How to Hold a Musky (and other info)

Friday, November 11, 2005

Wisconsin DNR muskie fishing success story

This really bodes well for Wisconsin Leech Lake strain muskies.

Reprinted from MuskiesFirst.com

From Wisconsin Muskellunge Restoration Project:

The largest DNR muskellunge success story in recent memory, has been
overlooked by the Wisconsin musky fishing community:

In April 2005 the Wisconsin DNR netted an amazing number of large
Mississippi River/Leech Lake strain muskies out of Nancy Lake near Minong,
Wisconsin. Even though netting was stopped just as the large females began
swimming into the nets, there were more large muskies netted out of this
lake than any other netting survey we have been able to locate for NW
Wisconsin! Five muskies between 45.5" and 49.7" were netted in the few days
sampled with the DNR removing their nets the day after 47.5", 48.6" and 49.
7 " behemoths were netted on consecutive days. Who knows what may have shown
up if the nets had stayed in for a longer period of time. And DNR researcher
Marty Jennings, who was doing the netting, said there is "no way" they
caught all of the muskies in the lake. These muskies were examined by
trained biologists and based on their visual inspection 33% of the muskies
netted had no fin clips or tags and appeared to be naturally reproduced
fish, giving signs that a self-sustaining population may have been
established after being stocked only three times! In addition, the captured
females were ripe with spawn. The combination of fantastic growth with
natural reproduction (according to DNR ranking, Nancy is a category one,
naturally reproducing lake: "Category 1 - the population is self-sustaining
through natural reproduction. No stocking occurs.") combines to make the
stocking of Mississippi River strain muskies in NW Wisconsin an even bigger
success story than the Green Bay (Lake Michigan) Restoration Program, where
no natural reproduction in the Bay has been documented to date.

In comparison, upon review of the eleven DNR Musky surveys given to the WMRP
by WDNR personnel from lakes in NW Wisconsin, it was determined that none
of those eleven surveys ever produced as many Muskies over 45 inches as the
recent Nancy Lake survey. It is interesting that many of these survey's were
conducted on lakes much larger, deeper, and having much greater forage than
Nancy Lake. (Surveys include: Lakes Wissota 1989 & 1996, Holcombe Flowage
1994, Sand Lake with it's cisco forage in 2002, Long Lake 1995, 2000 & 2001,
Old Abe 1987 & 1988, Chippewa Falls Flowage 1989 & 1996, and Dells Pond
1995-1996). The main difference being that the fish used to stock Nancy Lake
are of a musky strain that has been proven by the Minnesota and Wisconsin
DNR personnel to grow much faster and larger than the Muskies used by the
Wisconsin DNR in current Spooner hatchery operations. The Minnesota DNR has
used these findings to create many of the finest trophy Muskie fisheries in
the world, while Wisconsin has limited trophy destinations besides Green Bay
and Nancy Lake. Green Bay and Nancy are both waters where the stocking of
the standard Wisconsin hatchery muskies has been bypassed in favor of the
larger growing Great Lakes and Mississippi River strains. The Musky Clubs
Alliance of Wisconsin has been financing the DNR stocking large growing
Great Lakes strain Muskies in Green Bay for a number of years, creating an
exciting fishery there, and too should be commended for their efforts.

The previous Nancy Lake Muskie netting survey also showed fantastic growth
not often seen in Wisconsin. The 1998 survey showed that over 90% of the
captured muskie population in Nancy Lake was greater than 40 inches in
length, and that percentage has increased in the 2005 survey with the
average size Muskellunge measuring an AMAZING 46.8 inches! When total
numbers of fish netted are compared between the 1998 and 2005 netting
surveys (even disregarding the aborted netting in 2005), the population has
only dropped 27% over 7 years in spite of discontinued stocking and other
factors such as intense fishing pressure, spearing, and the harvesting of
large fish as cited by Wisconsin DNR personnel.

According to DNR spokesman and Musky Committee Co-Chair Tim Simonson in
April of 2005, "The strain used for stocking is clearly important in those
waters that need stocking."

According to DNR Upper Chippewa River Basin Supervisor, Dave Neuswanger,
"They (Nancy Lake muskies) grew fast and got big in this small lake.
Frequent sightings and catches of fish (muskies) up to and exceeding 50
inches have been reported."

