DE PERE, Wis. — With a kerplunk, Russ Berzinski’s neon green lure splashed into the Fox River in De Pere.
“After the wintertime, you want to get that rod and reel out again,” the Tigerton resident said, as he slowly reeled the lure back in.
Around him, lures from other anglers made the same splashing sound on a brilliant April day.
“This time of year, especially for the walleye, this is a world-class fishery here on the Fox River,” he said. “People like to catch some big ones out here.”
Across Wisconsin, almost 1.2 million fishing licenses were sold last year.
Of those, almost 99,000 were to “new buyers,” according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
During the early part of the pandemic in 2020, sales hit 1.3 million.
While licenses sales may have settled down, Jeff “Tilky” Tilkens at Smokey’s on the Bay said he sees new customers all the time.
“Every year I’m seeing a big increase in new customers, old customers and fisherman not only targeting walleyes, but different species and different areas of fish,” he said. “It’s working out really, really well.”
The DNR reports fishing as a $2.3 billion industry in Wisconsin. About $1.5 billion is in direct sales to places like Smokey’s.
“Everyone associates Green Bay with the Packers, but the fishing industry is huge,” he said. “It has a huge impact on hotels, restaurants, bars, stores, and retail stores like mine selling fishing equipment. It’s huge.”
Berzinski said he has high confidence about the future of fishing around Wisconsin.
“Fishing has been around since the dawn of time,” he said. “As long as there’s a rod, a line and fish in the water, people will be fishing forever.”