Results from the most comprehensive survey ever of Wisconsin trout anglers provide a clearer picture of the people who pursue the wily trout; the fishing methods and baits they use; their opinions of fishing regulations; and the kind of fishing experience they’re looking for.
“What we found is that there is no single profile of a trout angler in Wisconsin and that trout fishing in Wisconsin may not fit the popular image often portrayed in the media,” said Jordan Petchenik, the state Department of Natural Resources resource sociologist who conducted the survey.
“Most stream trout anglers use a variety of fishing techniques, meaning they are not exclusively fly anglers,” he said. “More anglers pursued trout with live bait than by any other methods such as spinners or lures or artificial flies and the majority of trout anglers said bringing fish home for a meal was important to them.”
The DNR conducted the survey as part of the state’s review – launched in 2011 – of inland trout fishing. An earlier mail survey polled anglers who no longer trout fished on their reasons for leaving and this particular survey targeted active anglers on a range of topics.
The comprehensive survey was mailed to a random sample of 1,000 Wisconsin resident purchasers of the 2011 Wisconsin inland trout stamp and 534 anglers – 56 percent – completed and returned the survey. Follow-up interviews were done with a random sample of anglers who didn’t return the survey to make sure the results weren’t biased.
Scot Stewart, the southern district fisheries supervisor who is leading the DNR’s review of inland trout fishing, said the results from the survey were used to develop advisory questions at the 2014 Spring Fish and Wildlife Hearings on expanding trout fishing opportunities.
“First, thanks to the anglers who completed the survey,” he said. “It was 18 pages long and required considerable thought from the anglers. It was not one you could rip through in five to 10 minutes. The time you took to fill out the survey has provided us with information that will be important to help fish managers try to provide the variety of experiences across all our waters that our anglers are looking for.”
Petchenik said the survey results show anglers are generally satisfied with the stream regulations, as more than twice as many anglers are satisfied (59 percent) with the regulations than dissatisfied (28 percent). Two-thirds of anglers reported that the stream regulations are easy to understand.
However, a sizeable minority – 41 percent of the anglers responding – reported that regulations for a specific stream have prevented them from fishing that stream.
“The finding indicates that some anglers are being displaced from streams they would like to fish because of the regulations for that stream.” Petchenik said.
The survey also showed trout anglers today are spending less time trout fishing than in the past, with 45 percent reporting less time spent compared to 17 percent spending more time trout fishing.
“As found for other outdoor recreations, time constraints is the primary reason for an angler’s declining participation and one-half of them attributed it to a lack of available time,” Petchenik said. “The other primary reasons they reported are ones the DNR can address, from trout regulations being too difficult to understand or too restrictive to inadequate public access to degraded stream habitat that makes it more difficult to fish.”
The questionnaire also provided the opportunity for anglers to express their support or opposition to existing and hypothetical regulations.
Regulations that allow trout to be harvested were supported by three-fourths (76 percent) of all stream anglers, while 61 percent opposed catch-and-release-only regulations on the streams they fished.
Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) opposed regulations that would allow an angler to harvest six to 10 trout. A majority of anglers had a preference for regulations that allowed a harvest of three to five trout.
Anglers want to protect trout from overharvest, but would like to have the option of keeping a large trout.
Having a single set of regulations for an entire stream was supported by two-thirds (66 percent) of the anglers. A majority (58 percent) supported having the same regulations for geographically nearby streams.
Anglers will have a chance late this summer to weigh in on those same questions and on other proposals concerning inland trout fishing at public informational meetings.
Both will be used to shape a proposed trout regulation rule package for consideration at the 2015 Spring Fish & Wildlife Rule Hearings, according to Stewart.