Musky fishing growing with Wisconsin anglers
“We estimate that about 25 percent of anglers fish for muskellunge and that has been steadily increasing over the years,” says Tim Simonson, a fisheries biologist and co-leader of the Department of Natural Resources musky committee.
That’s about 480,000 people, and those people notch about 5.3 million angler-days fishing for muskellunge each year. They spend $425 million directly on muskellunge fishing, according to the recently published 2012 Muskellunge Management Update [PDF].
“More anglers are discovering the fun and the challenge of musky fishing,” Simonson says, a statement backed up by this year’s National Championship Musky Open in Eagle River, billed as the nation’s largest amateur event for the species.
Simonson says the increased interest in musky fishing reflects in large part the recovery of the musky fishery in the last generation. “By all measures, the fishing just keeps getting better and there are good waters to fish in most parts of the state.”
Ninety percent of musky waters occur in northern Wisconsin, but populations of the state’s official fish are found in almost every corner of the state and anglers can even find good fishing from shore in some places.
New online resources for 2012 aid musky anglers
The Wisconsin Muskellunge Waters book [PDF] has been updated in 2012 and can help lead anglers to the waters offering the potential to catch a monster musky or the prospect of lots of action, Simonson says.
The book lists waters where musky fisheries are found and updates the status of waters as far as whether they are Class A, the premier musky waters providing the best musky fishing, Class B, waters that provide good fishing, or Class C, waters with musky present but not of major importance to the overall fishery.
About half of the 667 classified musky lakes in Wisconsin are Class A Waters and 29 of the 100 classified river segments are Class A.
The 35-page booklet is available online and can be downloaded and printed off. Hard copy versions are available by contacting a local DNR service center and asking for a copy of publication FH 515 (2012).
New size limit and quick strike rig requirement in effect
A new 40-inch size limit is in effect statewide and applies to 94 percent of musky waters in Wisconsin, Simonson says. There are 41 waters that continue to have either lower size limits or higher size limits. Waters of Green Bay and Lake Michigan north of Highway 10 carry a 50-inch minimum size limit. The daily bag limit for muskellunge is 1 on all waters statewide, except Yellowstone Lake, Lafayette County (daily bag limit is 0), and Escanaba Lake, Vilas County (no daily bag limit).
The vast majority — 98 percent — of avid musky anglers reported using “quick-strike” rigs, which are designed to reduce hooking mortality, compared to using single-hook rigs, which have been shown to result in greater than 80 percent mortality in hooked muskies, Simonson says.
Effective this season, the use of single-hook rigs (other than non-offset circle hooks) are prohibited when fishing with live minnows 8 inches and larger. Single-hook rigs have been shown to result in greater than 80 percent mortality in hooked muskies. Quick strike rigs, which most avid anglers report already using, are designed to reduce hooking mortality.
There are some new temporary residents at the Wild Rose Fish Hatchery. In town from Lake St. Claire near Detroit, Michigan, 3,200 Great Lakes spotted musky are now calling the hatchery home and before long will become an important part of the successful fishery in Green Bay and the Fox River.
Their arrival is the result of a cooperative effort with Michigan DNR and Wisconsin DNR to improve the genetic diversity of our state’s Great Lakes spotted musky population. These fingerlings were raised from eggs taken from musky which were captured in Lake St. Claire this spring. When they arrived at Wild Rose they were about six inches long.
During their stay, they will be measured, fin clipped, PIT tagged and fed until they grow to about12 inches. They will spend the winter months in the outdoor ponds at the hatchery, and will then be stocked in three inland lakes come springtime.
The goal is to create a disease-free, broodstock of Great Lakes spotted muskies here in Wisconsin where eggs and milt can be collected. Then, DNR fisheries staff can rear these fish from eggs taken within the state while continuing to improve the genetic diversity. In Wisconsin, the Great Lakes spotted muskies were native to the Lake Michigan watershed before poor water quality, habitat destruction and over fishing wiped them out in the early nineteen hundreds. Since 1989, the Wisconsin DNR, along with the Musky Clubs Alliance and its member clubs, has worked to restore these fish to at least part of their native range.
For the last three years, DNR staff has used outdoor ponds in Kewaunee to raise musky taken from feral (wild) parents out of the Fox River.
Fishing forecasts give a line on where to go
Here are some fishing forecasts from some Wisconsin fish biologists with musky waters within their assignment areas.
