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State offers first free ice-fishing weekend

MADISON - The DNR invites everyone to discover that "ice is nice," especially during the state's first, free, ice-fishing weekend set for Jan. 19 and 20 in Wisconsin.

Residents and nonresidents alike can fish anywhere in Wisconsin for free, with not licenses or trout stamps needed. This includes all inland waters and Wisconsin's side of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River.

"We invite everybody to get out and start a new tradition," says Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp. "Ice fishing is all about family, friends and fun. It's a great time to get out, get some fresh air and try fishing from a new perspective."

Wisconsin has long had a Free Fishing Weekend during the open-water season; it's the first Saturday and Sunday in June. An information release from the DNR says the free weekend was established under Act 168, a law passed last year aimed at boosting participation in fishing, hunting and other traditional outdoor recreation.

The DNR says 110,000 more Wisconsin adults 16 and over reported ice fishing in 2010 than the previous decade. That's an estimated 590,700 Wisconsinites 16 and older enjoying the hard-water season, according to the most recent National Survey on Recreation and the Environment.

Temperatures are now allowing lakes and rivers to freeze over, and there are plenty of places to go fishing in the state's more than 15,000 lakes; 42,000 miles of flowing rivers; and neighboring Great Lakes and the Mississippi River.

Rules governing the number and size of fish anglers can keep, as well as fishing-season dates, are still in place during the free weekend. People fishing in state parks must purchase a state-parks vehicle pass.

Check the DNR website for fishing regulations, as well as tips and videos from experts.

People can borrow some equipment such as poles and rods from one of about 20 DNR tackle-loaner sites then return it to the station for the next person. People fishing need to drill their own hole or take over an abandoned hole.

Click here to go to the 'ice fishing' portion of the DNR's website: