Upcoming spring hearings feature plenty of hot-button topics

Question 1 asks to establish a statewide, continuous open season for bass fishing, but only allows harvest during the current traditional season. This is interesting because bass anglers have been asking for it for years, but nothing has transpired.

On Monday, April 9, at 7 p.m., Wisconsin’s annual spring hearings will begin in each of the state’s 72 counties.

There are 54 advisory questions on this year’s agenda – all coming from the DNR, Conservation Congress, or the Natural Resources Board. There are a number of questions that will be of statewide interest, but also several that will apply more directly to sportsmen in southeastern Wisconsin.

For sportsmen in Waukesha County, keep in mind that there is a new meeting location in Waukesha – at the West High School auditorium at 3301 Saylesville Road. Interested people can provide input by voting on various rule changes that could affect the way we fish, hunt, and trap in the state. In addition, citizens may vote on open seats on the Conservation Congress delegation in their county.

Below are a few of the hotter questions for 2018:

Question 1 asks to establish a statewide, continuous open season for bass fishing, but only allows harvest during the current traditional season. This is interesting because bass anglers have been asking for it for years, but nothing has transpired. While some people felt the closed season was needed to protect bass during their spawning season, that is not the case because bass generally spawn from May through June, when the current season is already open. In addition, many rivers – their impoundments – as well as Lake Winnebago currently have year-round bass fishing without any adverse effects.

I’d say let it open up so long as it’s catch-and-release anyway during the off-season.

Question 2, which involves alternate size and bag limits for permitted, catch-and-release bass fishing tournaments, is a little dicey. It asks if certain bodies of water that have an 18-inch size limit should be opened to tournament anglers to have release-only events on said bodies of water – but with a 14-inch size limit. I wouldn’t have a problem with this change, as long as the events were held early in the year when the water is cool, and bass have a greater chance of not being affected by delayed mortality.

I would be surprised if it passed simply because traditionally Wisconsin sportsmen tend to vote no on questions that do not serve their own best interests.  Tournament anglers, and I have been one of them, are the minority in the state. People will probably vote against this change even though tournaments bring millions of dollars into the state.

Question 6 asks if anglers favor increasing the minimum length limit for walleyes, saugers, and their hybrids from 15 inches to 18 inches and reducing the daily bag limit from five to three and maintaining the year-round open season on Lake Koshkonong and the Rock River from the Indianford dam to the Jefferson dam. Question 7 asks if anglers would favor a season closure during the standard closure for all game fish on Lake Koshkonong and the Rock River from the Indianford dam to the Jefferson dam, but maintaining the five-fish bag and 15-inch size limit for walleyes, saugers and their hybrids.

These bodies of water receive a tremendous amount of pressure and the DNR is looking for input. Basically, this comes down to what anglers want – are anglers more concerned about extra fillets or better overall fishing? There’s bound to be compelling reasoning for both cases that night.

Question 8 asks if anglers would like to reduce the daily bag limit on Lake Winnebago from five walleyes to three. While most people know that Lake Winnebago is a walleye factory, people are worried that if we don’t ease up on the harvest now, the system could suffer later. This one ought to get a little hot because a lot of people around southeastern Wisconsin love their trip or two to ‘Bago each year to get some walleye fillets.

I’d give that one a 50-50 chance of passing.

Question 10 would require that deer harvested in a CWD-affected county must only be transported within that county or an adjacent CWD-affected county, unless taken to a licensed taxidermist or meat processor within 72 hours. This could be somewhat of a hassle and would require hunters to pay very close attention to not just the county they are hunting, but those around them. Still, if hunters feel compelled that this restriction would help slow the spread of CWD, I could see it passing. The real questions is: Do hunters buy into the DNR’s claims about how CWD is spread and would this restriction do anything?

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