Motor trolling iffy for the opener

Madison — A new rule allowing anglers to troll for fish on inland waters statewide beginning in 2015 might not be in effect for the general game-fishing opener that arrives this year on Saturday, May 2.

The trolling rule was approved by the Natural Resources Board in May 2014, but administrative rule changes need legislative approval, and that has not happened yet, according to Timothy Duffy, of state Sen. Tom Tiffany’s (R-Hazelhurst) office.

Duffy said Gov. Scott Walker gave his approval to the rule change Feb. 27, and it was sent to the chief clerk of each house of the Legislature on March 3.

“Final approval is sensitive to legislative review, and that could be accomplished by the opener, but my guess is it could take longer,” Duffy recently said.

Duffy said the rule will now go before the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources and Sporting Heritage, and the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy.

According to the rule as it stands, trolling will be legal with at least one line per angler on all inland waters in Wisconsin.

In 55 counties in the state, all inland waters would be open to trolling with up to three lines per angler.

In the remaining 17 counties – on waters not currently open to trolling – trolling would be allowed, but would be limited to one line per angler and no more than two lines per boat, which means no more than two anglers trolling at a time, even if there are more anglers in the boat. 

Counties that would have one-line trolling include Vilas, Oneida, Door, Florence, Fond du Lac, Iron, Jackson, Lincoln, Marathon, Marquette, Menominee, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Sawyer, Sheboygan, Washington, and Waushara.

The Natural Resources Board added a 3-year sunset clause to the rule, meaning if the rule becomes effective in 2015, it would revert to the current rule in 2018 unless the board takes additional action.

This action will give the DNR and the Wisconsin Conservation Congress time to engage anglers and explore issues related to trolling in counties where the proposal was opposed during the spring fish and game hearings.

“Trolling” means trailing a lure or bait from a boat under power by means other than drifting or rowing.

The proposal to allow trolling statewide with at least one line per angler was supported at the spring fish and game rule hearings by a majority of individuals – 3,646 to 2,250 – and by 61 of the state’s 72 counties.

Sportsmen in counties where the trolling rule did not pass believe the rule – not even the “one-line” rule – should not be applied in those counties.

One key goal of the proposal, sought by muskie anglers, is to legalize the practice of trailing live bait behind a boat, while also casting with another rod. Under current rules, trailing a sucker or other minnow behind the boat while under power, however briefly, is considered trolling.

Trolling currently is allowed on all waters in 18 counties; on one or more specific waters in 45 counties (105 total waters); and on the boundary waters with Iowa, Minnesota, and Michigan, except on Vilas County boundary waters. Trolling is not allowed on any other waters, except that certain disabled anglers may troll anywhere by special permit.

DNR biologists say that years of data have shown no harmful biological effects to fisheries in lakes where trolling has been legal. 

Meanwhile, anecdotal evidence from anglers in Price County where trolling recently was legalized shows that the number of large walleyes being caught and kept increased last season, particularly on Butternut Lake, where fishermen set up planer boards and continuously “strained” the one deep-water hole in the lake’s narrows.

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