Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation
Participation rates in many outdoor activities are declining, with further and more serious declines anticipated in the future. Leaders of the outdoor recreation community are focusing their efforts on attracting new—and retaining existing—participants while at the same time making sure our children continue to hunt and fish.
Through Save the Habitat, Save the Hunt and other programs, NWTF staff and volunteers are at the forefront of these efforts. This field is known as R3—Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation—and is briefly explained below.
Recruitment refers to the stage in outdoor participants’ lives when they become aware of an activity and decide to try it—for instance, when a novice hears about a Learn to Hunt program and participates in that program.
Retention efforts focus on individuals already in the recruitment pool, whether they have taken part in many or just one event. Retention is about keeping these individuals engaged. This happens, for instance, when they take an additional Learn to Hunt (a deer class after taking a turkey class) or an advanced class (wingshooting or muzzleloading).
Reactivation refers to individuals whose participation in outdoor activities has lapsed because of some other activity or factor. The goal of reactivation is to provide appropriate resources and support so these individuals can resume hunting and fishing.
Contact John Motoviloff, Wisconsin R3 Specialist for the National Wild Turkey Federation, for assistance in R3 programming or for additional information.
MEETING NEW HUNTERS
NWTF Board and Supporters--
Check out this article in the July/August issue of Turkey Country (https://editions.mydigitalpublication.com/publication/frame.php?i=503076&p=&pn=&ver=html). It shows how Hunt for Food programs helped turn a former hunting opponent into a regular license buyer—and also showcases the fantastic efforts of NWTF volunteers. Hoping this can become a template for chapter involvement throughout Wisconsin and the nation!
Go, Glacier Valley Gobblers!
Wisconsin R3 Coordinator
HUNTING AND FISHING CHEATSHEETS
One of the greatest barriers to new hunters and anglers is lack of knowledge of how to proceed--and obtaining quality information. While we are not able to conduct Hunt for Food or Learn to Hunt programs (or their fishing equivalents) during the COVID-19 outbreak, we hope that these "cheatsheets" will be helpful resource to novices. Maybe even to veterans wanting to pursue a new quarry or brush up their skills If you have additional questions, don't heistate to reach out. I will be do my best to connect you with additional resources.
R3 Coordinator for Wisconsin
National Wild Turkey Federation
608 419 0041; email@example.com
- wild turkey
EASTERN WILD TURKEY
Meleagris gallopavo silvestris
Overview: The eastern wild turkey is the most common of the 5 subspecies of wild turkey found in North America, and the only wild turkey found in Wisconsin. Eastern wild turkeys originally roamed much of what is now Wisconsin. Because of unregulated hunting and habitat loss, wild turkeys were extirpated from Wisconsin in 1871. Various unsuccessful attempts to reintroduce them were made over the next century. In 1974, the Wisconsin DNR and the Missouri Department of Conservation agreed to exchange ruffed grouse for wild turkey. These wild-strain Missouri turkeys were introduced to prime-habitat in Southwest Wisconsin via a partnership between the Wisconsin DNR and the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF). Wild turkey populations began to take hold in these and other locations. By the mid-2000s, thanks to trap-and-transfer programs within the state—and lots of hard work by natural resource professionals, volunteers, and private landowners—wild turkeys flourished throughout Wisconsin! Now, even the state’s far northern counties have huntable turkey populations. The first Wisconsin spring turkey hunting season was held in 1983; a fall season was added in 1994.
Lifecycle: Increasing day length triggers breeding behavior in male turkeys, known as toms or gobblers. By early April, toms can be observed gobbling from roost trees before daylight and flying down in search of flat, open spaces known as strutting zones. Toms strut and display in these locations hoping to attract hens interested in breeding. After mating, the hen chooses a nest site, usually at the edge of woodland, where she lays and incubates her eggs. Newly hatched turkeys, or poults, quickly develop the ability to fly and roost; they feed heavily on insects in summer. During the rest of the year, waste grain and wild plants make up the bulk of a turkey’s diet. Predation is the leading cause of death in hens and poults, while hunting accounts for the bulk of gobbler mortality. Wild turkeys have keen eyesight (ten times better than humans) and acute hearing; they can detect motion and noise from a distance of several hundred yards. It is often said that, if wild turkeys had a developed sense of smell, they would be impossible to hunt!
Bird ID: Averaging about 20 pounds in weight, tom turkeys (left photo) are significantly larger than hens and present a showier appearance. Strands of hairlike feathers extending from their chests, known as beards, range in size from that of a thumb to 10 inches or more in length. Toms’ heads are red or blue and adorned with protrusions (wattles, snoods, and caruncles); their body feathers have black tips. A tom’s spurs are located on their legs, just above their feet. These may be up to 2 inches long on older birds, and are used for fighting other males during breeding times. Roughly half the size of tom, hens (right photo) present a more subdued appearance. They have a grayish-blue head, which lack the pronounced adornments found on males. While all male turkeys have beards, only about 5% of hens have beards. Hens do not have spurs on their legs. Juvenile males, known as jakes, have smaller beards and smaller spurs than toms, and are considerably smaller than toms in overall size. The central group of feathers in the tail of a jake extends beyond the other tailfeathers in a rough triangle.
Habitat and Hotspots: Wild turkeys prefer a habitat with a mix of fields and woods, as well as ample access to waste grain and water. The original reintroduction sites in Vernon, La Crosse, Trempealeau, Buffalo, Grant, Lafayette, and Iowa counties were chosen because they had this mix of food and habitat. These same counties, located in the Driftless or unglaciated region of southwest Wisconsin, continue to be turkey hunting destinations. Those scouting in the Driftless area would do well to search out south facing slopes of oak woods with good strutting zones.
As indicated earlier, wild turkeys now thrive throughout Wisconsin—in the prairie-agricultural landscape of the southeast, the Sand Counties in the center of the state, and even in the northwoods. Because habitat may be more fragmented in these areas, those scouting for turkeys should look for the key habitat piece that is generally lacking in the particular locale. In the dense forests of northern and central zones, finding clearings (which serve as strut zones) and food sources (such as waste grain or acorns) is key. Similarly, where agriculture abounds and tree cover is scarce, finding wooded roost and loafing sites is a must. “Patterning” birds—observing strutting, roosting, and loafing locations—increases success dramatically wherever one hunts. Talking to landowners can also be very helpful.
Public and private lands: Some 6 million acres—or roughly 16 percent of Wisconsin—is in state, federal, or county ownership, with the vast majority of it located in the northern half of the state. Most Badger state hunters can find public-land turkey hunting opportunities within a half-hour drive. Some tax law lands (Forest Crop Law and Managed Forest Lands), where landowners receive payments to allow public access, are open to public hunting. The Turkey Hunter Access Program, or THAP, is a WDNR effort supported by the NWTF, which allows access to private lands for spring turkey hunting. Visit the Wisconsin DNR public lands portal at https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/lands/ to get familiar with public land near you. Applications like On X maps allow hunters to zero in on both promising habitat and owners of private lands. Plat books available at public libraries provide land owner names. Always approach landowners with courtesy and remember it is their decision to allow you on their land or not. When using private lands, pay special attention to landowner requests concerning vehicle access and gates. While farmers may hesitate to allow deer hunters on their land, some view turkeys as a nuisance and are more apt to grant permission. Some farmers may be willing to barter help with farm chores for access to hunting land.
Hunting techniques: There are three basic ways to hunt wild turkey during the spring season. First and easiest is waiting (and concealing oneself) in areas that wild turkeys have been using. A second method (often practiced from a blind) is luring gobblers into range by means of calling and/or decoys; this is most successful in areas where turkeys have been observed. A third method is called “run and gun.” This involves moving to various locations and calling in attempt to get a gobbler to respond. Once a gobbler is located, the hunter attempts to call that bird into gunshot range. Head-to-toe camouflage is a must if hunting if hunting without a blind; dark color clothing is fine if hunting from a blind. Movement must also be kept to an absolute minimum. During fall, when wild turkeys congregate in large flocks, hunters may attempt to disperse the flock by running up on them or sending a dog in to flush them. Once the birds have been dispersed, individual birds or small groups may then be called back into range.
Safety: There are many safety considerations to heed while turkey hunting. Reviewing TAB-K is a good place to start. Treat every firearm as if it were loaded. Always point your muzzle in a safe direction. Be sure of your target and what is beyond it (don’t shoot at movement or sound and make sure your target is a legal turkey). Keep your finger out the trigger area until ready to shoot. This last point is especially relevant when hunters are holding their gun ready for an approaching gobbler; keep your finger out of the trigger area until you have verified that it is a legal bird within range. Hunters must also be aware of potential dangers related to decoys and camouflage. Carry all turkey decoys concealed within a bag or vest. Consider wearing a blaze orange hat or vest while walking in the woods. If you see another hunter, call out in a loud voice; better to disturb a hunt than endanger yourself and others. When hunting, position yourself against a tree whose diameter is wider than your shoulders and in a location where you have a good visibility. Watch to make sure another hunter hasn’t mistaken your sounds or decoy for a live turkey. Never wear red, black, gray or blue in the turkey woods; these colors can be mistaken for a turkey.
Gear: Turkey hunting gear consists calls, a shotgun, decoys, a blind, and a vest or backpack for transporting gear. The gear used depends on which technique the hunter is employing, and each hunter can decide how simple or complex to make it. Some hunters are very successful “running and gunning” with just a call and shotgun. Others favor the security, comfort, and cover afforded by a blind-and-decoy set up.