Two Wisconsin anglers, fishing Nancy Lake and keeping their results to
themselves until recently, caught 32 muskies there that averaged in the mid
40 inch range, including five over 50 inches! In the year 2000 the two
largest muskies registered for Wisconsin by Muskies Inc. members, were
caught by them from this lake. They said, "Of the 32 muskies we caught, 29
(91%) were over 40", 16 (50%) were over 45", 5 (16%) were over 50". We
caught 32 fish from 33" to 52". The average size was 45.5". 5 fish were
from 50 to 52". We lost another 5 or 6 fish in the 48-53" size class. While
we do not know the exact number, somewhere around 10 to 15 of the 32 fish
did not have tags or noticeable fin clips. Also, we caught 2 or 3 fish that
did actually have tags. Years fished were 2000 thru 2003. We only fished
Nancy Lake mainly on weekends in the fall so I would say we probably
averaged about 20 to 25 days per year there for a total of around 80 to 100
days." These catch claims above are supported by photographs.

Also, a couple of "high profile" TV personalities have made "numerous" TV
shows on Nancy Lake, and have had tremendous success catching muskies there
as well!

DNR personnel in Spooner have expressed amazement at the size of the male
muskies in Nancy Lake, which in the 2005 netting survey exceeded the size of
the largest female musky netted in spawning operations on Bone Lake, the
current brood stock lake for the Spooner hatchery.

The fact that such an amazing fishery was created by the WDNR with less
stocking and taxpayer money than in typical muskie lakes that require
stocking, makes this a recipe for success that could and should be
duplicated in other waters. Steve Hewett, Fisheries Policy Chief of the
Bureau of Fisheries, was recently quoted as saying, "We are looking forward
for ways to improve while minimizing costs."

Using the Mississippi River strain is now a proven way to minimize those
costs. The Spooner hatchery has already demonstrated that they can spawn and
raise these fish, and once the eggs are in the hatchery jar, the cost of
rearing is no more than currently being experienced. In addition, once
natural reproduction reaches the point where stocking is no longer
necessary, the stocking burden of the hatchery would be reduced!

One huge additional benefit could be to help to save the declining native
muskellunge fisheries that have been invaded by northern pike. The
Mississippi River strains ability to co-exist and reproduce with pike as has
been demonstrated in Nancy Lake, is the reason for a study that was
conducted there.

According to DNR Senior Fisheries biologist at Hayward, Frank Pratt, as
testified to at a trial in September of 2005, one factor ".leading to the
demise of wild musky reproduction." ".is the invasion of northern pike."

The State Musky Committee, at the February 22, 2005, meeting, indicated that
Nancy Lake may be a logical recipient for an infusion of more Mississippi
River strain fish to make it a brood lake.

At the May 25, 2005 State Musky Committee meeting, Tim Simonson indicated
that; "Stocking permits will continue to be issued for Leech Lake
(Mississippi River strain) in universal receptor lakes outside the native
(musky) range." Musky fisherman from Milwaukee, Madison Portage and Eau
Claire are thrilled with the possibility of having larger muskies than the
traditional areas up North.

The Green Bay Restoration Program and Nancy Lake are both waters where the
stocking of the standard Wisconsin hatchery muskies was bypassed in favor of
the larger growing Great Lakes and Mississippi River strains. Musky clubs
across the state have applauded these changes. These changes have drawn much
needed tourism dollars into Wisconsin from across the country. The Wisconsin
DNR should be applauded for planting these large growing muskellunge in
those waters.

It is time to give the DNR credit for the fantastic musky fishery that they
created in Nancy Lake. This Lake has been featured recently in Musky Hunter
Magazine and has been the main area of discussion on Internet message boards
across the country.

Further, the Wisconsin DNR should be applauded for allowing state musky
fishing groups to stock the Mississippi River strain muskies into additional
state musky waters in 2005:

The First WI Chapter of Muskies Inc. in Chippewa Falls, when given the
opportunity
to purchase Leech Lake fish by their local DNR Fisheries biologist Joe Kurz,
put
just over 25% of their total operating budget for the year towards the
purchase
of Mississippi River/Leech Lake strain muskies totaling over $5,000, to be
stocked in Lake Wissota.

