Fishing Opener Feature
Writer Susan Lampert Smith (lower left) gone fishing with her father in 1964. The annual Governor's Fishing Opener takes place May 7, 2022 in Shell Lake. Photo of Lake Wissota in Chippewa County at sunrise by Pat Kreitlow.

From breakfasts and garage sales to fly-casting clinics and live music, enjoy the many ways this weekend signals the final (no, really) end of winter.

Whether it’s the same gang of fisher friends who gather for their yearly ritual or the group of “trout widows” who hit the 100-mile garage sale along the Mississippi, the first weekend in May is a signal that Wisconsin’s long winter is finally finished.

Opening day dawns early for those who feed the fishermen. The Castle Rock Lutheran Church hosts its traditional opening morning fishermen’s breakfast right near the banks of Castle Rock Creek. Pancakes are served beginning at 7 a.m. Saturday at the church hall, 14887 Crow Valley Road, which is in northern Grant County between Boscobel and Montfort. The creek, known for producing huge brown and rainbow trout, suffered a fish kill in 2016 due to a manure spill. That year, the breakfast proceeds went to pay for fish restocking.

Gov. Tony Evers will be hosting his annual Governor’s Fishing Opener on Shell Lake in Washburn County. The traditional event changed hands this year, and is now being sponsored by the tourism committee of the Northwest Wisconsin International Trade, Business, and Economic Development Council (ITBEC), a coalition representing 12 counties.

The Governor’s open event includes a family fishing day at Shell Lake’s Memorial Park, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Kids can get swag bags, participate in a fish scavenger hunt and minnow races, and learn to cast and make a fishing lure. The community fish fry begins at 11 a.m. and includes free music and entertainment.

The Governor’s open organizers had to be a bit nervous, as there was still ice on Shell Lake a week or so ago. 

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR)  is predicting a decent start to the 2022 fishing season, despite a cool spring that led to later than typical ice-out dates.

“Spring has been slow to arrive across the state, and with the late ice thaw on northern lakes, the fish will be hungry and eager to bite,” said Justine Hasz, DNR Bureau Director of Fisheries, in her season opener forecast. The walleye are still spawning in the north, she said, while those in the Wisconsin River have finished spawning, so the fishing should be good on Lake Wisconsin.

In the far north, the ice is still lingering on some lakes, but Justin Reynolds of the R&M Musky Shop in Eagle River predicts that the late ice-out will contribute to excellent fishing conditions, with both perch and walleyes feeding in the shallows. 

Cross Plains, located along the banks of Black Earth Creek in western Dane County, welcomes the start of the fishing season with its traditional Trout Days celebration Friday and Saturday. The event includes a village-wide garage sale, a carnival in Zander Park, music and a brat stand. The folks from Trout Unlimited will give a free fly-casting clinic from 9 a.m. to noon in Zander Park. And when you’re ready to unwind from a hard day of fishing, there’s a wine walk and a new, bright blue drink at Montag’s Pub called The Trout Stream. There’s even a scavenger hunt on the Cross Plains section of the Ice Age Trail.

They’ll be hosting a “Season opener” of a different kind at the Riley Tavern, which is near the headwaters of the Sugar River between Verona and Mount Horeb. Saturday marks the opening of the Riley Yard, with live music and drinks and food served outside.

Cross Plains isn’t the only town with a giant garage, as the first weekend in May also means it’s time for the 100-mile Garage Sale, which stretches along the Lake Pepin section of the Mississippi River from Hastings, Minn., south on Hwy 61 to Winona, Minn., across the river to Fountain City, Wis., and North on Hwy 35 to Prescott, Wis. The event is nearly 30 years old and is a true spring ritual for bargain hunters.

In Berlin, located along the Fox River in Green Lake County, you can get the best of both opening weekends. Berlin hosts a city-wide sale on Saturday, and the walleye will be running, with the nearby Eureka Dam a hotspot. There’s trout fishing nearby on the White River and plenty of deep water angling action on Green Lake.

Whether it’s a great deal or a creel full of fish, everyone has a chance to catch something this weekend.