Early fishing for the hardy fishermen is an awsome experience

Trout Stream Reflections

Trout Streams Reflections

The early trout season is upon us, the first Saturday of January heralds the beginning to another year of outstanding fishing in Central Wisconsin. While not every stream is open to early fishing, there are plenty of stream miles to wade and most likely your favorite spots will not be occupied when you arrive. Typically it is the hardy fisher or the one that wants bragging rights stating “I fish year around” that is first out. No matter the motivation winter wading a trout stream is an awesome experience. Whether during a sunny day sheltered in woods from a chilling wind or under a low gray sky drifting snow flakes quietly through tag alders, it’s the place to be.


Trout fishing in Wisconsin is remarkably good today and in particular the trout of the Central Region. The success of this trout fishery did not occur by accident, certainly prior to European settlement brook trout abundantly dominated our streams until our land and water-way practices diminished the trout fishery. Thankfully we have learned from mistakes and have developed an approach to recovery.

Central Wisconsin played a significant role in creating the way forward to restoration of our state wide trout fishery. Like many impactful initiatives in life, it takes a few thoughtful and courageous people to do what they know is right. In this case these people are Bob Hunt, Elward Engle and Jon Wilcox, all from the Waupaca and Wautoma area.

It was the combined effect of what they did that has made all the difference. In short it was the scientific understanding of trout habitat needs, the procurement of coldwater streams for public ownership and the establishment of funding to accomplish the work of habitat restoration that over the last 50+ years that has given us the gift of restored trout populations.

Bob Hunt (retired WDNR fisheries biologist) did the scientific research in Central Wisconsin streams defining best practices for restoring habitat that led to abundant trout populations.  His work is well documented in numerous technical publications and in his book titled Trout Stream Therapy, a book widely used across North America and Europe. Elward Engle (retired WDNR Real Estate Specialist) was responsible for procuring many tracks of land through which our trout streams flow. Based on his knowledge of our regional watersheds he arranged for the State of Wisconsin to purchase parcels of land as they came on the market. Some land owners who sought to protect the natural beauty of their land and streams for future generations participated with Elward in these land purchases by the state.  As a result we and future generations have access to high quality trout streams. Jon Wilcox (retired Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice) understood the work of restoring trout habitat in these public owned streams required funding. As a state representative, Jon wrote and introduced the Trout Stamp Bill to the Wisconsin legislature.  The Trout Stamp was intended to generate revenue specifically to fund trout habitat improvement work within the state by requiring  its purchase in combination with a fishing license by those intending to fish for trout.

Jon continued to champion this idea in the legislature and through his position in the Wisconsin Conversation Congress, ultimately achieved passage on the bill.  To this day by state statute, all Trout Stamp fee dollars are exclusively used by the WDNR for trout habitat improvements.

The key point is that the synergistic effect of these three initiatives exceeds the sum of their individual values and that has made all the difference.  Bob, Elward and Jon have received signification recognition over the years for their visionary contributions to our trout fisheries. Awards such as induction into the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame for Bob and Elward and Jon’s recognition by the Resource Award of Merit from the Wisconsin State Council of Trout Unlimited speak loudly of our appreciation.

We as a public have a responsibility to keep these initiatives alive and well in Central Wisconsin. We do this by active participation in conservation organizations, community organizations that encourage families, kids and adults to be involved in outdoor activities and by just purchasing a fishing license with a trout stamp for our recreation and appreciate of our local trout streams.