How to Hold a Musky (and other info)

Monday, July 16, 2007

Green Bay about more than Packers these days

By DOUG NEWHOFF, Sports Editor

REEN BAY, Wis. — Residents of Green Bay probably aren’t ready to start skipping Packer games for a day of fishing on the bay.

But there might be a few diehard fans at least considering it as an option.These days, the waters of Green Bay are making an equally indelible impression on anglers who enjoy the pursuit of walleyes, smallmouth bass, perch and even muskies. A body of water that was once as polluted as Ricky Williams' bloodstream is living the clean life and teeming with fish - especially walleyes.

"It's at an all-time best right now for both numbers and the size of the fish," said Don Kohl, who has lived in the area for the past 23 years. "It's just silly right now."

The Masters Walleye Circuit exposed the Bay's big walleye potential in 1998 when it first visited the area.

With the fish in a late-summer pattern of prowling the rocky reefs in the northern half of the bay, 196 MWC teams lugged 1,009 walleyes to the scales weighing an average of 4 1/2 pounds apiece. It took a two-day, 10-walleye limit of 68.40 pounds to win and 42.76 pounds to finish among the top 35 teams.

Three weeks ago, the MWC returned to Green Bay for the first time in several years. Participants discovered they didn't need to make a risky, 50-mile run to the northern reefs. These days, there are more than enough walleyes in the southern part of the bay to keep a boatload of anglers busy.

During the two-day MWC event, 184 teams weighed in 1,555 walleyes averaging 3.75 pounds apiece. Dozens of walleyes weighing between 8 and 11 pounds were caught. It took 56 1/2 pounds to win and a two-day catch of 40 pounds to make the top 50.

"It's funny because not that long ago, maybe 10 to 12 years ago, the south part of the bay was unexplored," said Kohl, a veteran tournament angler who is taking a year off from competitive fishing. "I think because of the combination of the population growing and fishermen getting better, the south half of the bay right now is every bit as good for big fish numbers as the northern half.

"Our biologists tell us we've had a number of good year classes. Four of the last five years have been just perfect conditions. And the food base in the bay is incredible.

"Some of it might have to do with the zebra mussels, too. Nobody wanted to see them in the bay, but say what you want, I think they have helped with the water quality. There has also been a lot of cleanup from the (paper) mills along the Fox River, and when you clean up the river, you clean up the bay."

During the MWC event, many teams of anglers reported catches of 40 to 50 fish a day while slow-trolling in-line spinner rigs tipped with nightcrawlers and using planer boards to carry their lines away from the boat. While those catches included drum, catfish, perch, smallmouth and the occasional muskie, most of the fish were walleyes. Most of the walleyes measured 18 to 22 inches in length, but almost every catch included a fish or two in the 28- to 30-inch class.

"It just blows my mind," said Kohl. "For the last 10 years in the bay, it's been commonplace for guys to go out and catch numbers of quality fish."

Perch fishing is nearly as popular as walleye fishing on the bay. Dozens of small boats can be found anchored up on almost every southern reef.

"It's back now, finally," said Kohl, noting that commercial fishing, angler harvest and predation from cormorants contributed to the decline.

"They've reduced angler limits and commercial harvest limits the last few years, and they're trying to control the cormorants. The perch population is showing the results. We have great numbers of 9- to 11-inch perch again with plenty of bigger ones out there."

The smallmouth fishery is one of the best anywhere, especially on the reefs and rocky shorelines in the northern part of the bay near Sturgeon Bay, Wis. Like the walleyes, they grow fat and sassy with fish up to 4 pounds common.

And along with the improvements in water quality and the vast forage base available, the muskie population is thriving.

"This has become a world class muskie fishery," said Kohl. "The last few years, it's incredible how many guys have started coming to the bay to fish muskies.

"There are numbers and size. There are a lot of 50-plus inch fish being caught, especially in the spring and fall, and it will only get better."

Of course, Green Bay faces threats to its fishery. Invasive species like zebra mussels and gobies are a concern, as are new fish viruses that are spreading throughout the Great Lakes.

However, there aren't many places that currently provide any better fishing.

"Overall, with the numbers of fish to be caught, it's an outstanding place to bring somebody just to catch fish," said Kohl. "It's not like you're going to go for hours out there and not get a bite. You will be busy reeling in something all the time.

"You can fish about any way you want and be successful. You can slip-bobber, jig, throw crankbaits, troll spinners, troll crankbaits, drift-fish ...

"And you don't need a big boat. If the wind kicks up, there are still plenty of places that are protected in the southern bay, plus the river, which kind of gets overlooked now because the bay is so good.

"We're pretty blessed."

Contact Doug Newhoff at (319) 291-1467 or doug.newhoff@wcfcourier.com

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