Adams, Juneau, Marathon, Portage and Wood counties – The fish surveys on some of the flowages of the Central Wisconsin River System from 2010 to present have provided good information on the musky populations in those systems. Our surveys show excellent numbers of musky that are capable of and in fact reach the size limit of 45 inches. There are a large number of tagged individuals in the Wisconsin River and these fish are caught frequently and their tag numbers reported. This information has been valuable to managers and helps them track not only individual fish, but the general success of anglers. Even through the dry and hot summer anglers continued to report tags at a rate of about 1 per week, and based on their success fall is shaping up to be a good time to be on the Wisconsin River. Good luck fishing! – Tom Meronek and Jennifer Bergman, fisheries biologists, Wausau and Wisconsin Rapids, respectively
Chippewa and Eau Claire counties – Musky populations are strong on the lower Chippewa and Eau Claire River systems. A consistent stocking program combined with a strong forage base has created a high quality angling opportunity. A 50-inch muskellunge is possible from many waters in the Eau Claire area with larger waters such as Lake Wissota and the Holcombe Flowage getting most of the musky angling interest. Many of the smaller flowages such as Old Abe, Cornell, Dells Pond, Lake Altoona and Lake Eau Claire can also produce a 50-inch fish and should not be overlooked. For those anglers who do not have boats, ample shore-fishing opportunities are present on the free flowing portions of the lower Chippewa and Eau Claire rivers in downtown Eau Claire. The confluence of the Chippewa and Eau Claire River is a popular spot for fall musky anglers. – Heath Benike, fisheries biologist, Eau Claire
Barron and Polk counties – Musky fishing has picked up throughout Barron and Polk counties. Anglers are catching them by casting jerk, crank or spinner baits, or by dragging suckers. A muskellunge survey completed this spring on Bone Lake in Polk County found a density of 0.42 adult fish per acre, down from 2005 but the lake still offers a very respectable musky fishery in terms of numbers and size. While in Polk County, be sure not to overlook nearby Deer Lake, Apple River Flowage, or Wapogasset Lake; all of which contain solid populations. In Barron County, Rice Lake is a perennial fall favorite for musky anglers; largely due to the large-bodied fish it’s capable of producing. Stream anglers should focus on the Red Cedar River from the Rice Lake Dam to the southern border of Barron County. Best of luck! – Aaron Cole, fisheries biologist, Barron
Iron and Ashland counties – Ample opportunities for musky anglers can be found in Iron and Ashland counties. Iron County anglers seeking higher action opportunities should look into the lakes included within the Turtle River system near and around the Mercer area. The musky populations of these lakes are sustained through above-average levels of natural reproduction, and although most fish are going to be of average size (mid-30s), each lake does have the ability to produce some very big fish as well. Ashland County anglers looking for action should consider Day and Upper Clam lakes near the Village of Clam Lake. Survey catch rates within those waters are consistently much higher than those found in typical musky populations. The best shot at hooking into a trophy-size fish in the area will be found in the Turtle-Flambeau and Gile flowages although anglers should be prepared to put more time into these waters in order to be successful. – Lawrence Eslinger, fisheries biologist,
Oneida County – We handled good numbers of muskies during our spring surveys of Emma and Julia Lakes near Rhinelander. Musky Clubs Alliance of Wisconsin began stocking both lakes in 2003, and the 9-year-old fish are around 38 to 40 inches long. Julia was on DNR quotas prior to 2003 and has good numbers of larger fish as well. Rainbow Flowage has a low-density musky population supported by natural reproduction and immigrants from stocked tributary lakes. We only handled a few muskies this spring, but size was very nice. Water temperatures cooled very quickly this fall. A few ciscoes were seen venturing into the shallows this week, although their spawning season is several weeks away yet. – John Kubisiak, fisheries biologist
Lincoln County – Muskellunge fishing is good throughout the Wisconsin River system in Lincoln County. Lakes and flowages include Alice, Mohawksin, Grandmother, Grandfather, Alexander, and the Merrill Flowage as well as the Wisconsin River above Lake Alice and below the Merrill Flowage. These populations are supported entirely though natural reproduction and densities range from low/moderate in the river and small flowage sections, to moderate/high in the larger lakes like Alice and Mohawksin. Size quality is good throughout. Good luck! – Dave Seibel, fisheries biologist, Antigo
Marinette County – During a netting survey targeting Great Lakes spotted muskellunge on the Lower Menominee River in May 2012, we sampled 44 musky ranging from 36.75 to 54.7 inches. One-third of the fish were over 50 inches. The Lower Menominee River is a boundary water with Michigan. The season is open through Nov. 30, with a bag limit of one fish 50 inches or more. There are several ongoing dredging projects in this reach of river, so check locally regarding any boat ramp closures. – Tammie Paoli, fisheries biologist, Peshtigo
Brown County – Cooler, less windy fall weather is expected to improve fishing conditions for anglers on the Lower Fox River and Green Bay, where DNR sampling earlier this year showed lots of large fish over 45 inches. Fyke nets set in the Fox River this past May were filled with many large musky with the largest just over 40 pounds in weight. Many other captured fish were in the 20- to 30-pound range. Egg collection from the netted musky resulted in just over 5,100 musky being raised at the Besadny Facility in Kewaunee and being stocked into the Fox River and Green Bay this past September. This is the third consecutive year of stocking from fish raised at Kewaunee which should lead to improved fishing in the future. – Steve Hogler, fisheries biologist, Green Bay
Waukesha County – Pewaukee Lake offers great action and trophy potential for musky. A comprehensive survey completed on the lake this spring revealed a population density of 1 adult musky per three acres. The largest fish captured during this spring’s second year recapture fyke netting effort was 52 inches. (see attached photo, Andrew Notbohm, DNR fisheries technician.) Trolling the outside weed edge is a popular technique on this 2500 acre lake. – Benjamin Heussner, fisheries biologist, Waukesha
Dane County – Fall lake surveys on the Yahara Chain have run up against some dandy fish this October. Good numbers of fish in the high-30s and mid 40-inch class have been seen on lakes Waubesa and Monona. Fish that survey crews have netted look clean and full bodied. Water clarity has improved dramatically in the last week as heavy winds push lakes toward the fall turnover. Water temperatures are now in the mid- to low 50’s and large forage fish like white suckers are very commonplace on the near shore shallows. Dress warm and bring a camera…it doesn’t get a whole lot better in southern Wisconsin. – Kurt Welke, fisheries biologist, Fitchburg
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Tim Simonson, 608-266-5222