- Calls: Calls come in two basic types—friction and mouth calls. Easiest for beginning turkey hunters to master, friction calls work by means of one piece of the call rubbing against another. Friction calls may be further divided into box and pot calls. Box calls are typically made of wood and have a paddle or push button that causes one piece of wood to strike another. Pot calls have a striker and a pot or disk; the hunter moves the striker against the pot to make a call. Using a friction call, the average person can mimic basic hen calls in a few short hours. The two main disadvantages are that friction calls do not work well when wet and that they require hand movement, which can be tricky to manage while holding a shotgun. Keeping friction calls in a ziplock bag helps during wet weather. Hunting from an enclosed blind or having a partner call for you are ways to deal with movement. Mouth calls produce sound when the caller inhales or exhales; they require more practice to master. They may take several weeks or even a season to master for some; others just never do get the hang of it. Once they are mastered, however, a variety of convincing turkey sounds can be made. And the hands are left free for holding your shotgun. A third, and much rarer call type, shakers calls produce sounds when the caller moves the device rapidly to circulate air through it. Visit NWTF’s Turkey Hunting 101 website to learn to various wild turkey calls.
- Blinds: The purpose of a blind is to conceal the hunter’s silhouette and movement. Blinds can be classed in two broad groups—natural and manmade. A natural blind is made of vegetation immediately on hand—tree branches, shrubs, grasses, etc. While they do not offer full concealment, they blend in with the surroundings and are not likely to spook birds. Blinds made of native materials do not cost the hunter anything and do not have to be transported. Note that, in Wisconsin, blinds on public lands must be removed before the end of shooting hours each day; this applies to natural and manmade blinds. It is illegal to cut or prune standing vegetation on most public lands in Wisconsin; downed wood or branches, however, may be used.
Manmade blinds come in a variety of shapes and sizes, ranging from accordion blinds (grass or burlap stretched between stakes) to pop-up blinds that are essentially camouflage tents. The former are good for run-and-gun and long walks. Pop-up blinds are heavier and impractical to carry long distances. Their main advantage is the concealment they offer. Those hunting from a pop-up blind don’t need to wear camouflage; dark colors are all that’s needed. Pop-up blinds range in cost from $100 or less to several hundred on the high end. Consider the blind’s sturdiness, weight, and ease-of-setup. A cheap blind that’s difficult to set up is no bargain.
- Camouflage: The type and cost of camouflage is much less important than making sure to wear full camouflage—a facemask, shirt, pants and gloves. Turkey eyesight is ten times as keen as human eyesight, and they are uncanny at spotting movement even from a long distance. While any camouflage is better than none, patterns that match the season and terrain you’re hunting are best. Military surplus and thrift stores are an option for those on a budget.
- Shotgun: 12 and 20 gauge shotguns are the most common gauges, and either will fit the bill for turkey hunting. More important is the choke used—and making sure to pattern the particular gun, load, and choke at distances you plan to shoot. Shots are typically from 20 to 40 yards. Select a full, extra full, or turkey choke, and make sure a dense concentration (6 or more pellets) hits the vital area. Use the graphic supplied with this sheet as a target. Shotguns of any action type may be used, even break-action singleshots. One shot is generally all the turkey hunter gets. A variety of turkey loads can be purchased from your local sporting goods store; high-power number 5 or 6 in lead, tungsten, or bismuth will also work.
- Decoys: Some hunters swear by decoys and others avoid them like the plague. Between these extremes, there is a middle ground: use decoys in configurations mirroring the patterns of local birds and pay attention to how prospective gobblers respond. If they come within gunshot range, chances are your setup is realistic. If they continually stop short, check your set up—consider changing the number or gender of decoys or removing them entirely. Deploying a hen decoy, with or without a jake in tow, is a tried-and-true set up. Using a full-strut gobbler decoy is another option. While this may scare off subdominant birds, it may also incite dominant birds and bring them into range. Portable and lightweight weight to rigid and bulky, today’s decoys encompass a wide range of options and price ranges. Choose decoys that work with your budget and style of hunting.
- Vests/backpacks: A turkey hunting vest is useful for keeping gear in one place and organized. ALP-Z makes a number of good turkey vests. Some of these come with a built-in seat cushion; if not consider bringing a camp stool to sit on. Backpacks in suitable camo patterns do a fine good job of holding gear. Bring a strap or rope to carry out any turkey you may harvest; attach a piece of blaze cloth or bandanna so it’s not mistaken for a live bird.
Rules and Regulations: Wisconsin is divided into 7 turkey hunting zones. In springtime, there are 6 seasons (A through F). In fall, there is only one season. The number of turkeys that can be harvested in a given year is based on current turkey populations as determined by DNR biologists. Hunters apply in advance for their preferred zone and season—indicating first, second, and third preferences—via a lottery system; the application deadline is December 10 for Spring and March 10 for Fall. A drawing is conducted by DNR and applicants are notified which zone and season they have been awarded. Leftover permits go on sale prior to the season and are available until sold out. Hunters must possess a turkey license, turkey stamp, and turkey permit valid for the season and zone they are hunting. License, stamps, and permits are available online at Go Wild, at select DNR offices, and at commercial license agents. Only male or bearded turkeys may be harvested during spring (bearded hens are legal game); either sex may be harvested during fall. Bag limit is one turkey per harvest permit. You must register any turkey you harvest by 5 PM the day after harvest at gamereg.wi.gov or 800 426 3734. Complying with registration is not only the law, it helps the WDNR manage vital harvest and populations data. Check the Turkey Hunting section of the Wisconsin DNR website or consult current small game regulations for more information.
Food Value: Wild turkey, like most wild game, can be a delicious when properly prepared, but dry and livery if not. Follow the guidelines given here for making the most of your wild harvest. Wild turkey has a flavor similar to domestic turkey, but the similarity stops there. Lean vs. fat, omnivorous vs. pen-fed, and active vs. sedentary, wild and domestic turkeys are a study in opposites. A wild turkey left to cook at 350 degrees and self-baste will tough, dry, and chewy. The cook needs to adjust his or her methods. Marinating, wrapping with bacon, and slow cooking are all good ways to keep wild turkey meat tender.
Cleaning: Wild turkeys may be cleaned in two ways—skinned and broken down into breast and legs or plucked and left whole. If you’ve skinned or plucked a chicken or gamebird, you will have a leg up on other chefs.
To skin a wild turkey, begin by making a small incision in the abdomen, below the bottom of the rib cage. Remove the entrails. Scrape out any blood or other matter that remains. The heart and liver may be kept for pate or dirty rice; discard the rest. Peel the skin away and cut out the fillets on either side of the breastbone. Peeling the feathers and skin back further, remove the thighs and drumsticks. There is very little edible meat on the back of a wild turkey.
To pluck a turkey, begin by, cutting off the head and neck; the wings at the first joint; then the legs. Remove the fan and tail. Be sure, also, to remove the pocket of fat in the upper part of the breast. Pull feathers from the skin slowly and carefully, being careful to keep the skin intact as much as possible. Some hunters prefer to scald turkeys in a large basin; this loosens up the feathers and makes them easier to remove. The bird may now be roasted. Baste, bard, and cook in a 250 degree oven.
In warm weather, always vent the bird and remove the entrails as described above; this is known as field dressing. Keep the bird in the shade until you have access to a cooler or refrigerator.
Lemon-thyme Turkey Breast
This classic recipe for chicken breast works equally well for wild turkey. What’s more, the light marinade enhances flavor and tenderizes the meat.
- Juice of one lemon
- 1 cup olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons of coarse sea salt
- Fresh-ground black pepper
- Thyme, rosemary, oregano (alone or in combination) alone or in combination, to taste
- Breast fillet from one side of turkey, cut into 1 inch steaks
- Clarified butter (if pan frying)
- Combine the first six ingredients; marinate the meat in a nonreactive container for 4 to 6 hours.
- Preheat grill or light coals.
- Drain meat; reserve marinade.
- Cook over hot coals or gas grill until just done; do not overcook. Baste as desired.
- Serve with fresh steamed asparagus, saffron rice, and dry white wine.
Turkey legs have a robust, rich flavor, but require a long, slow cooking as described here. If morels aren’t available, substitute any mushroom variety including button, Porta Bella, oyster or shitake. Step 1 of this recipe may be done the day or night before you plan to make this dish.
- Two turkey drumsticks with thighs removed and reserved for another use
- 8 cups of beef or chicken broth
- ½ pound morel or other mushrooms, cleaned, rinsed, and chopped
- 2 shallots, minced
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 4 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup dry sherry or white wine
- ¼ cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 1 cup heavy cream (optional)
- Cook turkey legs in beef or chicken broth, at a low simmer, until tender and meat falls from bone. Add salt to broth if needed. This may take anywhere from 3 to 8 hours depending on the age of the bird. Reserve 3 cups broth. Add water if needed to make 3 cups. Keep broth on simmer until step 4.
- Cool drumsticks thoroughly, then strip from the bone, removing all tendons
- Sauté mushrooms and shallots in butter; add salt and pepper to taste. Deglaze with sherry. Sprinkle with flour and allow to “toast” until light brown.
- Add hot broth. Continue stirring until all flour is absorbed and sauce is thickens. Add more flour through a sieve for a thicker sauce.
- Replace the deboned turkey meat; add parsley. Cook until heated—about 15 minutes. Remove from heat.
- For a richer dish, add the heavy cream once liquid has stopped bubbling. Serve over spaetzli with good pilsner beer or Riesling wine. A good Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio would also do.
