Go Fish!

Written by Chad Dally

For some people, the opening day of the fishing season is as revered as the opening day of major league baseball . . .

A date on the horizon that fills us with hope and longing.

A date we can point to and prepare for over the long, dark winter when the sun rises over a frozen, snowy landscape — and is already setting by 4:30 p.m.


In 2019, the start of fishing season is Saturday, May 4, for some of Wisconsin’s most revered species, including:

  • Trout
  • Largemouth and smallmouth bass
  • Pike
  • Walleye

So, what about bluegill, crappie [pronounced “croppy”], and other panfish? Well, fishing seasons vary…

  • By species
  • By regions of Wisconsin
  • By keep vs. catch-and-release

You can find the full list of 2019–2020 fishing season dates on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ website.

Fishing Wisconsin - Hook and Line 2019-2020 Season Dates

Fishing License Overview

It’s important to note that fishing anywhere in Wisconsin requires a license. The cost ranges from $7 (for ages 16–17 years and seniors over 65) to $20 (for adults in between). Other stamps, which allow anglers to fish inland water for trout and to fish the Great Lakes for salmon and trout, cost extra. A full list of license options and prices is available on the DNR’s website.

Also, if you want to “try before you buy” or need a good excuse just to get outside and throw a hook and worm in the water, each year Wisconsin offers a FREE fishing weekend when a license is not required. This year that weekend is June 1–2.

Fishing Hot Spots in Marathon County

Part of what makes Marathon County a great place to live and play is its outdoor recreation opportunities, which includes everything from creeks, streams, and rivers to flowages, lakes, and reservoirs. These bodies of water accentuate our geography throughout the county, from the meandering Black Creek in the northwest to the 82-acre Lily Lake in the southeast.

In between, we have the massive Wisconsin River that cuts through the middle of the county, as well as the 6,400-acre Big Eau Pleine Reservoir southwest of Mosinee, and Lake DuBay that makes a watery boundary between Marathon and Portage counties. Lake Wausau, at 1,850 acres, is a popular spot as well, and the DNR in its Spring 2019 Wisconsin Fishing Report noted that 60% of the walleye seized during a 2018 survey were 15 inches in length or greater — with the biggest being 27 inches! In the Big Eau Pleine, about a quarter of more than 200 fish collected topped 20 inches!

Though it’s not an exhaustive list of county water bodies and fish populations in them, the DNR’s annual spring fishing report does highlight some of the hot spots around the state — including Marathon County — and what anglers can find when they take to the water.


The lakes and rivers mentioned above are just a few specific spots to find fish.

Naturally, a good fishing spot is kept close to the vest much like a deer hunter’s favored field or forest. So if you’re striking out in search of fish without a definite destination, you have a few options to guide you to local waters . . .

  • The DNR’s website — The most comprehensive information about water around Marathon County can be found at the DNR’s website. You can search for a specific lake, check out species forecasts, and browse maps until your eyes glaze over.
  • The DNR’s Spring Fishing Report — Find access points for selected water bodies it highlights.
  • The Marathon County Parks, Recreation, & Forestry Department’s webpage— Check out their handy guide to some of the boat launches around the county, as well as some frequently asked questions and information about launch fees.

If you’re out for trout — especially with a fly rod — Marathon County has hundreds of miles of trout streams, and the first spot to check is the Wisconsin DNR’s list of classified trout streams in Marathon County, which also includes links to maps for those streams.

BTW: That’s not classified in the “top secret” sense. Trout streams are designated by class:

  • Class I streams are of the highest quality but often some of the smallest and they have a population of trout that naturally reproduce without help from humans.
  • Class III streams have marginal habitat and no natural reproduction among the trout, so they need to be stocked with young trout every year in some streams.
  • Class II trout streams are somewhere in between the other two as far as habitat and population.

Altogether, Wisconsin has about 13,000 miles of classified trout streams!

Fly-Fishing Class at UWSP

If you’ve never tried fly fishing before — for trout or any other species — you have the opportunity to learn from a well-respected expert in the sport, Marathon County resident Henry Kanemoto. He is leading a 2-day Introduction to Fly Fishing class at UW-Stevens Point at Wausau on April 27 & 28. Find out more information about the class and how to register here.


I often refer to myself as an enthusiastic novice when it comes to fly fishing. I was given a fly rod and reel by my uncle that are waaaay too nice for someone who is not yet very good at it — akin to a teenager receiving a Cadillac for a first car. What’s worse, I have yet to replace the waders that were lost when one (or both) of my cats decided to make their mark inside, and I wasn’t able to thoroughly clean the soiled waders.

That said, I still feel that fly fishing is a glorious sport!

I have nothing against using a spinning rod and reel — I use that, too, and enjoy it very much. But standing in the middle of a river, listening to the rush of the water, the songs of birds all around, and the rhythmic whoosh of the line as it sails past my head is a truly joyful experience.

Plus, the challenge of fly fishing is to trick a really smart fish by mimicking nature: using the right imitation fly, nymph, minnow, or plug at the right time — not some garish metal contraption that spins and rattles its way toward you — casting it so it lands just so, and carefully but confidently moving it through or on top of the water just like a real insect or minnow might do.

Sounds like I know my stuff, right?

I’m basically self-taught, aside from some pointers from friends and reading a few books about fly fishing. I’ve spent dozens of hours fly-fishing, and I’ve caught a few bluegill and a couple of trout no bigger than my hand. (Trust me, it’s not easy.)

Whether you’re a novice or an expert at fishing, or someone who just enjoys having your grandchild put corn on a hook to catch a bluegill off the side of your boat, there’s an excellent chance you can find somewhere great in Marathon County to cast your line in the water.

This fishing season, I invite you to GO FISH!

Chad Dally - MCPL - Library SpecialistChad Dally
Library Specialist  |  Marathon County Public Library

Chad Dally is a library specialist with the Marathon County Public Library, where he’s worked since 2012. He splits his time at the library between reference and programming, and generally prefers to read nonfiction over fiction.  Email Chad Dally

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Image credits
Two men fishing image by Tomasz Filipek via Pexels.
Man fly-fishing image by Mike Dobe via Pixabay.