How to Hold a Musky (and other info)

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Muskie war continues on Long Lake

WAUPACA — Wisconsin muskie anglers are looking forward to the day when a self-sustaining population of the Great Lakes strain of muskies takes hold in Green Bay and the Lake Winnebago system.

Residents of Long Lake in Waushara County are looking forward to the day when Great Lakes muskies are gone from their 272-acre lake.

Removal can't happen fast enough as far as members of the Long Lake Association are concerned.

"Our continued position was, and still is, first of all, that the spotted muskie does not belong in Long Lake and that its presence over the last 16 years has caused considerable damage to the balance within the fishery's food chain," Tom Catlin, vice president of the association, recently wrote the Department of Natural Resources.

"The muskie have now been in Long Lake for 16 years (not the 10 we were originally told) and despite the DNR's assurances that these fish would not reproduce in Long Lake — they are reproducing.

"To this extent, we believe that it is of utmost importance to limit this as much as possible by setting a limit under the size that these fish reach maturity."

Long Lake was selected by the DNR in 1989 as a repository for brood stock of the Great Lakes strain. The agency released a number of muskies in the lake, allowed them to grow to maturity and, for more than a decade, has taken eggs and sperm from those fish each spring to raise Great Lakes muskie fry to fingerling stage at the state's Wild Rose Hatchery.

The Green Bay/Lake Winnebago muskie fishery has expanded to the point where a sufficient supply of eggs can be obtained from those waters and the Long Lake stock is no longer needed.

The DNR has initiated a four-year plan to eliminate the muskies. Muskie fishing had been prohibited while the brood stock was needed. As part of the removal plan, muskie fishing would be restored, but regulations accompanying that revival are at the root of the association's complaint.

"Our position is that we want a size limit that allows these fish to be caught and removed from Long Lake before they mature," Catlin wrote. "According to DNR literature, males reach maturity at 28 to 31 inches and females at 30 to 36 inches."

The lake association wants the DNR to set a minimum size on muskies of 26 inches.

However, the DNR set a 32-inch minimum size on northern pike in 1989 to protect the muskie population.

Initially, Catlin said, Ron Bruch, DNR fisheries biologist at Oshkosh, indicated the agency would consider a compromise that would set the size limit at 26 inches for muskie and northern pike, but it was rejected by top fisheries officials in Madison as being incompatible with the DNR's efforts to establish consistent statewide regulations and for undertaking regulations changes without taking public comment at statewide spring hearings co-sponsored by the Wisconsin Conservation Congress.

Bruch said the DNR is willing to work with the association on a long-term fisheries plan, including muskie removal.

"The number of muskies in the lake is greatly diminished from what it once was," Bruch said.

Bruch said that while the association refers to natural reproduction, "We've never captured any young muskies in any of our netting or shocking efforts there. That's why we put those muskies in that lake, because the odds of natural reproduction were zero."

If the situation warrants, "we may come back with some other recommendations to expedite muskie removal, but it's premature to move ahead at this time," he said. "One more year is not going to cause an explosion of muskie in that lake."

Jim Lee is an outdoors writer for Gannett Wisconsin Newspapers. E-mail him at