- Yellow Perch
- White Bass
- Channel Catfish
- Largemouth Bass
- Smallmouth Bass
- Northern Pike
- Inland Trout
Overview: Bluegills and other members of the sunfish family are found in lakes and river backwaters throughout Wisconsin. In addition to be widely distributed, they’re also active feeders and easy to catch. Add to this generous bag limits and the fact they are delicious in the pan—and you qucikly see why sunfish are angler favorites. They can be caught from shore much of the year, and a canoe or small boat is all that’s needed to pursue them during hot weather, when they frequent deep water. Ice anglers target these scrappy fighters using tiny jigs tipped with waxworms. A dot on the gill plate, vertical barring, and overall blue-green color characterize bluegills; a wide color variation can be found among individual fish and among fish populations. Size varies from that of beer coaster to 9 or 10 inches. Anglers target fish 6 inches or larger.
Habitat: Find cover and you’ll find bluegills. Logs, stumps, lillypads, and piers are bluegill magnets, as are underwater pondweeds. As water temperatures warm in early spring after, target bluegill in 4 to 10 feet of water in the bays of lakes and large rivers. During their spawn (usually within a few weeks of Memorial Day), look for circle-shaped nests in 1 to 4 feet. Bluegills seek cooler water temperatures in summer. Find them “suspended” between 10 or 20 feet beneath the surface and near submerged vegetation. Between Labor Day and ice-up, bluegills move again into shallow waters where they feed heavily in preparation for winter. In winter they can be found among weedy area. Find concentrations of anglers and you fill find fish.
Hotspots: Wisconsin’s abundance of lakes and rivers means that a good bluegill spot is never far away. Lakes of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, the Madison chain, and the Mississippi River system are tops in the south. Lakes Shawano, Winnebago, Castle Rock/Petenwell—as well as small glacial lakes and cranberry bogs--are standouts in the central region. In the northwest, try the Eau Claire and Chetek chains as wells as the Chippewa Flowage. In the north and northeast, target lakes with good weedbeds in the Northern American Highland-American Legion State Forest and Nicolet-Chequamegon National Forest.
Gear: Think “light” when it comes to bluegill fishing. Use an ultralight spinning rod between 5 and 6 feet long and a small reel wound with 4-pound test is ideal. This lets you sense light bites and nibbles and give a quick, effective hooksets. Bluegills are a great quarry to pursue using fly rods. Use a 4-weight fly rod between 7 and 8 feet in length, and a simple reel equipped with floating line and a light leader.
Baits, lures, and flies: The time-tested method for catching bluegills is fishing a size 8 to 10 hook baited with a worm beneath a float. In deeper water, a split shot or small weight gets your bait down to the fish. Plastic body jigs in size 10 or smaller, tipped with meal worms or earth worms, are also productive. Carry a variety of colors and experiment. Fly anglers target surface-feeding fish with poppers. Nymphs and rubber-legged bugs are also good. Larger baits such as minnows, leeches, spinner, and streamers work well on big bluegills.
Rules and Regulations: Bluegills are considered “panfish” in most Wisconsin waters; panfish are defined as “crappie, bluegill/sunfish, and yellow perch.” The daily bag limit for panfish in most Wisconsin waters is 25 per day and 50 in possession. Consult Guide to Wisconsin Hook and Line fishing Regulations “Special Regulations—Listed by County” and “Season, Length Limit, and Bag Limits Tables” for exceptions.
Food Value: Delicious as they are common, bluegills and other sunfish such as pumpkinseeds are among Wisconsin’s favorite food fish. Target fish 6 inches or larger as cleaning small fish is difficult. Clean fish on a flat, hard surface such as board or fish-cleaning table. Pnfish are cleaned in one of two ways—filleting and gutting. To fillet, begin by making a shallow cut behind the gills. Then turn the knife 90 degrees and run it along (but not through) the backbone. Continue cutting until meat runs out at tail. Repeat on other side. Fillet off the skin. To gut, run the knife from the anus to the gills. The skin beneath the gills is very tough and requires a sharp knife or shears to cut through. Remove entrails, making sure to clean the cavity well with running water. Scale fish. Cut off head and fins. Your fish is now ready to cook. For information on fish advisories, visit https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/fishing/consumption/
Few things are tastier than a batch of fresh fish breaded in cornmeal, fried crisp, and served with coleslaw and potatoes. You can use whole or filleted bluegills here, as well as perch, crappie, or rock bass. Bear in mind that you will need more breading for whole, gutted, fish and less for fillets. Keep the oil hot, avoid crowding the pan, and keep cooked warm in the oven until ready to serve.
- One cup white flour
- One cup fine-ground cornmeal (if your cornmeal appears coarse, grind it in a food mill or coffee grinder)
- Seasoning of choice: OId Bay, Cajun, Szeged Fish Rub, etc.
- 1 pound of fillets or about 12 whole fish (gutted, scaled, and with heads cut off)
- 2 eggs, beaten
- Peanut oil (canola, corn, or grapeseed will also work)
- Paper such as paper grocery bags for draining
- Preheat oven to 300.
- Combine flour and cornmeal. Add seasoning to taste; two tablespoons minimum.
- Blot fish dry with paper towels. Dredge in flour mixture.
- Heat skillet on stovetop, medium-high. Add oil about ¼ inch deep.
- Add fish, being careful not to crowd the pan—use 4 to 6 fillets or 2 fish per batch. Fry until crisp on both sides. Drain on paper bag. Keep warm in the oven until all fish is fried
- Serve with homemade coleslaw, tartar sauce, potatoes, and lemon wedges.
Overview: Fishing for crappie in Wisconsin lakes and rivers is a rite of spring. Their sweet flaky meat, relatively large size, continuous open season, and willingness to hit a variety of bait and lures make them an angler favorite. The nickname “papermouth” refers to crappies’ delicate mouths, which can make them challenging to land if too much pressure is applied. Crappies like to congregate near structure, so they can avoid predator fish. Black crappie are more common than white crappie (Pomoxis annularis), and look similar except for having fewer dark fleckings. The average crappie caught in Wisconsin is between 8 and 10 inches in length. Young fish feed heavily on aquatic insects, whereas mature fish gravitate toward minnows.
Lifecycle: Crappie stage beyond the shallows after ice-out in 10 to 15 feet of water, as water temperatures inch into the lower 50s. During their spawn (around Mother’s Day in south and Memorial Day in the north), they move into water that’s about 2 to 4 feet deep, and will strike aggressively to defend their nests. When the spawn ends, crappie move to deeper water and frequent structure—weeds, brushpiles, fish, cribs, submerged piers. Fall finds them moving back into the shallows, feeding on schools of minnow. Crappie are also popular with ice anglers, who catch them in while fishing for bluegill.
Hotspots: Lake Wisconsin, various lakes of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, the Madison chain, Lake Wisconsin, and the Mississippi River system are known crappie producers in the southern part of the state. Lake Poygan, Lake Du Bay, Castle Rock/Petenwell lakes—as well as small numerous marl-bottomed glacial lakes--are standouts in the central region. In the northwest, try Namakagon Lake as wells as the Chippewa Flowage. In the northcentral and northeast, target the Willow and Turtle flowages as well Lake Noquebay.
Gear: Long, limber rods (even cane poles) as well as standard ultralight rod will work for crappie; longer rods are good in open waters and ultralights better in tight spaces. Wind reels with 4 or 6 pound test. Crappie are a great quarry to pursue using fly rods. Use a 4- or 5-weight fly rod between 7 and 8 feet in length, 4-weight floating line and a light leader.
Baits, lures, and flies: Live minnows are the old school standby for crappie fishing. A pencil bobber works well when fish are in shallow; switch to a slip bobber when the fish move deep. Small, rubber body jigs can be fished beneath a float and twitched back toward the angler; small spinners and plugs are also effective. White or silver streamers fished on a fly rod are a fun and effective way to catch crappie.
Rules and Regulations: Crappies are considered “panfish” in General Inland Wisconsin waters; panfish are defined as “crappie, bluegill/sunfish, and yellow perch.” The daily bag limit for panfish in most Wisconsin waters is 25 per day and 50 in possession. Consult the Guide to Wisconsin Hook and Line fishing Regulations “Special Regulations—Listed by County” and “Season, Length Limit, and Bag Limits Tables” for exceptions.
Food Value: Target fish 9 inches in length or longer as cleaning small fish is difficult. Clean fish on a flat, hard surface such as board or fish-cleaning table. Crappie and other panfish are cleaned in one of two ways—filleting and gutting. To fillet, begin by making a shallow cut behind the gills. Then turn the knife 90 degrees and run it along (but not through) the backbone. Continue cutting until the meat runs out at the tail. Cut the skin away from the meat and discard the skin. Repeat on the other side. To gut crappies, run the knife from the anus to the gills. The skin beneath the gills is very tough and requires a sharp knife to cut through. Remove entrails, making sure to clean the cavity well with running water. Scale fish. Cut off head and fins. Your fish is now ready to cook. One important note about crappie in warm weather: they need to be kept on ice because their meat quickly becomes soft. For information on fish advisories, visit https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/fishing/consumption/
Springtime crappie paired with traditional Mexican accompaniments makes for a taste treat that’s fun to share with friends. Beverages such as margaritas or Mexican beer make it even more festive. The Baja sauce and shredded cabbage pull the meal together.
- Baja sauce made from 1 cup of mayonnaise. 2 tablespoons lime juice, 1 ounce shredded Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, cumin and to taste
- 2 avocadoes made into guacamole or the same quantity in store-bought guacamole
- 2 cups pico de gallo salsa, home-made or store-bought
- 1 cup cabbage, shredded
- ½ cup cilantro, finely chopped
- 2 cups of Monterey jack cheese, shredded
- Breading of choice seasoned to taste with salt, black pepper, cumin, and chili powder
- 1 pound crappie (or other panfish) fillets
- Corn tortillas
- .Prepare Baja sauce.
- Have ready, guacamole, pico de gallo, cabbage, cilantro, and Monterrey jack cheese.
- Preheat oven to 300.
- Add seasoning to fish breading. Roll fillets in breading, shaking off excess.
- Fry fish until crisp, drain, and keep warm in oven.
- Heat tortillas.
- Serve fish with Baja sauce and accompaniments from step 2.
Overview: Yellow perch in Wisconsin are nearly as iconic as the Green Bay Packers and the brandy old fashioned. In fact, perch caught from Green Bay were the original fish used in Wisconsin fish fries. While overfishing and habitat change have decimated Green Bay’s yellow perch fishery, good populations persist throughout the state. Anglers can find these bright-colored, tasty fish in most lakes and large river systems. Perch are cooperative biters. Locating them—by means of electronics or concentrations of other anglers—is more important than fancy presentation.
Lifecycle: Perch are early spawners and can be found moving into the shallows just after ice out, especially on large river systems such as the Mississippi River. Perch remain in the shallows during springtime and are often caught incidentally while fishing for other panfish. As the weather warms, yellow perch (especially larger ones) seek out cooler, deeper water. Like many other Wisconsin fish, they move again into the shallows to feed in fall. In winter, they can be found at a variety of depths—and habitats: from main lake basins 50 feet or more deep to shallow weedbeds. Perch are bottom-feeders, consuming a variety of insect larvae, worms, and small baitfish.
Hotspots: Without a doubt, the Mississippi River is the standout perch fishery in the Badger state. From ice-out until mid-April, look for clusters of boats anchored in shallows bays and below in locations such as Lynxville, Ferryville, Desoto, Genoa, La Crosse, and Lake Pepin. After the spawning run has subsided, perch disperse. Perch are also found along the Lake Michigan shoreline from Door County to Kenosha. Geneva, Winnebago, Green, Petenwell, and Poygan lakes are good bets in the state’s midsection. Most lakes and flowages in northern Wisconsin boast good perch numbers; keep trying until you find a lake with good-sized perch.
Gear: Light is better than heavy as perch are notoriously nibblers; light to medium act spinning gear wound with 4 to 6 pound test will do the trick. Because perch are bottom feeders, they are seldom targeted by fly anglers.
Baits, lures, and flies: The vast majority of perch in Wisconsin are caught using worms fished on the bottom, beneath a sinker or split shot. Perch will readily take a minnow as well. Hellgrammites and leeches are good when available, as are spikes or mealworms also work. If the perch are biting, there’s generally a crowd fishing for them.
Rules and Regulations: Yellow perch are considered “panfish” in General Inland waters in Wisconsin; panfish are defined as “crappie, bluegill/sunfish, and yellow perch.” The daily bag limit for panfish in most Wisconsin waters is 25 per day and 50 in possession. Consult Guide to Wisconsin Hook and Line fishing Regulations “Special Regulations—Listed by County” and “Season, Length Limit, and Bag Limits Tables” for exceptions:
Food Value: As shown by their pride of place on restaurant menus, yellow perch make for delicious eating. They can be scaled and gutted or filleted according to your preference. Clean fish on a flat, hard surface such as board or fish-cleaning table. To fillet, begin by making a shallow cut behind the gills. Then turn the knife 90 degrees and run it along (but not through) the backbone. Continue cutting until meat runs out at tail. Repeat on the other side. Fillet off the skin, and remove any rib bones that may remain. To gut, run the knife from the anus to the bottom of the gills. Cutting through the bottom of the gill plate takes a sharp knife and care. Remove all entrails, making sure to clean the cavity well with running water. Scale, cut off head and fins with a kitchen shears. Your fish is now ready to cook. For information on fish advisories, visit https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/fishing/consumption/
Perch and beer make for a great combination. This light, raised batter is a good choice, but you can use any beer-batter or deep fry mix that you like. Perch—or other panfish--can be filleted or gutted. Keep the oil hot—just shy of smoking—and avoid crowding the pan.
- Beer batter made from 1 cup beer, 1 cup flour, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 beaten egg
- 1 pound crappie (or other panfish) fillets
- Peanut oil
- Paper grocery bag or paper towels for draining
- Baking sheet
- Lemon wedges
- Whisk together batter ingredients and let stand 15 minutes.
- Heat oil in skillet.
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
- Dip fish in batter and allow extra to run off; place fish pieces in hot oil a few at a time, being careful not to crowd skillet.
- Brown fillets on each side until crisp; drain on paper.
- Place cooked, drained fillets in the oven on a baking tray as you complete your frying.
- Serve fish hot with coleslaw, mustard potato salad, rye bread, and butter.
Overview: White bass are closely related to their saltwater cousins, striped bass—and have the same horizontal stripe markings—but are accustomed to freshwater habitat. They are common throughout southern and central Wisconsin. Given to congregating in large schools, white bass are a great quarry for beginning anglers. They bite aggressively and often a good “haul” can be taken. A typical white bass caught by Wisconsin anglers is between 10 and 12 inches. However, specimens of 2 pounds or more are caught. Worms and larvae comprise the bulk of a young fish’s diet, while mature white bass feed heavily on baitfish. The gold-hued yellow bass (Morone mississippiensis) can be found intermixed with white bass; yellow bass are considerably rarer, but the same regulations apply to both species.
Lifecycle: White bass, unlike panfish, prefer open water habitats, and do not so much look for structure in the way that bluegills and crappies do. They are spring spawners, and accessible to shoreline anglers during this time. They move into deeper water in the summer and are often caught by anglers trolling for other species. Fall finds them making a second run into shallow waters. In winter, they can be found at various depths.
Hotspots: The Wolf River in central Wisconsin is the state’s most famous white bass fishery, with anglers concentrating in Fremont and New London to fish the spring run. The Wisconsin, Mississippi, Chippewa, Fox, Rock, and Crawfish rivers also host good white bass populations. Among lakes, Winnebago, Castle Rock, and Petenwell are standouts. Also worthy of mention are the Madison chain and Lake Koshkonong. White bass are rarely encountered in northern Wisconsin.
Gear: Light to medium gear is recommended for white bass. They may be pursued on a fly rod during spring and fall runs when they frequent the shallows.
Baits, lures, and flies: Anglers targeting schooling fish use some kind of artificial lure to maximize their catch. Mepps, Rooster Tails, or small spoons are good choices. Minnows and worms are good white bass baits. Casting a streamer in the shallows is a good way to catch white bass when they’re close to shore.
Rules and Regulations: There is no daily bag limit or minimum size for white bass and yellow bass in General Inland Waters in Wisconsin. Consult the Guide to Wisconsin Hook and Line fishing Regulations “Special Regulations—Listed by County” and “Season, Length Limit, and Bag Limits Tables” for exceptions.
Food Value: White bass, like their cousins the striped bass of saltwater, have a unique sweet taste and make for fine eating. The caveat that is that white bass need to put on ice as soon as possible in warm weather. White bass are cleaned like any other fish, and can be gutted or filleted. Clean fish on a flat, hard surface such as board or fish-cleaning table. To fillet, begin by making a shallow cut behind the gills. Then turn the knife 90 degrees and run it along (but not through) the backbone. Continue cutting until meat runs out at tail. Fillet off the skin, and remove any rib bones that may remain. Repeat on the other side. To gut, run the knife from the anus to the bottom of the gills. Cutting through the bottom of the gill plate takes a sharp knife and care. Remove entrails, making sure to clean the cavity well with running water. Scale, cut off head and fins with a kitchen shears. Your fish is now ready to cook. For information on fish advisories, visit https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/fishing/consumption/
White Bass in Foil
Old Bay Seasoning and lemon are the two main flavors here. Foil locks in the juices and helps keep the fish from slipping through the grill.
- White bass fillets or whole, scaled, beheaded fish (allow 1/3 pound of fillets or two whole fish per person)
- Heavy duty Aluminum foil
- Olive oil
- Old Bay Seasoning (or substitute any seasoning mix containing salt and pepper)
- Heat grill or coals.
- Roll out a double layer of foil large enough to wrap the fish; coat inside of the second layer of foil with olive oil to keep fish from sticking.
- Place fish on foil; season all over with Old Bay .and lemon juice.
- Close foil packet.
- Place on hot grill and cook 5 minutes for fillets, 10 minutes for whole fish. Flip. Cook the same.amount on the other side.
- Open foil. Debone whole fish by pull the two sides away from the backbone.
- Serve with cooked greens and cornbread.
Overview: Channel catfish are widely distributed in Wisconsin, particularly in the state’s river systems, and are easily accessible to anglers because of their tendency to frequent dams and other near-shore structure. They make for good eating when prepared properly, and are surprisingly good fighters. Their sleek bodies and iron-gray color give them a prehistoric grace. Their whiskers and keen sense of smell help them to find food.
Lifecycle: From the angler’s point of view, fishing for catfish is a late spring and summer affair, as these fish are mostly dormant during cold weather. They will eat live baits such as minnows and worms and occasionally will surprise anglers by taking a deep-fished lure. They are spurred on to feed after a rain and bite well on rising water levels. While the majority of other Wisconsin fish spawn in spring, channel catfish spawn in summer when water temperatures near 80 degrees. Look for these opportunistic feeders in channels, below spillways, and anywhere there is a good flow of water.
Hotspots: In a state so rich in rivers, it can be difficult to single out specific hotspots. Suffice it to say all river systems in the south and central part of the state hold channel catfish. Try soaking a nightcrawler on the bottom beneath a dam and you will soon find out if there are channel catfish present. Standout rivers for channel cats are the Fox, Rock, Crawfish, Beaver Dam, and Yahara in the south and east. Try the Mississippi, lower Kickapoo, Black, La Crosse, Yellow, Chippewa, and St. Croix in central and western. They are found throughout the entire Wisconsin River.
Gear: Channel catfish can easily top 10 pounds and live in areas where there are many snags. Savvy anglers go with medium or heavy gear and line strengths of 8 pounds or more. An exception to this is fishing for “fiddlers,” or channel catfish smaller than 16 inches, which peck or fiddle with your bait. For them, use light or ultralight gear. Fly fishing for catfish is not practical because they live in deep water.
Baits, lures, and flies: The beauty of catfishing lies in its simplicity. Nothing more than an old rod, suitable weight, and size 2 is needed. Nightctrawlers, a hunk of gardens worms and strips of dead baitfish all work well. Because channel catfish—as well as bullheads and flathead catfish—are guided by their sense of smell, so-called stinknbaits are often used. These can be purchased commercially or made from pungent ingredients like chicken liver or spoiled hotdogs.
Rules and Regulations: Liberal regulations govern the harvest of channel catfish in Wisconsin. In General Inland Waters, there is no size or bag limit on channel and flathead catfish. Consult the Guide to Wisconsin Hook and Line fishing Regulations contains “Special Regulations—Listed by County” and “Season, Length Limit, and Bag Limits Tables” for exceptions.
Food Value: “Fiddlers,” or channel catfish in the 12 to 16 range, are prime eating. There is no fat layer to trim off and the meat that is there is sweet and firm. Fish 20 inches are larger are likely to have a yellow stripe of fat close to the skin. It is essential to trim this away as it carries a strong and disagreeable flavor. Soaking catfish in milk before cooking also gets rid of strong flavors. Cleaning catfish—whether gutting smaller fish or filleting larger fish—requires a sturdy set of pliers and a sharp knife. Make a light starter cut going around the fish’s head and down its belly. Hold—or nail—the catfish—down on a board with one hand and grab bold of the skin with pliers held in the other. The skin will pull of like a sock. Simply gut smaller fish and fillet larger ones. Avoid catfish larger than 2 feet long, as they are likely to hold contaminants. For information on fish advisories, visit https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/fishing/consumption/
This recipe recalls these wonderful sandwiches I’ve enjoyed on visits to New Orleans. Laissez les bon temps rouler!
- 1 cup of mayonnaise (mixed with 1 tablespoon of hot sauce and one clove chopped garlic), chilled
- Washed and trimmed lettuce leaves
- Sliced tomato
- Sliced onions (optional)
- French bread or crusty sub rolls and butter
- 1 pound of catfish fillets seasoned with Cajun or Creole seasoning
- 1 beaten egg
- 1 ½ cups flour seasoned to taste with Cajun or Creole seasoning
- Peanut oil for frying
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut rolls or French bread lengthwise.
- Have lettuce, tomato, and optional onion on platter. Have mayonnaise sauce chilled and ready.
- Heat oil in a skillet
- Dip fillets in egg and let excess drip off; roll in flour.
- Deep fry a few fillets at a time in the hot oil. Drain and keep warm in the oven.
- When you are 10 minutes away from finishing your frying, put the bread in the oven to toast. Remove and butter.
- To make a sandwich, spread the mayonnaise sauce over the bread; add a fish fillet. Top with lettuce, tomato, and if desired onion.
- Enjoy with cold beer and collard greens or spinach.
Overview: Walleye have long been a prized fish resource in Wisconsin by Native people and European settlers alike. Recently, climate change has had an impact on walleye populations, with warm-water-thriving largemouth bass edging out walleye in some waters. Still, catchable populations of walleye exist in many Northern and Central Wisconsin lakes, thanks to stocking efforts and natural reproduction. Wisconsin’s large river systems also support walleye populations. Large glassy eyes, sandy to gray coloring, prominent dorsal fins, and forked tails characterize this member of the perch-pike family. The average walleye caught by Wisconsin anglers is between 14 and 16 inches long.
Lifecycle: As the ice melts on the state’s larger river systems, walleye and their smaller cousin, sauger (Sander Canadensis), congregate around current breaks and dams to spawn. These fish disperse as spawning is completed and water temperatures warm. Similarly, on inland lakes, walleye are often moving into deeper water haunts by Memorial Day. On overcast days and during low-light hours, they venture into the shallows to feed, but are otherwise deepwater denizens. When days begin to shorten in fall, walleyes return to the shallows and feed heavily on forage fish. In winter, they are found throughout the water column.
Hotspots: Chief among Wisconsin walleye waters, the Mississippi River’s is comprised of a system of locks, wingdams, rockplies, and islands, and these make for ideal walleye habitat. Fishing barges at Alma, Genoa, and Lynxville provide anglers without boats a chance to angle for walleye and sauger for a modest fee. Lock and dams on the Mississippi River managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers allow walk-in angler access in select areas. A host of other river systems and associated flowages are worthy of mention, including the St. Croix, Chippewa, Wolf, Wisconsin, Fox, and Rock. A short list of other well-known walleye waters includes Beaver Dam Lake, Puckaway Lake, Lake Winnebago, Trout Lake, numerous lakes in the Woodruff-Minocqua area, and Green Bay. Motor trolling, where legal, is an effective way to catch walleye.
Gear: Medium spinning gear is typical for walleye fishing, with rods of 6 to 8 feet in length and reels wound with 6 to 10 pound test. Since walleye and sauger are relatively light biters, it pays to have a rod that is somewhat limber. Walleye are typically not pursued by fly fishers.
Baits, lures, and flies: Live minnows, night crawlers, and leeches lead the list of natural bait. Depending on current and depth, these may be fished beneath a simple float, slip bobber, or with a sinker. Some anglers prefer to fish bait on jigs; others use a plain size 4 hook. A variety of plugs, crankbaits, spinners, and spinnerbaits are also used for walleye. Check with local bait shops and ask what they recommend. Supporting these institutions also helps local economies.
Rules and Regulations: The daily bag limit for walleye in most General Inland Waters is 5 fish with minimum length of 15 inches. In locations within 22,000 miles of Ceded Territory in Northern Wisconsin where tribal spearing occurs, the daily bag limit is 3; fish must be between 15 and 20 inches, except that one fish over 24 may be kept. The season runs from the first Saturday in May through the first Saturday in March the following year. Consult “Special Regulations—Listed by County” and “Season, Length Limit, and Bag Limits Tables” in the Guide to Wisconsin Hook and Line Fishing Regulations for details and exceptions.
Food Value: Walleye has a sweet, mild taste and flakey texture making it a favorite food fish. It takes well to a variety of preparations. Walleye and sauger are typically filleted and then skinned. To fillet, place fish on a flat surface and make a shallow incision behind the gill. Cut to—but not through—the bone. Turn the knife 90 degrees and run it from gill to tail. You should hear it lightly clicking along the bones. Leave fillet attached and flip the fish over; repeat and remove both fillets. Hold the fillet down with your fingernail at the narrow end of the fillet. Insert the knife between the meat and skin; work toward the wide end of the fillet until you reach the end. Repeat. Trim off rib bones if necessary. For information on fish advisories, visit https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/fishing/consumption/
Classic Baked Walleye
A staple on supper club menus, baked walleye is a classic Wisconsin dish. Because walleye has such good natural flavor and texture, there is no need to enhance it. At the most, a light coating of buttered bread crumbs may be added.
- 1 pound of walleye fillets
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 4 tablespoons melted butter
- 2 ounces of bread crumbs that have been sautéed in butter (optional)
- Lemon wedges
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Season fish liberally with salt, pepper, and paprika.
- Brush with melted butter; place in an oiled baking dish and top with bread crumbs if desired.
- Bake until fish just begins to flake at the thickest point.
- Serve with rice pilaf and fresh steamed asparagus. A dry, chilled white wine or crisp Pilsner beer will round out this fine meal.
Overview: Where there are Wisconsin lakes with rocky-bottom drop-offs—and rivers with long pebbly glides—there will be smallmouth bass. Smallmouth bass prefer cool and cold waters in contrast to largemouth bass, which thrive in warm water. Smallmouth bass can be distinguished from largemouth bass because their jaw never extends beyond the end of their eye, whereas the jaw on largemouths always does. Red eyes, an olive or bronze color, and vertical marking characterize this hard-fighting fish. Smallmouths have an amazing ability to take to air one minute and bulldog on the bottom the next, making them an exciting quarry to pursue. Forage fish, crayfish, leeches and mayflies make up its diet. The average Wisconsin smallmouth is between 12 and 15 inches. However, fish in excess of 5 pounds can be found in big water locales like Green Bay and Chequamegon Bay.
Lifecycle: Smallmouth bass spawn in May in southern regions and June in the North. After the spawn, smallmouths can be found seeking out the cool of deeper and cooler; their habitat often overlaps with walleye on Northern lakes. They will also, at times, occupy the lower ends of trout streams. In lakes, fall finds them making a second run into shallow waters to stock up for winter. More so than the largemouth, they nearly dormant in winter and are seldom harvested by ice anglers.
Hotspots: A number of the state’s river systems harbor strong populations of smallmouth bass including the entire Wisconsin River, the Menominee and Fox in the Northeast, and the Mississippi, Red Cedar, and St. Croix, in the west. The Grant and Galena rivers in far southwest Wisconsin are good small waters. Rocky areas of Green Bay, Door County and Chequamegon Bay host smallmouth fisheries that are second to none. Strong smallmouth lakes from south to north are Geneva Lake, Lake Mendota, Green Lake, Balsam Lake, Lake Namakagon, the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage and Lake Vieux Dessert.
