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Wisconsin DNR Created an Amazing Musky Fishery at Little Cost

Larry Ramsell
Published November 8, 2005

From Wisconsin Muskellunge Restoration Project: For Immediate RELEASE:

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 thre, 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 Uper 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
opportunityto purchase Leech Lake fish by their local DNR Fisheries biologist Joe Kurz, putjust over 25% of their total operating budget for the year towards the purchaseof 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.