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Fish Like a Girl: Free fishing weekend

January 17, 2020 by Beckie Gaskill

Free fishing weekend is upon us, and what better time to Fish Like a Girl! Or a guy. Or a German shepard, for that matter. 

Every year the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) holds two free fishing weekends. One is in June, and the other in January. This gives everyone the opportunity to fish for most species on most water without a license. Of course, bag and size limits still apply, so all anglers still need to follow the rules and regulations, but the buying of the license is waived.  

I think it’s a great way to get out and enjoy the winter weather in the Northwoods. While kids under 16 do not need a license, in order to be out on the ice with them, helping them learn the sport, an adult normally would need that license. But this weekend, the gloves are off, so to speak. 

For those looking to get into ice fishing, or for those who are getting back into it, the most important thing to remember (in reality, even for experienced, avid anglers) is that no ice is safe ice. In many places, especially on flowages and other places with more moving water, ice may be thick enough to drive an ATV on one bay, and not thick enough to walk on in another. Local sport shops usually have the best information about ice conditions, but anglers should still stay aware while on the ice.

Another bit about safety, because that is the biggest thing for me, has to do with gear. I have convinced several friends in the past few years to invest in float coats, or float coats and bibs. Not only are they warm, but they could save a life as well. 

In my tenure with The Times, I have learned many DNR folks wear float coats for both warmth and floatation, and they are even used by wardens on snowmobile patrols. 

For me, if the professionals use them, they are good enough for me. That is not to say they do not come with a price, but for those looking to get out on the ice on a regular basis in any fashion, or even those who fish open water early and late, they are a great addition to an ice fishing arsenal. A pair of ice spuds, which many ice fishing suits come with these days, is another great addition. They can help an angler pull himself/herself out of the water, should they fall in. If nothing else, I would recommend these two things. 

Now, on to Free Fishing Weekend! As I stated, no fishing license is needed this weekend, so if you have been putting it off, thinking you might want to spend a day on the lake — either with the kids, some friends, or by yourself — this is the perfect weekend to do so. The biggest questions are, “Where are the fish?’ and “What are they hitting?” Again, the local tackle shop is the best place to start for those answers. 

While I have done my share of ice fishing over the course of the last few decades, I would never profess to have those answers. Most of my time on the ice involved good food, even better friends, cribbage, and fishing added in as a bonus. So, while I would love to impart some local knowledge here, it may be best to leave that to those who are a bit more serious about the sport. 

What I can say is ice fishing can really be a lot of fun, and can also be a great way to relax and just take in the beauty of winter in the Northwoods. A spontaneous snowball fight with the kids is never a bad thing, either. If it is something you are trying as a family, do not forget to have fun. I have been on the water (frozen and open) for a day without a bite, as we all have, and it can be, well, really not fun. It can make me not want to go out the next weekend. But I still do. And it is mostly because I have fun with it, and I just learn to enjoy my time.

While there may not be a great deal of organized events in the area for free fishing weekend, that does not mean there is not a great deal of fun to be had. My suggestion is to grab some bait and some local information, and head out, even for a couple of hours. And I just may do the same. Even though I have a license every year, it is fun, on weekends like this, to see new anglers as well as those returning to the sport, get out and enjoy. Just be sure to check the regulations and species on the body of water where you would like to fish — and remember to send your photos to [email protected] to have them published in the newspaper!

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