By Paul A. Smith, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – June 1, 2014
Among conservation matters, changes to deer hunting rules typically draw the strongest reactions in Wisconsin.

That will likely be true for as long as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

But for at least one day, our “other religion” took a back seat to an angling issue.

Meeting Wednesday in Green Bay, the Natural Resources Board heard not a single objection to a proposal to sharply reduce antlerless deer permits in northern Wisconsin, but it got an earful from folks opposed to motor trolling in the same region.

The public input prompted the board to modify a rule presented by the Department of Natural Resources.

The issue at hand was an expansion of motor trolling in Wisconsin. The DNR proposal, which 62 percent of voters supported at the spring hearings, would allow motor trolling with at least one line per angler statewide and three lines per angler in most counties.

Under current regulations, 19 counties allow motor trolling on all waters, 45 counties allow it on one or more waters (105 total waters) and eight counties don’t allow the practice.

DNR fisheries staff presented the rule change to: simplify regulations by eliminating confusion about where trolling is allowed; allow anglers in moving boats to simultaneously trail suckers and cast lures; eliminate the need for disabled anglers to apply for trolling permits; and provide additional fishing opportunities for anglers who might have difficulty fishing by other means.

Moreover, the agency presented data that showed motor trolling had no biological impact on fish populations, specifically muskies.

But a half dozen residents of northern Wisconsin voiced their strong opposition to expanded motor trolling.

“I’m very much against the one-line trolling proposal,” said John Dettloff, a fishing guide and resort owner from Couderay. “I’m concerned it’s going to put additional stress on our already-fragile musky fishery.”

Dettloff also said it could “hurt the aesthetics” of some north woods waters by increasing boat traffic.

“Please don’t let the genie out of the bottle,” Dettloff said. “Once trolling is allowed I feel it’s going to be very difficult to reverse.”

Art Long, Jim and Ann McComas, Rich Reinert, and Anthony Rizzo also expressed their displeasure.

Only one angler, John Aschenbrenner of Laona, showed up to support the proposal at Wednesday’s meeting.

Many people in the fishing community probably felt they had spoken with their vote at the spring hearings.

“I think Wisconsin needs more opportunities like this to get more people involved in fishing,” Aschenbrenner said.

The board debated several changes to the DNR proposal, including removing Vilas and perhaps other counties from the rule.

DNR fisheries manager Tim Simonson said the agency’s musky committee had been working on the issue for three years.

“We wouldn’t recommend anything that we thought would be detrimental to musky populations,” Simonson said.

In the end, the board decided to approve the proposal under a three-year sunset provision and by limiting the number of lines per boat in certain waters.

Beginning in 2015, the rule approved Wednesday would:

• Allow motor trolling with at least one line per angler on all inland waters in Wisconsin.

• In 55 counties, all inland waters would be open to motor trolling with up to three lines per angler.

• In the remaining 17 counties—on waters not currently open to trolling—trolling would be allowed but would be limited to one line per angler and no more than two lines per boat, which means no more than two anglers trolling at a time. This portion of the rule would affect Door, Florence, Fond du Lac, Iron, Jackson, Lincoln, Marathon, Marquette, Menominee, Milwaukee, Oneida, Ozaukee, Sawyer, Sheboygan, Vilas, Washington and Waushara counties.

The three-year sunset clause means the new rule, which would take effect next year pending legislative review, will revert to the current rule in 2018 unless the board takes additional action.

The DNR would use the coming years to gather data on catch rates, harvest rates and fish populations on waters affected by the expanded trolling opportunities to help guide recommendations on any permanent motor trolling rules.

“Trolling has generated always generated some controversy,” Simonson said. “We’ve addressed it by presenting the most objective data possible. Assuming the legislature doesn’t change anything, we’ll approach the three year period the same way, monitoring the changes and presenting information to the decision-makers.”

Antlerless quotas: The board approved the DNR’s plan to prohibit hunting of antlerless deer in all or part of 19 counties this year. The move is designed to help deer herds recover after two consecutive severe winters, according to the agency, and it has received broad public support.

The zero quotas would cover the entire northern forest region and part of the central forest. In addition, the rule approved antlerless quotas and permit levels for counties throughout the state. In a change resulting from the deer trustee report, bonus antlerless deer tags this year are specific to counties and private or public land.

Each 2014 deer hunting license includes one antlerless tag that may be used on any property in a farmland zone during any season. Extra tags (if available) must be purchased for $12 each.

The DNR will sell 149,475 private land and 23,020 public land antlerless tags this year. The disparity is intended to prevent over-harvest on heavily hunted public properties.

The sales will be staggered, similar to the way leftover spring turkey permits are sold. Forest zone permits will be sold Aug. 18, central farmland zone permits Aug. 19 and southern farmland permits Aug. 20. All sales begin at 10 a.m.