Beginner’s Fishing Guide | Milwaukee Magazine

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“It might seem a little intimidating to some people when they see pictures of big fish and a big boat. But you don’t need all that fancy stuff,” says Theresa Stabo, a natural resources educator with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. One rod with a Zebco push button reel, hook, lead free sinker, bait and a bobber, and your child is ready to go.

Stabo is coordinator of the DNR’s Fishing Gear Loaner Program, which provides free use of basic fishing gear at various parks and offices. The MNR website has a list of locations, including some outside the park system, such as the three Milwaukee Urban Ecology Center locations.


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Know the rules: Bag limits and minimum sizes can vary from lake to lake, and some species like trout require a separate permit. But anyone under the age of 16 does not need a fishing license, even to catch fish with additional regulations like trout and salmon. Life jackets are recommended for small children on docks and anywhere near moving water. Things happen fast, even when an adult is just a few steps away.



panfish is a catch-all term for bluegill, perch, crappie and pumpkinseed and as it suggests, these little fish fit in a frying pan to eat well. They are often plentiful and easy for a small child to roll up, and daily bag limits are 25 per person, with no size limit.

Low (smallmouth and largemouth) are longer and more slender than bluegill, and offer a bigger fight and bigger bellies for more meat. The minimum size is 14 inches and the bag limit is five.

Rainbow trout are stocked in some local ponds with posted catch limits. They require a special pad to catch them.

northern pike are more common in the north. They average around 18 inches in length, but you can only keep the larger ones – minimum 32 inches, bag limit of two.

Bullheads, a small whiskered catfish, are common and fight larger than them. They are safe to eat if caught in clean water and properly prepared. Watch out for the fins, which have single sharp spines with non-lethal poison that stings if you get stuck.


This story is part Milwaukee MagazineJuly issue.

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