The Catch & Release muskie club in the central part of the state, when given
the same opportunity by their DNR fisheries biologist Scott Ironside, also
spent over $5,000 for the opportunity to plant Leech Lake strain muskies in
Petenwell Flowage..

The Capitol City Chapter of Muskies Inc. in Madison, was given the same
opportunity to plant Leech Lake strain muskies in Lake Monona by DNR
fisheries biologist Scot Stewart, and with the help of the Blackhawk Musky
Club of Janesville, the Flatlanders Chapter of Muskie's, Inc.from Illinois,
and the Oregon Musky Busters, are purchasing over $ 7,000 worth of Leech
Lake strain muskies for stocking.

The Milwaukee Chapter of Muskie's, Inc., and the Muskellunge Club of
Wisconsin are jointly stocking 600 Mississippi River strain Muskies in
Okauchee Lake on November 12. This is another private $6,000 investment in
Mississippi River strain muskies in Wisconsin.

Most of the clubs listed above have committed to helping the DNR purchase
PIT tags for future plantings of Leech fish in those waters so that stocking
performance can be evaluated.

This equates to an over $23,000 investment in Mississippi River/Leech Lake
strain muskies for 4 Wisconsin lakes by private organizations of concerned
muskie anglers this year alone, not to mention the commitment of funds in
future years for DNR studies of the performance of stocked muskies.

The Wisconsin DNR offered a few lakes in 4 areas of the State for clubs to
stock any strain of Muskullenge they wished. All 4 areas of the state
jumped at that opportunity, and all chose to plant Mississippi River/Leech
Lake strain muskies.

In 2006, the Wisconsin DNR will begin stocking Leech Lake muskies in several
more Wisconsin lakes in the St. Croix River drainage in the western part of
the state outside of the native range.

5 Comments:

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At 3:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Most Beautiful Fish In The World

