A Beginner’s Guide to Fishing

Go catch ’em all with these tips and tricks!

“It might seem a little intimidating for some folks when they see pictures of big fish and a big boat. But you don’t need all this big fancy stuff,” says Theresa Stabo, natural resources educator with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. A pole with a Zebco push-button reel, a hook, non-lead sinker, some bait and a bobber, and your child is good to go. 

Stabo is coordinator for the DNR’s tackle loaner program, which offers complimentary use of basic fishing gear at various parks and offices. The DNR website has a list of locations, including some outside the park system, such as the three locations of Milwaukee’s Urban Ecology Center. 



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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 younger than 16 doesn’t need a fishing license, even to catch fish with extra regulation like trout and salmon. Life jackets are advisable for small children on piers and anywhere near moving water. Things happen fast, even when an adult is only a few steps away.

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Common Catches:

Panfish is a catch-all term for bluegill, perch, crappie and sunfish and as it suggests, these little fish fit in a frying pan for good eating. They are often abundant and easy for a small child to reel in, and daily bag limits are 25 per person, with no size limits. 

Bass (smallmouth and largemouth) are longer and more slender than panfish, and offer a bigger fight and bigger bellies for more meat. Minimum size is 14 inches and the bag limit is five.

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

Northern pike are more common up north. They average about 18 inches in length, but you can only keep the big ones – a minimum of 32 inches, bag limit of two. 

Bullheads, a small catfish with whiskers, are common and fight bigger than they are. They’re good eating if caught in clean water and prepared right. Be aware of the fins, which have single sharp spines with a nonlethal poison that stings if you get stuck. 


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s July Issue.

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