Gear: Use ultralight to medium gear when targeting smallmouths, bearing in mind that bigger water calls for bigger, heavier gear; wind reels with 4 to 8 pound test. Smallmouth are fun to pursue on a fly rod. A 4-weight on small water or something as heavy as an 8 or 9 weight on big water will do the trick.
Baits, lures, and flies: Spinners, plugs, jigs, and spinner baits fished along rocky drop-offs and riffles are a great way to catch smallmouths. Minnows or nightcrawlers fished in these same locations—beneath a slip bobber or with a simple split shot—are also effective. In the fly department, try Dahlberg Divers, Mickey Finns, Muddler Minnows, or Woolly Buggers.
Rules and Regulations: Rules and Regulations: For bass management purposes, Wisconsin is divided into Northern and Southern zones via Highway 64 and Highway 27/77. Smallmouth and largemouth bass harvest in the Southern zone runs from the first Saturday in May through the first Saturday in March of the following year: Five smallmouth or largemouth bass in combination may be kept and they must be at least 14 inches. All other times are catch and release. Largemouth bass harvest in the Northern Zone, it runs from the first Saturday in May through the first Saturday the following March: Five largemouth bass may be kept and they must be at least 14 inches. All other times are catch and release. Smallmouth bass harvest in the Northern Zone: Five largemouth or smallmouth bass in combination may be kept and they must be at least 14 inches. All other times are catch and release. Consult the Guide to Wisconsin Hook and Line fishing Regulations contains “Special Regulations—Listed by County” and “Season, Length Limit, and Bag Limits Tables” for exceptions.
Food Value: Smallmouth bass have firm, white flesh similar in taste to walleye, but with a different texture. Because of their slow growth rates, anglers should avoid consistently filling their limit for the freezer. However, an occasional fish or two will do no harm. To fillet, place fish on a flat surface and make a shallow incision behind the gill. Cut to—but not through—the bone. Turn the knife 90 degrees and run it from gill to tail. You should hear it lightly clicking along the bones. Leave fillet attached and flip the fish over; repeat and remove both fillets. Hold the fillet down with your fingernail at the narrow end of the fillet. Insert the knife between the meat and skin; work toward the wide end of the fillet until you reach the end. Repeat. Trim off rib bones if necessary. For information on fish advisories, visit https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/fishing/consumption/
Smallmouth Bass Almandine
The delicate flavor of smallmouth bass from cool, clean water is kicked up a notch with a quick browning in butter and a topping of crisp almonds and a rich pan sauce.
- 1 pound of smallmouth bass fillets
- Salt and pepper
- 1 cup flour
- 4 tablespoons of butter or more as needed
- Lemon juice
- 1/2 cup of blanched almonds
- Season fish with salt and pepper and dredge in flour, shaking off excess.
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
- Heat skillet on stovetop and melt butter. Brown fillets quickly on both sides until just done. Remove to oven.
- Sauté the almonds in remaining pan drippings or add more as needed. When the almonds are just toasted, remove pan from the heat. Pour almonds and pan dripping over fish.
- Season liberally with lemon juice.
- Serve with asparagus, rice pilaf, and a chilled rosé.
Overview: Largemouth bass are widely distributed throughout Wisconsin, and are found from the farm ponds of the south to the wilderness lakes of the far north. They thrive in weedy, warmwater habitats, and are often found among lilly pads, bulrushes, and stumps. Interestingly, they will also do well in the cooler waters of quarries and springfed lakes. Aggressive and omnivorous, they will eat anything from insects to baitfish to frogs, and will even eat the occasional duckling or mouse. The name “largemouth” refers to their prominent jaws, which extend beyond the end of their eyes. Unlike smallmouth bass, they lack distinct vertical marking along their sides. Color ranges from blue-green to olive or brown. Largemouth bass vary greatly in size. In a lake with stunted fish, an angler may rarely see specimens more than a foot long. On waters with a healthy population, specimens 18 to 20 inches are common. Contrary to popular opinion, largemouth bass can be very good to eat. Target younger fish and those taken from cool water.
Lifecycle: Largemouth bass spawn about the same time as bluegills, and their nests can be found among shoreline cover like logs, stumps, and lilly pads. They bite aggressively as they are defending their nests during this time. After the spawn, they will remain in shallow water habitats as long as there is sufficient cover, and may remain in these locations all year. In deeper lakes, they are mobile, frequenting drop-offs near weed beds. Ice anglers will occasionally catch these voracious feeders while pursuing walleye or northern pike.
Hotspots: Weedy lakes and river backwaters are the largemouth’s preferred habitat. Various Kettle Moraine lakes, Rock Lake, and the Madison chain are standouts in southern Wisconsin. Cranberry flowages and glacial lakes—as well as Puckaway and Buffalo lakes—lead the pack in the central part of state. Largemouths have become more common in the north and are found in many of the Northern American Highland-American Legion State Forest and in the pothole lakes of the northwest.
Gear: Backbone is a good feature in bass rod because you will be fishing heavy cover with lots of snags. Wind reels with line from 6 to 10 pound test.
Baits, lures, and flies: One of the most enjoyable ways to fish bass is sight-fishing with a surface plug in summer. Look for the ripples of feeding fish and cast a surface plug to them. Strikes may be a dainty dimple or erupting boil. Casting accurately to rises is more important than selecting a specific lure. Plastic worms, Johnson Silver Minnows, or any number of surface plugs will do the trick. Largemouths will also readily take a worm, fished on a jig head or plain hook; minnows and shiners are also effective. Fly anglers like to toss cork or balsam poppers, using floating lines and stout rods from size 6 to size 8.
Rules and Regulations: For bass management purposes, Wisconsin is divided into Northern and Southern zones via Highway 64 and Highway 27/77. Smallmouth and largemouth bass harvest in the Southern zone runs from the first Saturday in May through the first Saturday in March of the following year: Five smallmouth or largemouth bass in combination may be kept and they must be at least 14 inches. All other times are catch and release. Largemouth bass harvest in the Northern Zone runs from the first Saturday in May through the first Saturday the following March: Five largemouth bass may be kept and they must be at least 14 inches. All other times are catch and release. Smallmouth bass harvest in the Northern Zone: Five largemouth or smallmouth bass in combination may be kept and they must be at least 14 inches. All other times are catch and release. Consult the Guide to Wisconsin Hook and Line fishing Regulations contains “Special Regulations—Listed by County” and “Season, Length Limit, and Bag Limits Tables” for exceptions.
Food Value: Largemouth bass can make for good eating. They should be kept alive or put on ice immediately. Smaller fish are better than larger fish and coolwater fish are better than those taken from warm waters. Large fillets should be cut into smaller pieces. For information on fish advisories, visit https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/fishing/consumption/
There’s no reason to let the East Coast control the market on chowder. Use this delicious recipe and take pride in your 15,000 lakes!
- 4 tablespoons butter or bacon fat
- 1 large onion and one bunch of green onions, chopped
- 2 ribs of celery, chopped
- 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
- 2 Yukon gold potatoes, chopped with skin on
- 4 ounces flour
- 2 quarts fish or chicken stock, kept hot
- Salt, pepper, and herbs de Provence to taste; if you don’t have herbs de Provence, use thyme or rosemary
- 1 can of evaporated milk or 12 ounces half-and-half
- 1 pound of largemouth bass fillets
- In the bottom of a heavy kettle, melt the butter or bacon fat; keep at a medium heat.
- Brown the vegetables until the onions are clear and limp; sprinkle flour over them and briefly toast.
- Add hot stock and cook until potatoes are fork-tender
- Season to taste with salt, black pepper, and herbs be Provence.
- Lower heat to low and add milk or cream being careful not to boil; mix well.
- Cook fish fork- tender.
- Serve with crusty French bread and a green salad.
Overview: Wisconsin’s numerous lakes and rivers hold good populations of northern pike, from the Illinois border up to Lake Superior and from the Mississippi River to the bays of Door County. This toothy predator has the nickname waterwolf for good reason: it’s equally at home visiting chaos upon a school of baitfish, engulfing a duckling, or taking hold of bluegill that’s being reeled in by an unsuspecting angler. Northern pike, however, often find themselves hoisted by their own petard. Their voracious appetites can cause them to be duped easily by anglers. The typical northern pike caught by Wisconsin anglers is between 20 and 30 inches, and anything over 36 inches is considered a trophy. A dark green background with a “chain mail” pattern of spots sets northern pike apart from others in the pike family, such as muskellunge and tiger muskellunge. The latter fish are not commonly harvested for food because they scarce and slow growing.
Lifecycle: Northern pike can be found prowling the shallows just after ice seeking spawning sites. After their spawn, which is typically March or April, northerns remain in shallow locations until they replenish themselves. As a rule, they move to deeper, cooler water during summer. Locating spring seeps—or cool water inlets—is a good technique for finding pike in summer. Northern pike typically make fall forays into the shallows. In winter, they can be found at a variety of depths. Ice-caught pike are keenly sought after by Wisconsin anglers.
Hotspots: Narrowing down pike hotspots is challenging because there is so much pike habitat in the state. Backwaters of the Mississippi are a known producers, as are those of Chippewa, Wisconsin, Black, and Wolf rivers. A shortlist of pike hotspots is Geneva Lake in far southern Wisconsin; cranberry bogs, flowages, and glacial lakes in the central region; and nearly any lake with good weed cover in the north. Northern pike are so common in some northern lakes, that they become stunted. These “hammerhandle” northerns are good for pickling.
Gear: Stout is the way to go when pursuing northern pike. A medium-weight rod and line of at least 10-pound test is a good rule of thumb. When targeting exclusively pike, use a wire or heavy monofilament leader (25 pounds or stronger). Fly anglers typically use something with equivalent backbone, such as an 8-weight rod and heavy leaders.