A few springs ago, I got to go fishing for muskies. Not with a rod and reel and infinite patience, but as part of a research crew from the DNR headquarters in Spooner, Wisconsin. Before the ice was completely out on the lakes of the northland we started our work. The weather in Northern Wisconsin in late March is unpredictable. Jumping out of bed and looking out the bedroom curtains was always an adventure in itself. It could be beautiful sunshine, sleet and freezing rain or a blizzard. You just never know. Like Pop always told me, “That’s why they call musky fishing work.” And work it was. Having grown up in this area made it a bit easier to prepare for the day’s weather. Waders, parka, rain gear, gloves, stocking cap, all were part of the daily equipment.
The project started when we set fyke nets or hoop nets as some call them, into the lakes that were targeted for research. These nets are staked to the shore with a lead net that is directed away from shore to a series of hoops three or four feet in diameter. The muskellunge follows the lead net into the hoops that act like a giant minnow trap. Once inside there was no escape until we made our rounds and untied the end of the hoops and scooped out the fish that had found their way in. Mornings started at 7:30 with loading the day’s equipment and hooking the 20-foot flat-bottom boat and trailer to a four wheel drive truck. There were as many as twelve nets to check per lake. Each one had to be checked daily.
The biologist steered the boat to the end of a net. My job was to hook on to the last hoop with two big steel hooks, untie the net at the last hoop and use a long handled dip net to lift the muskellunge out of the fyke net and place them into a long stainless steel tank on board the boat. Here were the rascals that had broken my line a hundred times before. We made our rounds to a variety of musky waters starting at the Moose Flowage near Winter, and traveling across the state to lakes around the Mercer area. We worked on lakes in Washburn, Sawyer, Bayfield, Rusk, and Ashland counties. But to me, it wasn’t really work. It was more like getting paid to do what I have always loved to do. Go fishing.
In my younger years, I had enjoyed fly fishing with my grandpa, throwing poppers at the bluegills. I told him how I had seen a guy on t.v. who fished muskies with a fly rod and how much I would like to try it. Without hesitating grandpa asked me if I planned to eat those muskies. When I told him I didn’t think I would, he said he thought it would be best to leave ‘em alone. Leave ‘em alone? These fish were trophies! A musky is utter joy and chaos at the end of a hook and line. How could you just leave them alone? Back on board the research boat, I recorded information for the biologist as he weighed, measured the length, determined sex, and took a scale sample that would be examined under a microscope back at the office to determine the age of the fish. The information along with the samples and the lake visited was recorded on a small manila envelope and kept together with data of other fish sampled from the same lake. Our research team consisted of three, two-man crews that traveled to three or four lakes every day. We handled 60 to 70 muskellunge in a day. More than many fisherman see in a lifetime. Wrestling and weighing that many fish , each weighing 20 or more pounds, made a nice hot shower and a couple of Advils a welcome relief in the evening. The next morning, untying the first net seemed to erase all the aches and pains of the previous day. Studying habitat, health, and population of these fish made a difference. I felt proud of the work I was doing. I took pictures and shared stories with my wife, my young sons, and my friends. Pictures of me holding 30 and 40 pound muskies. There were stories of seeing elk by Clam Lake and osprey at Lake of the Pines. Too quickly though, by the middle of April it was over for the season.
When the next spring rolled around, I was asked to join the muskellunge survey crew again. The ice went out and we were set to start. Maybe this year, I thought, I would see different lakes and landscape. By 7:30 the first morning, I got the truck and boat all loaded and ready to go. The biologist I was going to work with came around the corner lugging a huge four foot long shiny white Coleman cooler. This was no lunch box. The other crews were laughing and offering assistance. “Need some help hauling the coffin?” one asked. Coffin? We pulled out of the parking lot and drove past the Tommy Thompson Fish Hatchery. I asked what the cooler was for. I was told that a fisheries biologist in Ontario, Canada had come up with a way to more accurately determine the age of adult muskellunge. Taking scale samples, while relatively harmless to the fish, was inaccurate by a few years on certain waters. A more accurate measure of an adult muskellunge’s age, the biologist had found, was to take a section of the cliethra or jawbone of the fish. A dead fish.
We got to our first lake. I dipped the first fish from the fyke net. I wrote down the lake on the envelope. I dipped another fish into the holding tank and another until there were five. I got all five of the envelopes ready. The boat was unhooked from the net and we motored slowly into a secluded cove. We were told before we left headquarters to avoid fisherman and houses. The biologist took a crescent wrench out of the tool box and smashed the heads of each beautiful blue-green behemoth. Then we gathered our data: weight, length, sex, scale sample, all placed in the envelope and stuffed in the dead fish’s mouth. The lifeless bodies were put in a big garbage bag and placed in the coffin. We took five or six of each sex on each lake, each day, until the quota was reached. I had become a poacher for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. What difference does it make if a musky is 8 years old or 10 or even 12? Now it was dead. We came back each day that spring with 40, 50, 60 pounds of dead muskellunge in garbage bags. I carried the bags upstairs to a storage room and dumped them into one of many chest freezers full of bags of dead muskellunge. Carcasses that were not even used for cat food, their jawbones taken out and sent to a lab in Canada. One biologist that I worked with would let the big females go. He just couldn’t do it. He couldn’t whack ‘em in the head. It was spring and they were full of eggs. Maybe there was some hope. Someone who overrode research in the name of common sense. How long would we have to do this? I was told it was short-term research, but what did that mean? In the years that have passed since that spring , I have found that this muskellunge cliethra research project had been going on since 1978.
We all learn from experiences in our lives. Sometimes I wonder if this project needed to be done to protect the muskellunge or was it the result of a big fat juicy grant used up to provide data that really doesn’t matter much. If I had quit after the first year, my perception of the DNR would have remained untarnished. But now I wonder: What is a resource? What is a crescent wrench? Do they go together? I don’t know. My Grandpa was a great fisherman. Now, his advice seems to carry more weight than the rationalizing of a dozen fish biologists. Muskies just always seemed special when I was growing up in northern Wisconsin.
Some time has passed since I worked for the Department. The other day my son and I drove past one of the trucks with the familiar logo on the door pulling a long flat-bottom boat. He asked me if I still had those pictures of me with the big muskies. I got a knot in the pit of my stomach. “Yeah, Sam,” I replied, “Let’s take a look at them when we get home. I’ve got a story to tell you.”

 
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