I am old enough to remember the Wisconsin season when it was in January decades ago. The season was discontinued due to the perceived over harvest of large trout during the winter season. The WDNR could not find a middle ground between the catch and release and harvest folks so the early season was done away with and changed to catch and release and artificial only season beginning on the first Saturday of March. The new Wisconsin small stream season will begin the first Saturday in January yearly now. The harvest folks are out of luck until the first Saturday in May. No live bait is allowed until May also.
The comment about large fish being caught during the early season is correct. My personal best brown was caught opening day eons ago. She measured 27 and 3/4s inches. She was a very skinny fish and almost malnourished looking. I caught her on the headwaters of my favorite stream in Crawford County. She was in a wintering hole 9/10s up the stream in relatively small water.
I kept her and promptly took her to the taxidermist that same midday I caught her. She was the first trout I ever mounted. The taxidermist asked me if I wanted to eat her also. I was perplexed. I thought when you mounted the fish the meat went to waste. I was wrong. The taxidermist had her prepared for mounting in less than 10 minutes. He picked which side I wanted to be facing out on the mount and flipped over the fish and did minor surgery on the other side. The good side was not injured and he assured me that the mount would be perfect and I could have the trout to grill that day even.
This old time taxidermist had been at it for 5 decades and he was a good resource to ask trout related questions. I told him I was surprised this long female brown was so skinny. He said:” That was common on the ancient ones.”
He was a bit of a mad scientist and did non-scientific research on thousands of large brown trout through the years. I watched him closely when he skinned my large female. We did a stomach contents check and he pointed out the small shriveled spawn areas. There were still areas for holding eggs but they were a fifth of the size. He had checked the old females during all times of year and their spawn sacs were always the same size. He equated the old female trout to old female deer that had gone sterile.
They still had the spawn itch but were all dressed up and no place to go. I watched him do a mad scientist on a 20 inch female brown he was preparing for a young kid for mounting. This trout was also caught that day earlier. The spawn sac areas were 5-6 times the size of my ancient female. I had felt guilty for harvesting this old girl until I saw my taxidermist work his mad scientist routine.