Baits and lures: Given the omnivorous tendencies of northern pike, this fish can be pursued using a variety of artificial and natural baits. Larger plugs and spinner baits top the list followed by Johnson Silver Minnows (a minnow imitation with a guard on the hook meant to keep weeds from catching on it) and Daredevles in red and white patterns. Live shiners, suckers, and nightcrawlers top the list when it comes to natural bait.
Rules and Regulations: For regulatory purposes, Wisconsin is divided by Highway 10 into Northern and Southern zone. Above Highway 10 is the Northern Zone and below Highway 10 is the Southern Zone. In the Northern Zone, where northern pike are more numerous, the limit is 5 daily with no minimum size. In the Southern Zone, the daily limit is 2 and the minimum size is 26 inches. However, the Guide to Wisconsin Hook and Line fishing Regulations contains “Special Regulations—Listed by County” and “Season, Length Limit, and Bag Limits Tables” for exceptions.
Food Value: Northern pike have dense, firm meat that has a sweet, mild flavor. They are prized tablefare in Europe and many Canadian provinces. However Y bones present in northern pike make them offputting to some Americans. There are two solutions of dealing with Y bones. One is pickle them, removing the skin and cutting the meat bones and all into chunks. Another is to learn the 5-fillet method. To do this, you can search the topic or Google or You tube or use the guidance that follows. 1) Make a shallow cut behind the head; turn the knife horizontally and continue cutting until you reach the dorsal fin. Remove this piece of meat; take out the Y bones in it by making a shallow trench along the flesh side of the fillet and removing this strip of bone. 2) Fillet off the meat that lies between the gills and dorsal fin, working around the rib bones. 3) Moving down the fish’s body, fillet off the meat between the dorsal fin and the tail on both sides of the fish. 4) Remove skin from fillets. 5) You should now have 5 boneless fillets. For information on fish advisories, visit https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/fishing/consumption/
Pickled Northern Pike with Dill
Serve this unique dish with crackers as an appetizer or part of a tailgate. It’s a welcome, old school addition to deer camp or a Packer’s party. Pickling fish is a tradition that Slavs, Germans, and Scandinavians brought with them to Wisconsin from the Old Country.
- 1 pound of pike meat, skin trimmed (it is OK is bones remain; they will dissolve in the picking process)
- 1 quart of water with 1 cup pickling salt dissolved into it
- 4 cups white vinegar
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 2 tablespoons salt
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon pickling spices
- One 1-quart, sterilized Mason jar
- 1 onion sliced
- 1 bunch fresh dill
- 2 cloves of garlic chopped
- Freeze fish for at least 48 hours at 0 degrees or colder; this will kill any parasites that may be in the fish. Thaw fish completely.
- Soak fish in water and salt placing them in a nonreactive container such as stainless steel or stoneware; cover and refrigerate for 48 hours. Drain cold water
- Soak fish and in two cups of vinegar; cover, and refrigerate for 24 hours. Drain
- Make brine by heating the remaining two cups vinegar and mixing all of the remaining ingredients except for the dill, onion, and garlic. Cool to room temperature.
- In sterilized Mason jar or jars, layer onion, dill, fish. Repeat until jar is near full. Add garlic
- Fill jar or jars with enough of the brine to cover fish and vegetables. Chill in the refrigerator for several days. Pickled fish lasts for at least one month
- Serve with crackers or on squares of rye bread.
TROUT FISHING: INLAND STREAMS
BROOK TROUT Salvelinus fontinalis
BROWN TROUT Salmo trutta
RAINBOW TROUT Salmo oncorhynchus mykiss
Overview: With more than 13,000 of miles of coldwater streams to explore and three species to target, Wisconsin trout anglers live in something of a salmonid Shangrila. There’s also a variety of habitat types, beginning with the big, brawling waters of in the North; graduating to gin-clear glides in the Central Sands; and culminating in the coulees counties of Crawford, Vernon, and La Crosse. While natural reproduction is common among stream trout in the Badger state, only brook trout are native; brown and rainbow trout have been introduced. A handful of spring ponds in the Lincoln and Langlade counties—and a smattering of lakes throughout the state—are exceptions to the rule that most trout fishing in Wisconsin is done on moving water. Most stream trout caught in Wisconsin are between 8 and 12 inches. Fish over 20 inches are caught by anglers every year, often fishing the lower ends of trout streams. Rainbow and brown trout have darker spots against a lighter background. Rainbow trout are distinguished by a horizontal red stripe. Dominant colors on brown trout range from silver to yellowish-brown. Brook trout have a darker background and lighter spots; the background may vary from light green to almost black.
Note: This information sheet is solely for inland trout fishing, and not for the Great Lakes or their tributaries. Separate techniques and regulations apply to these fisheries.
Lifecycle: Fall-spawning brown and brook trout vastly outnumber spring-spawning rainbow trout in the Badger state making September and early October excellent time to fish. Winter finds trout in a less active mode, though they will rise to occasional insect hatches and target high-calorie foods such as crawfish and forage fish. As fish emerge from winter doldrums and insect hatches are more common, they feed heavily during these times, especially in April and May. Summer finds trout feeding on select insect hatches early and late in the day; rising water temperatures mean slowed activity. Because trout live in clear water, they are skittish and frequent shade and structure (logjams, undercut banks, large rocks) to avoid predators. They are also more active in low light and cloudy weather. Aquatic insects, worms, forage fish, and crawfish make up the bulk of a trout’s diet.
Hotspots: Trout streams in Wisconsin are so numerous that entire guidebooks are written about them. However, clusters of streams exist in all corners of the state except the Southeast. The Rush, Kinnickinnic, and Namekagon and Bois Brule are standouts in the Northwest. Try Timber Coulee, the West Fork of the Kickapoo, the Big Green, Blue and Castle Rock in the Southwest. It’s worth noting that these streams are fed by springs and maintain consistent food base and temperatures year-round making them standouts in a state known for trout fishing. The cool, clear streams of Central Wisconsin, fed by aquifers underlying the region’s sandy soils, also support a robust fishery. Try the Mecan, White, and Tomorrow rivers and their tributaries. The Prairie River near Wausau and the Wolf top the list in Northcentral Wisconsin. The Pike, Pine, Popple, and Boundary Brule top the list in Northeast Wisconsin. Target headwaters and feeder creeks if fishing these rivers in summer.
Gear: Trout are among the wariest of gamefish, making light line and a careful approach essential. Use ultralight rods between 5 and 6 feet in length and reels wound with 4 to 6 pound test. Fly anglers typically fish a 4 weight on smaller water and graduate to heavier rods and reels on larger waters of the North. A creel or burlap sack is useful if you plan to keep fish. A landing net is handy if you plan to release fish.
Baits, lures, and flies: Small spinners, spoons, jigs, and plugs top the list for artificial lures. When in doubt, go smaller rather than larger. Panther Martin, Rooster Tail, Mepps, and Little Cleo are good brand names. However, success depends equally as much on careful presentation—and keeping one’s shadow off the water—as it does on the specific color or brand of lure used. The best strategy for fly fishing is to observe the insects seen around the stream—and imitate these with a fly. Caddis, midge, mayflies, and stoneflies are all part of a trout diet during different times of year. Streamers such as Woolly Buggers and Muddler Minnows—which mimic leeches, minnows, and crawfish—are excellent choice for larger fish just as Pink Squirrels and Scuds are go-to nymphs.
Additional Information: A variety of fly shops and outfitters around the state can provide information and guide service. A short list includes Anglers All in Ashland, Sherer’s We Tie It in Boulder Junction, Tightlines Fly Shop in De Pere, Driftless Angler in Viroqua, Fontana in Madison, The Fly Fishers in Milwaukee, and Cabela’s and Orvis locations throughout the state. WIflyfisher.com in an excellent online resource.
Rules and Regulations: Harvesting trout is permitted only during the season that runs from the first Saturday in May through October 15; trout may be kept, according to Wisconsin Trout Regulations. Streams are color coded green, yellow, and red. On green streams, 5 trout may be kept daily with no minimum length, gear or species restrictions. On yellow streams, 3 trout may be kept daily with a minimum length of 8 inches, no gear of species restrictions. On red streams, anglers should consult the specific stream, listed by county in the Wisconsin Trout Regulations. The total daily bag limit is 5 trout and possession limit is 10. A catch-and-release season runs from January 1 through the Friday before the first Saturday in May; some waters are not included in this season. See Wisconsin Trout Regulations for details.
Food Value: Trout have long been sought by anglers because of their delicate-tasting meat, which is often pink or red. They take to a variety of preparations including pan frying, poaching, and grilling. Trout are cleaned in the same way that other fish are cleaned: they can be gutted or filleted. Generally smaller trout are gutted are larger ones are filleted. To gut, make an incision from the anus to the bottom of the gills. Remove all entrails and gill material. Rinse clean. To fillet, place on a flat surface and make a shallow cut behind the gill on one side of the fish. Turn the knife 90 degrees and cut along the backbone until you reach the tail. Repeat on other side. Trout do not to be scaled. For information on fish advisories, visit https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/fishing/consumption/
This tangy marinade makes the flavor of trout pop. Cooking the fish whole means nothing goes to waste, including the crunchy skin. Bones will separate easily from the meat once the fish is cooked.
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 2 ounces peanut oil
- 1 tablespoon lemon or more to taste
- Fresh ground black pepper
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- Grated ginger and chili peppers (optional)
- 4 trout, gutted with heads left on
- Combine first 5 ingredients and whisk together. Add in optional chili pepper and ginger if you like spicy food.
