I want to start this post off by saying I have the utmost respect for Lisa Subeck and the work of United Wisconsin. As executive director of  United Wisconsin, and a Madison city councilwoman,  Subeck is leading the effort statewide to take money out of politics and I support their work 101%.

But I would like to address an article by Ms. Subeck published today in the Cap Times titled, ” Singers stand up for all our rights.” Here’s the first paragraph of her piece.

” Imagine the outrage if photos and videos of a father and son being hauled off of  a fishing boat in handcuffs were splashed across the evening news and the front  page of our local newspapers. Their offense? Fishing without a license. “

Actually, this isn’t hard to imagine, at least in the north woods. I can’t speak for what it would be like on Lake Mendota but here’s what it would look like up here.

Let’s say you’re standing with your son on the bank of a lake casting your lines in the water. You’re fishing. A game warden approaches and asks if you have a license. You say no. Your son ignores the guy.

The game warden  says, ” I’m going to have to ask both of you to take your poles out of the water “.

You say, ” No. we have a right to be here. ” You and your son keep fishing.

He starts to get officiously agitated and repeats himself, asking you and your son to take your poles out of the water. You refuse saying ” I don’t need a license. This is my house. ”

He gets weirded out, promptly calls for backup,  and a deputy sheriff comes and arrests you.  You get cuffed and stuffed and maybe held overnight.  They’ll probably confiscate your equipment, your car, and you could be subject to onerous court proceedings and hefty fines. It could run into many hundreds of dollars before it’s all done. Maybe more.

And there wouldn’t be a lot of outrage over the whole affair. You wouldn’t get a photo in the local weekly paper, but you’d probably get an article on the front page that wouldn’t be especially favorable to you.  Why?

Because everybody up here knows you need a license to fish.



15 Responses to A License to Fish

  1. Still Angry Mother says:

    “Amendment I

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    The first amendment clearly covers what’s happening with the Solidarity Singers, but it doesn’t mention fishing anywhere. The permit requirement is arguably a law that is abridging the freedom of speech, the right of people to peaceably assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

  2. CJ McD says:

    Steve, I love ya man. And I understand what your point is about the direction the Solidarity Singers is taking. But you are comparing apples to oranges. We don’t have a clause in the WI to fish. Access to waterways, yes. Fish, no.

    Happy Tuesday.

    • Stiil Angry Mother and CJ McD,

      It was Ms. Subeck who made the comparison. I was only attempting to explain that no one, up here anyway, would be outraged at seeing people arrested for refusing to get a license to fish.

  3. independent guy says:


    Good analogy, but, certain folks are unwilling or unable to “connect the dots” you have laid out. Probably unwilling.

    It would appear your recent blog attempts to enlighten, educate and persuade certain folks on this issue have failed. Sorry. Welcome to the club….

  4. hankdog says:

    Your scenario is bogus. I worked in the business for a lot of years and don’t recall an unlicensed angler ever getting cuffed and hauled to the slammer unless there were other wants or warrents, or the perp caused a disturbance. The violator would have been issued a citation and told to appear or forfeit. I appreciate your thought, but you used the wrong example.

  5. Hankdog ,

    I may have stretched things a bit. Let’s call it dramatic license. Pun intended.

  6. Ed Heinzelman says:

    It seems to me that beyond the citation that their fishing gear can be confiscated??? And I don’t think a child needs a license…

  7. Actually, I think Steve’s scenario is plausible. A person fishing without a license would get a citation. But, a person refusing to STOP FISHING after being cited would probably be taken into custody.

  8. Thanks Jim. Nice to have some backup from a northwoodser who’s been up here a lot longer than me.

  9. hankdog says:

    Unless the unlicensed angler caused a disturbance they probably wouldn’t be hauled in. You can check with your local conservation warden, but in my experience a license citation isn’t worth the other problems.


    I understand your premise, but this isn’t a good example. Maybe a contractor bulldozing a wetland would be more appropriate.


  10. Ben says:

    If the premise is understood, it was a good analogy.

  11. hankdog says:


    You will get a lot more buy in if a more realistic scenario is used. And you don’t want to plant the seed that some of the less educated or willfully ignorant can use to make some other point. I stand with my comments.

    • hankdog,

      A DNR law enforcement supervisor got back to me late yesterday afternoon with the statutes regarding multiple violations of fishing without a license. Turns out it can be prosecuted criminally and the possible penalties, up to six months in jail and a ten thousand dollar fine, are those associated with, I’d guess, a Class A misdemeanor. The confusion on the part of other retired and active DNR people I spoke with, and perhaps yourself, is most likely the result of no one ever having heard of such a situation. I wrote the original piece without consulting anyone because I figured the penalties would be similar to poaching deer. I appreciate your comments because without them I wouldn’t have researched the issue, like I should have before I wrote the post. Thanks.

  12. Hank,

    I’ve asked three different DNR people and no one can fully answer my question. It seems no one has ever heard of someone getting caught fishing without a license 15 or so times within a one month period, while refusing to leave the lake/river, and refusing to take their pole out of the water. One guy told me he thought an arrest was certainly possible, one said the individual would probably lose fishing privileges permanently, one said the total fines could be in the thousands of dollars.

    There is, apparently, no precedent to draw upon. That’s because everybody up here knows you need a license to fish. 🙂

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