Wild Things: Free Fishing Weekend Jan. 16-17 Offers Cold, Hard Opportunity on Ice

A mostly mild start to January is expected to give way to more winter-like weather during the coming weeks, much to the delight of ice anglers and others who enjoy a walk on the wild side.

This weekend will be Wisconsin’s annual Winter Free Fishing Weekend: an opportunity for both residents and nonresidents who don’t have a current license to give ice fishing a try. Although anglers have been walking out or using four-wheelers and snowmobiles in bays, harbors and some nearshore areas during the past couple of weeks, you might want to hire a guide or check with a trusted bait-shop staffer before heading out. 

Yellow perch and northern pike have been providing the most action in bays and harbors, and a few whitefish, walleyes and trout have also been caught. As the offshore ice conditions improve, whitefish catches will explode.

Plum Island Hunt Results

For the second straight year, a deer hunt designed to improve habitat by reducing browsing impacts on forest understory plants was a success on Plum Island.

David Bolin, assistant refuge manager for the Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge – which includes Plum Island – said a total of 25 deer were taken with firearms. That figure includes 11 adult does, 11 young of the year (eight males) and three adult bucks. Most were harvested during the first four hunt periods, from mid-October to early November.

“Overall, refuge staff and DNR staff are pleased with the overall harvest the last two years, which is contributing to our goal of reducing the overall deer population, and working toward improving wildlife habitat and reducing deer-browsing impacts,” Bolin said.

A total of 30 deer – 27 of them adults (14 does, 13 bucks) – were taken in 2019.

Bolin said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) staff hope to accompany a DNR biologist visiting the island this year to assess the deer browsing and forest regeneration. Like many locations on the mainland, fenced control plots are being used to compare “inside” growth versus where deer are. 

The 2019 hunt was the first time when the USFWS offered a limited hunt under a new plan. Before that plan was completed, different authorities allowed hunting on the 325-acre island. 

Plum Island is part of an unusual island ecosystem that contains alvar (thin soil) and rare plant species such as the federally endangered dwarf lake iris, which grows along the shore. Deer overbrowsing has meant the loss of all Canada yews. Its effects are most visible via a browse line in the white cedars that circle the island. Bolin said it may take decades to see some species recover. 

Wolf Hunt in 2021?

By state statute, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) must institute a wolf hunting and trapping season when wolves are delisted. The delisting happened Jan. 4, and while the agency is planning for a season this fall, there’s a push for reducing the number of wolves sooner.

On Monday, Hunter Nation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and protecting America’s hunting heritage, issued a call to action to all Wisconsin hunters, encouraging them to support an immediate wolf-harvest season. 

Luke Hilgemann, Hunter Nation president, said anti-hunting groups have vowed to sue and use all legal maneuvers necessary to try to stop hunting and trapping seasons, such as the ones that were held in 2012-14. 

“Hunters must stand up, speak out and demand the DNR reinstate the wolf-harvesting season now, or the wolf may again be under federal protection before a hunting season can be held,” Hilgemann said.

The Assembly Committee on Sporting Heritage and the Senate Committee on Sporting Heritage, Small Business and Rural Issues held a joint informational hearing on reinstating the wolf-harvest season Wednesday. 

Comment on Elk Plan

Hunters and anyone else who’s interested in Wisconsin’s growing elk herd can review a proposed 10-year management-plan update through Jan. 23 – and find out how to comment on it – at

Last summer – prior to predation, limited fall hunting, illegal kill and roadkill – there were about 400 elk in the state, roughly three-quarters of which were in the northern zone and 100 in the central zone.

Much of the funding for Wisconsin’s elk management has come from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and its partners. The group has completed nearly 600 projects in the state during the past 30 years, with a combined value of more than $11.7 million. These projects have protected or enhanced 9,199 acres of habitat and opened or improved public access to 2,000 acres.

Great Waters Contest Open

The DNR is seeking entries through Feb. 1 for its 13th annual Great Waters photo contest and writing project. Photos of all seasons are being accepted in four categories. Get all the details at Those who submit the top entries will receive a calendar. 

Water Levels Dropping

As of Jan. 8, Lake Michigan water levels had dropped three inches during the past month and were down six inches since early January 2020. The lake was four inches below the record monthly high, set in 1987, and 60 inches above the record low, set in 2013.

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