How to Hold a Musky (and other info)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Hoosier lakes success story

Muskie make a big impact

COMMENTARY

LOUIE STOUT

When Larry Stover bought the Tackle Box Shop in North Webster, Ind., nine years ago, there was only $50 worth of muskie tackle hanging on the wall.

Today, nearly $50,000 of muskie baits and tackle cover the small independent bait and tackle shop.

"Before muskies were stocked in our lakes, a previous owner closed every November because business was so bad," said Stover. "When the muskie took off, November became one of our busiest months."

That's what successful fisheries can do for a small town business, and Lake Webster, the Barbee Chain and Lake Tippecanoe in east central Kosciusko counties have been huge successes.

So good, in fact, that it has become a favorite stop for anglers from Wisconsin, a state where giant muskies are more prominent.

"They tell us that they can catch six fish a day here, whereas they are lucky to get six follows a day on their home lakes," said Stover, who works part-time at the shop he sold to Todd Sautter in February.

And it's not just Wisconsin anglers who are buying tackle and filling up nearby motels during spring and fall months.

"In 2005, we wrote fishing licenses to people from 28 states," noted Stover, "The majority of them came here to go muskie fishing."

It all began when the DNR, with help from the Indiana muskie clubs, began planting the prized gamefish in the early 1980s.

Prior to the development of Webster, Indiana had limited success with muskie stockings. But now, with Webster a Midwest treasure and the Barbee Chain coming on strong, biologist Jed Pearson is beaming.

"It's been a fabulous success and I don't think it will die," says the Division of Fish and Wildlife scientist who has nurtured the program. "It has a food source (shad) that can sustain the population -- baring disease."

Disease is a legitimate concern, especially with the introduction of VHS to the Great Lakes region. Muskies are highly susceptible to the virus that can be introduced to the water through livebait or other infected fish. Thus far, Indiana's inland waters have remained VHS free.

A disease at Webster would be devastating since the lake provides brood stock that biologists gather each spring and use to create offspring for stockings in 10 other Hoosier lakes.

With Webster off and running in the late 1990s, the DNR -- with help from muskie clubs and lake associations -- began to introduce the fish into nearby Barbee Chain.

They adapted well. So well, in fact, that two of the biggest fish (48 and 47 inches) caught during the renowned Hoosier Muskie Classic this spring came from the Chain.

"Barbee has come into its own and is where Webster was a few years ago," said muskie guide Vince Weirick of Warsaw. "The (fishing) pressure Webster has received the past couple of years has hurt it a little and now Barbee is elevating."

In fact, both Weirick and Stover think the Chain could supplant Webster as Indiana's premier muskie waters.

It consists of seven lakes -- Kuhn, Big Barbee, Little Barbee, Irish, Sawmill and Secrist -- with access to Tippecanoe Lake via Grassy Creek. The seven lakes cover about 850 acres and are interlinked with channels. And while pleasure boat traffic on Tippecanoe and Webster can hamper fishing, all but one of the Barbee lakes have restricted speed limits.

"I like it best because of the diverse waters," said Weirick. "You've got two gin clear lakes, two that are murky and the others are somewhere in between. They have different bottom compositions, good structure and weeds. And best of all, you don't have to put up with a lot of high speed boat traffic."

(For more information about muskie fishing Kosciukso County lakes, contact The Tackle Box (574) 834-2011 or visit www.vinceweirick.com

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