The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is urging people to adjust their traditions during Saturday’s fishing opener due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
DNR Secretary Preston Cole suggests people fish on lakes or rivers in their own communities to prevent spreading the new coronavirus.
As of Thursday, the DNR reported selling 371,368 individual fishing licenses for the 2020 season. That’s compared to 299,849 individual licenses sold at the same time last year.
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During a webinar Friday, Cole said Wisconsin is known for its fishing resources. But as the number of residents infected with the new coronavirus continues to grow, he said this year’s inland fishing opening weekend will be different.
Cole said he’s talked with individuals from the Northwoods who are concerned anglers from other parts of the state could unknowingly bring COVID-19 into their communities. Also, with Gov. Tony Evers’ “Safer at Home” order still in effect, he said the DNR is urging people not to travel beyond their communities this weekend.
“We have about 15,000 lakes and 84,000 miles of rivers and streams in Wisconsin,” Cole said. “So, there has to be a river or a stream or a lake close to you. And that’s important because we’re still guided by the safe-at-home executive order. And what we’re attempting to do is remind folks not to travel to the far reaches of the state or to other states to take up fishing.”
Cole also urged people from out of state who normally drive to Wisconsin fishing destinations on opening weekend to respect social distancing rules enacted in their own states as well.
“We would ask them to stay close to their own homes and fish within the boundaries of their own communities” said Cole. “And I can’t be more resolute in sharing that information because we know that social distancing and keeping people from traveling from far distances into different communities will help slow the spread.”
DNR Administrative Warden Matt O’Brien said law enforcement staff have already made contact with anglers at boat launches across the state. He said overall, people have been respectful and understanding about keeping their distance from one another at busy boat launches.
O’Brien said DNR wardens will be out in force, but he said they’ll be wearing masks and working to maintain a 6-foot buffer from anglers when checking their licenses. He also echoed Cole’s call for anglers to stay within their home communities to prevent them from unknowingly spreading COVID-19 to other regions.
“You might have had a ritual or tradition for the past 40 years where you’ve always done sort of the same thing,” O’Brien said. “You’ve gone to the same landing, going to the same fishing spots. And I’d ask that you plan ahead. Think about what your access sites usually look like. How busy are they gonna be?”
O’Brien said the last thing he or other wardens will want to see is hundreds of anglers grouped together at busy boat launches at state parks around Wisconsin.
“And I hope that they take the time and the patience to sort of change their traditions a bit because this is going to be different, it’s going to be inconvenient, but we can do it in a way that protects each other,” O’Brien said.
The Saturday fishing opener follows Evers’ April 10 call to close around 40 of Wisconsin’s most popular state parks and recreation areas. On Tuesday, Evers directed the DNR to reopen 34 of those parks and nature areas Friday. Some of those parks that have reopened include Devils Lake, Governor Dodge and Kettle Moraine.
The DNR has said park staff will wear protective masks, ensure visitors maintain social distance and limit patrons to 74 percent of capacity for certain sites.
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