OSHKOSH, Wis. – The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is working to inform Winnebago System walleye anglers of walleye bag limit changes as the open water season approaches. Effective April 1, 2020, the daily walleye bag limit will be reduced to three walleye of any size (only one may be a sauger or hybrid) for all Winnebago System waters.
Winnebago System waters include Poygan, Winneconne, Butte des Morts and Winnebago and all their tributaries from their mouths upstream to the first dam including:
the Fox River from Lake Winnebago upstream to the dam above Princeton and all its tributaries from their mouths upstream to the first dam;
the Wolf River from its mouth upstream to the dam in the city of Shawano and all its tributaries from their mouths upstream to the first dam including Cincoe lake, Partridge Crop lake and Partridge lake in Calumet, Fond du Lac, Green Lake, Marquette, Outagamie, Shawano, Waupaca, Waushara and Winnebago counties.
The department evaluates the Winnebago walleye population annually to ensure that proper regulations are in place to sustain a strong walleye population and provide good recreational fishing opportunities for anglers. The goal of the bag limit reduction is to reduce walleye exploitation on the Winnebago System and maintain a sustainable fishery. Exploitation, or the proportion of fish harvested out of the total population, has been tracked annually on the Winnebago System since 1993.
Average annual adult female walleye exploitation is estimated at 32.2% and surpassed 40% in eight of the last 27 years, which is well above the 35% threshold that is often suggested for maintaining walleye populations. In addition, the department has documented high exploitation rates on immature female walleye (ranging 22.9%-66.7%, average 42.0%). This information, in conjunction with recent tagging studies, indicates a potential for substantially reduced walleye numbers and recreational fishing opportunities.
To get ahead of these concerns, the department began discussing the potential for regulation changes in 2016 and solicited input from local clubs and stakeholders. Over 600 people provided feedback during this public input process, and the majority supported a regulation change, with a bag limit reduction to three walleye being the most favorable option. This option would also likely be most effective at reducing adult and immature female walleye exploitation on the system and maintaining a substantial walleye population.
The department attained additional public input by holding three public meetings in March of 2018. Attendees were asked if they would favor reducing the walleye bag limit to three, and nearly 70% voted yes. Finally, the department asked the walleye bag limit reduction question at the 2018 and 2019 Wisconsin Conservation Congress Spring Hearings and received positive public feedback both years. As a result, the regulation moved forward and received administrative and legislative approval as part of the 2019 regulation change package.
The walleye bag limit reduction to three fish for the Winnebago System is expected to remain in place indefinitely. Department fisheries staff will continue to evaluate the Winnebago walleye population annually to ensure that the proper regulations are in place by working with local volunteers to conduct annual core surveys that include the spring spawning stock assessment and Lake Winnebago bottom trawl assessment. These assessments include continuing to track forage base levels and walleye condition on the system.
Department staff members are committed to working closely with the Winnebago Fisheries Advisory Committee, local clubs, the angling community and other stakeholders to ensure that the Winnebago System continues to produce quality walleye angling opportunities today and for future generations.