- Place trout in a nonreactive bowl or dish, such as stoneware, glass or stainless steel; pour marinade over fish. Cover and refrigerate 2 to 4 hours.
- Scrape grill clean; spray with cooking oil. Light coals or gas grill and allow get to about 400 degrees; or until you can no longer comfortably hold your hand close to the fire.
- Remove fish from marinade and pat dry with paper towels.
- Grill 5 minutes on one side. Flip and cook another 5 minutes. If in doubt, wait for fish to break at thickest point.
- Serve with spicy stir-fried broccoli and white or brown rice.
- Morel Mushrooms
- Wild Asparagus
Overview: Morel mushrooms are often pursued throughout Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest with a devotion that approaches religious zeal. It’s not uncommon to see one of these disciples emerge from the spring woods exhausted and dry-mouthed, hands and wrists thorn-scratched—but smiling ear-to-ear—and carrying a mesh bag dimpled with their precious bounty. Fortunately, mushrooming doesn’t have to be this intense, and foragers should chose a pace that suits them. In fact, most Wisconsin foragers don’t need to travel far from home to practice their craft; there are ample public lands throughout the state. Options include DNR wildlife areas, federal and state forests, state parks, and county or municipal lands open to foraging. Permission must be secured from landowners, of course, before foraging on their property.
Several species of morels grow in Wisconsin; all are edible and excellent. They are gray, buff, light brown, or yellow in color and range in size from 1 to 6 inches long. They have a conical cap with a spongy, pitted texture, a smooth stem, and a hollow center. As with all wild edibles, foragers must be certain of their harvest before eating it (see checklist below). Avoid eating any wild mushroom raw. A small number of people are allergic to morels. Limit first-time meals to a small sample and avoid consumption of alcoholic beverages as this can intensify the reaction.
Lifecycle: Morel mushrooms emerge in springtime, between the end of April and early June in Wisconsin. Mother’s Day in central and southern locations and Memorial Day in the far north are good dates to keep in mind. Emergence occurs when soil temperatures reach the low 50s; inserting a portable thermometer into the ground allows you to determine this. A host of other indicators can also help foragers predict emergence times. These include flowering of lilac and fruit trees and oak leaves growing
to the size of a squirrel’s ear. The presence of the following spring ephemerals also lets foragers know they are in the right environment: bloodroot, mayapple, bedstraw, and wild geranium. Daytime temperatures notching the 70 degree mark—and night-time lows in the 50s—also indicate that morel time may be at hand; humidity and light rain help things along . Emergence begins in the warmest areas, such as south-facing slopes, and spreads to cooler and north exposures as those soils warm. Perhaps the single most important ingredient in morel mushroom habitat is the presence of dead or dying elm trees. Learn this silhouette and begin to look around and downslope. Morels also emerge around dead or dying apple, tulip poplars, oak, cherry, aspen, and cottonwood trees
Hotspots: That the town of Muscoda hosts a morel mushroom festival every year is worth noting. The location of this small hamlet—in the hilly Driftless area and along with Wisconsin River—should be a clue to savvy ‘shroomers. The Lower Wisconsin State Riverway—stretching from Sauk City to Prairie du Chien –is prime moreling terrain and under public ownership. The Kickapoo Reserve, running along that river between Rockton and La Farge, is another good public land venue. State parks and public hunting grounds in the hills adjacent to the Mississippi River are equally productive. While southwestern Wisconsin may be the state’s morel epicenter, there are plenty of other places to look statewide. In southeast Wisconsin, try the various units of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. The moist woodlands and derelict orchards of Door County produce their fair share of this delicacy. Large tracts of state, county, and federal lands in central and northern Wisconsin offer plenty of elbow room for foragers living those locations.
Gear: A pocketknife, a mesh bag, and sturdy shoes are about all that’s required to go mushroom picking. Cut mushroom parallel with the ground using the knife; this allows the base of the mushroom to remain in the ground and refruit. Mesh bags allow mushrooms to breathe and allow spores to drop on the ground as you walk. Pack a small daypack for longer excursions. Drinking water, snacks, insect repellent, a baseball cap, and suntan lotion may be stored here.
Identifying characteristics: The mushroom in question must have ALL of these characteristics
Season: Morel mushrooms emerge between late April and early June in Wisconsin locales. If you morel-like mushroom growing outside this timeframe, do not harvest it.
Habitat: Morel mushrooms grow on the ground, usually in the leaf litter and often at the base of trees. If the mushroom in question is growing from a host piece of wood, it is not a morel, and you should not harvest it.
Cap: The cap on a morel mushroom is shaped like a cone and the exterior is pitted like a sponge. Overall color is gray to buff to yellow.
Stem: The stem of a morel mushroom is hollow. When cut it in half lengthwise, morel mushrooms should appear hollow; no cottony or other material should bepresent inside. The stem connects directly with the cap.
Size: The vast majority of morels are between 2 and 6 inches long. On the extremes of the season, the first morels to emerge are gray in color and are often an inch or less in size; a yellow or brown morel found at the end of the season may be 10 inches tall and as wide around as a beer can.
Food Value: Morel mushrooms are considered by many to be the king of mushrooms, and can sell for $50 a pound or more at farmer’s markets or natural food stores. The fact that they have never been grown commercially on a large scale—and that they are one of the first wild edibles to emerge in spring—only adds to their allure. The rich, loamy taste of morels goes well with a variety of dishes including eggs, poultry, and game meats. They pair well with onions, garlic, shallots, and ramps. Morels are delicious when simply sautéed in butter and equally good when paired with game or poultry. They may be dried in a food dehydrator, on a cookie sheet in a low-temperature oven, or on a string in a warm place with good air circulation. When rehydrated, their stock produces a robust flavored “tea” that can be used in soups, stews, or gravies. To clean morel mushrooms, cut them in half lengthwise and make sure they are hollow. Discard any that are not hollow. Soak mushrooms in salt water for an hour to draw out dirt and insects. Drain and dry well on paper or dish towels before using.
Morel Mushrooms Scramble
Spend the money on good-quality eggs, cream, and butter. The darker flavor of the morels is absorbed by the plain and wholesome dairy products.
- 4 tablespoons butter or more as needed
- A handful of chopped ramps or scallions, finely chopped
- ¼ pound of morel mushrooms, chopped
- Sea salt
- Fresh ground black pepper
- 6 large eggs (the more local, the better), beaten
- 2 ounces Organic Valley heavy cream
- Heat a large skillet on the stovetop and melt the butter.
- Sauté the ramps or scallions along with the mushrooms; add salt and pepper. Cook until the mushrooms begin to shrink. If there’s not enough butter left in the pan to cook the eggs, melt more butter or add olive oil.
- Add the heavy cream to the eggs and mix well.
- Pour the eggs into the skillet and turn down heat. Cook on low until eggs have just set.
- Serve immediately with crusty bread, fresh steamed greens or asparagus, and white wine.
Overview: Native to the Mediterranean and Middle East, asparagus is a perennial vegetable commonly grown in the US. Wild asparagus is not a separate strain, but a “volunteer” plant, and likely an “escapee” from a nearby farm or garden. Favored locations are ditches, roadsides, fencerows, old garden beds and generally on the margins of small farms where asparagus was once grown. When you find an asparagus patch, take note. It’s likely to produce for several years. Perhaps the best way to find where wild asparagus grows is to drive or walk along country roads and keep an eye out for the plant’s fine, needlelike leaves. As roadsides generally fall under the control of the adjacent landowner, permission must be secured from them before foraging or entering. On state, federal, county and municipal lands open to harvest, no permission is necessary.
Lifecycle: Look for the first tender shoots of asparagus to push up through the ground in early May in the south and toward Memorial Day in the far north. Within a few days, these shoots develop into spears the size of what you might buy in the grocery store. Asparagus “season” generally lasts about a month. When stems begin develop branches and become tough, they are no longer good to eat. At this point, berries begin to develop on female plants. Asparagus stalks and leaves turn from green to yellow in summer and remain that color in fall. Seeds are spread by the wind, or by birds who excrete them
Hotspots: Asparagus thrives in well-drained soils from the Illinois line to the far north. It’s especially prevalent in the sandy soils of central Wisconsin. If you know a farm that used to have a good-sized asparagus patch, check in the surrounding area.
Gear: A pocketknife and mesh bag are about all that’s required to harvest asparagus. Snap or cut stalks close to the ground. Consider leaving a few stalks to help seed the area.
Identifying characteristics: The plant in question must have ALL of these characteristics in order to harvest it.
Season: Spring. Asparagus begins to emerge in late April in southern locations and the end of May in the north; tender stalks continue to come up for about a month.
Habitat: Sandy, well-drained soils; hillsides, road right-of-ways, ditches.
Color: Green with triangular buds; rarely purple or white.
Size: A stalk of asparagus can be anywhere from the size of your thumb to a foot or more; width is typically that of a Magic Marker or Sharpie.
Food Value: Asparagus is a delicious crisp vegetable that should be eaten as fresh as possible, or within a few days of harvest. Always wash thoroughly before use. Snap or cut along the bottom of the stalk to make sure only the most tender part is cooked. Asparagus can be steamed, grilled, added to a frittata, or used in a quiche.
Sometimes simplest is best, as in this recipe. Let the freshness of the vegetable speak for itself!
- 1 pound of asparagus spears, rinsed, with ends trimmed
- Sea salt
- Fresh ground black pepper
- Olive oil or butter
- Lemon wedge
- Heat a large pan of water on the to a rolling boil; add salt.
- Boil spears only until they turn bright green; drain.
- Season with salt, pepper, and olive oil or butter. Add lemon juice if desired.
- Serve with fresh fried fish and coleslaw.
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