s tackle loan program during the third annual Winter Free Fishing Weekend on Jan. 17 and 18.

Ice fishing gear is available at 19 loaner sites, including at three of Door County’s state parks: Peninsula State Park (854.5976), Whitefish Dunes State Park (823.2400) and Potawatomi State Park (746.2890).

Augers are in short supply, however, so you may have to make friends with someone who can drill you a hole once you get out there. Call ahead to verify equipment is available.

While you can fish without a license or Great Lakes salmon stamp on all Wisconsin waters during the Free Fishing Weekend event, state park entrance stickers are required and other fishing rules still apply, such as limits on the number and size of fish anglers can keep.

Theresa Stabo, Wisconsin’s angler education director, said the event offers a great opportunity for families to get outside and enjoy Wisconsin’s waters without a boat.

“Free Fishing Weekend provides a great introduction to ice fishing and we hope to lure in families as well as young adults who enjoy the outdoors and would like to give it a try,” Stabo says. “Whether you are after consistent action with panfish or something bigger like walleye or northern pike, it’s quite a thrill to see what’s on the end of your line when you haul it up through the ice.”

Learn more about ice fishing during an online chat on Jan. 15. Join DNR ice fishing experts for a live online chat noon to 1 pm. Get the latest on the 2014-15 ice fishing season, the upcoming Free Fishing Weekend and ask questions about Wisconsin fish populations.

Participate live by visiting and look for the box on the right to enter the chat, or search the phrase “ask the experts.” Or, enter via DNR’s Facebook page by clicking the “Cover it Live Chat” box at the top. The online chats are archived and available for viewing after they are held.