New walleye ‘18-&-3’ opens in 6 southeastern Wisconsin counties May 5

Milwaukee — Rate of return is a common consideration for financial investments, but it’s also important when managing the state’s fishery and that’s the main reason for tighter walleye size and bag limits in seven southeastern Wisconsin counties, according to Wisconsin DNR.

The DNR – with angler support – bumped the state’s standard walleye defaults of the minimum size limit from 15 inches and a daily bag limit of five fish to an 18-inch size length and bag limit of three.

The new size and bag limits apply to walleyes, saugers and hybrids in Wisconsin’s southeastern counties of Kenosha, Racine, Sheboygan, Walworth, Washington, and Waukesha beginning on the Saturday, May 5 opener.

Angling pressure and high harvest rates have had an effect on the abundance and quality of walleyes in southeastern Wisconsin. Those two factors are key components impacting regulatory changes for this upcoming season, but also a factor, according to Wisconsin DNR North Region Fishery Supervisor Laura Stremick-Thompson, are the stocking numbers.

“The department has directed funds for stocking walleyes in these lakes with concentration on large fingerlings to be stocked in the fall,” she said.

Stremick-Thompson has worked for the DNR for two decades. She has seen first-hand the high quality of fish produced by the DNR’s fish hatcheries and she stressed the need to maximize the investment from stocking efforts to yield better quality and larger walleyes. June will see a release of small walleye fingerlings in southeastern lakes.

Growth in the natural reproduction cycle of walleye populations, while a benefit of the new regulation, will give fish more time in the system but is not the primary goal, according to Stremick-Thompson. Sustaining stocked walleye populations is the primary management objective throughout the state. Lakes within Stremick-Thompson’s coverage area are monitored closely to understand the changes in each unique system.

“Each lake can be different in their character, productivity, forage type, types of fish and goals for those fish,” she said.

Developing a plan for formulating regulatory change involves statewide species teams working closely with regional fish biologists. This collective research is shared, creating what Stremick-Thompson termed a “toolbox” of resources, guidelines and standard results to make decisions to benefit the fishery and the interests of anglers pursuing consumptive or trophy fishing.

There appears to be broad citizen support for the new “18-and-3” across the state. In review of the county-by-county Conservation Congress’s 2017 votes on this topic (Question No. 22), close to 65 percent of respondents from Kenosha, Racine, Sheboygan, Walworth, Washington, and Waukesha Counties supported the new size and bag limits.

Moving forward, Stremick-Thompson is aware of the complexity of the regulations and noted from a research perspective that it may take the life span of one generation of the species to collect data and verify the impacts on this management change.

While no immediate impacts to the walleye fishery are anticipated for these counties, walleyes will continue to grow and thrive with an anticipated rate of return being a higher quality, more abundant walleye fishery in southeastern Wisconsin.