Annual fall surveys support conservative harvest decision
Mille Lacs Lake walleye fishing will open on Friday, Dec. 1, with no bait restrictions and a limit of one walleye 20-22 inches or one longer than 28 inches. “We’re glad results of fall population survey show Mille Lacs anglers will be able to keep some walleye during the winter walleye season,” said Don Pereira, fisheries section chief for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “We know this is important to resorts and businesses because the ice fishing season contributes a lot to the local economy.” The DNR selected the size regulations to protect Mille Lacs’ walleye spawning population, which is largely comprised of walleyes hatched in 2013 (also known as a year class). Those fish currently range from 15 to 19 inches in length and represented about 40 percent of the walleyes sampled during this fall’s population survey. Since the 2013 year class now is nearly fully mature, the DNR determined anglers could keep older and larger fish, something some anglers have been suggesting and requesting. In recent years, conservative regulations on Mille Lacs have protected the younger spawners to-be so they can replace the older spawners, which is necessary to sustain the population. The DNR and members of the Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee did discuss setting the large fish limit at 26 inches. But feedback suggested that keeping those fish in the lake was preferred because the possibility of catching walleye 26 to 28 inches makes Mille Lacs an attractive destination. There also was concern that a 26-inch limit could result in a higher harvest level that would count against the 2018 allocation. Mille Lacs fall walleye population survey, known as an “assessment,” showed that the 2013 year class continues to dominate the population. The catch of walleye hatched in 2014, 2015 and 2016 was below average. Fish hatched this spring were caught in good numbers, but it’s uncertain if those numbers will remain as the 2017 year class progresses through its first, second and third years. “During the past 15 years, our studies show fewer and fewer young walleye surviving to their third year,” Pereira said. “Young fish not surviving has put Mille Lacs’ walleye population in the unfortunate situation it is now. Whatever is causing that mortality is the root problem.” The assessment also looks at food abundance and walleye health. Perch 1-2 years old were caught in low numbers and the number of young-of-year perch was above average. The number of young-of-year tullibee caught was near average. Perch and tullibee are the primary food source for Mille Lacs’ walleye, which are showing negative effects from a lack of adequate food. That shortage may be driving the hot walleye bite anglers have experienced on Mille Lacs. Complete winter regulation information for Mille Lacs Lake is available on the DNR website at mndnr.gov/millelacslake.
SOURCE: Minnesota DNR
Fall musky fishing heats up along with chance for state record
MADISON, WI - While Wisconsin's first catch and release record has been established for musky, there's plenty of time left in 2017 for anglers to better that mark and enjoy some of the best fishing for the famed fighter and Wisconsin's official state fish. The northern zone musky season runs through Nov. 30, on inland waters north of U.S. Highway 10 excluding Wisconsin-Michigan boundary waters. The southern zone musky season stays open another month beyond that, closing Dec. 31, 2017, on inland waters south of U.S. Highway 10. Jacob Holmstrom of Danbury reeled in his place in Wisconsin fishing history by claiming the first catch and release record in Wisconsin for musky. Holmstrom caught the 53-inch musky on Warner Lake in Burnett County on June 24, 2017, around 6:30 p.m. The fish was measured, photographed on its side on a measuring board with Holmstrom, and released, according to Karl Scheidegger, the Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist coordinating the catch and release records program and the traditional by-weight records program. "We're excited for Jacob and excited to have our first record established for one of our marquee species," Scheidegger said. "It's a big fish, but there are bigger fish out there. We want anglers to know that just because there's a record, don't stop fishing. Late fall fishing is some of the best for musky and records are made to be broken!" Zachary Lawson, inland fish biologist for Iron and Ashland counties, says recent weather patterns have now 'flipped' many lakes, creating conditions where anglers may want to turn attention to deeper rock structure, hard bottom areas, and steep breaking shorelines. "Anglers are taking advantage of prime time for trophy specimens, with muskies up to 50-inches being reported," he says. Lawson himself caught and released a heavy 48.5-inch musky earlier this fall. Wisconsin has about 775 lakes and streams with thriving musky populations. The statewide regulation sets a daily bag of one fish with a minimum length of 40 inches, but special fishing regulations are in effect on some waters in an effort to bring back the trophy muskellunge Wisconsin is clearly capable of producing. Find a list of all musky waters and trophy musky waters by going to dnr.wi.gov and searching "musky." To see fish biologists' forecasts for musky for 2017 based on fish survey results, read the 2017 Wisconsin Fishing Report. Live catch and release records recognize anglers without killing the fish DNR's live catch and release record program started earlier this year to promote the conservation of fisheries resources and quality fishing by encouraging the careful release of trophy-size popular sport species. To see the application to fill out and the procedure to follow to submit a possible record, go to dnr.wi.gov and search "record fish." Anglers interested in pursuing a record are encouraged to follow these live release tips to minimize stress on the fish as much as possible during the photo process: * Keep the fish in the water as much as possible before releasing it. * Gently place the fish back in the water. Do not hang the fish on a stringer or hold heavy fish by the jaw as this may damage the jaw and vertebrae. * Use wet hands or wet cloth gloves to handle the fish. * Hold a large fish horizontally and support its body. * Have a camera ready before landing the fish to minimize air exposure. If necessary, revive the fish by holding it upright in the water and moving it back and forth, forcing water through its gills.
SOURCE: Wisconsin DNR
Walleye Tournament set Oct. 21 in La Crosse
Sara and Billy's Wild Walleye Tournament is scheduled Saturday, Oct. 21, in La Crosse. Entry fee is $10, with catch-and-release tournament hours between 8 a.m., and 4 p.m. For more information, call 608-406-1622.
Fishing season closes Nov. 1, on Little Muskego Lake
MADISON, WI - The fishing season on Little Muskego Lake will close Nov. 1, due to a water level drawdown aimed at stopping the spread of aquatic invasive species. "Our goal is to help the fishery survive the draw down," says Ben Heussner, Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist for Waukesha County. Water has been drawn down in Little Muskego Lake so that part of the lake bottom is exposed to freeze out starry stonewort, an invasive plant that can harm fish populations. The drawdown is concentrating fish in the southern part of the lake, making them more vulnerable to angler harvest over the winter. The current water level is about 74 inches below the normal high water mark. At this level, the lake has about 34 percent less water by volume and 50 percent less by surface acreage. "Closing the season will conserve the game fish supply until water levels are restored and insure continued opportunities for good fishing," Heussner said. "The season will revert to normal fishing regulations on March 5, 2018. For more information on Wisconsin fishing regulations, search the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov, for "fishing regulations." The DNR held a public meeting on the planned closure earlier this month and the meeting was well attended, with the majority of people favoring season closure, according to Heussner. Starry stonewort is a submerged invasive plant that invades lakes, ponds, reservoirs and slow moving rivers. It is native to Europe and western Asia and forms dense mats in lakes and can significantly reduce the diversity of other aquatic plants. Dense mats of vegetation can also impede movement of fish, fish spawning activity, water flow and recreational activities.
WILD ROSE, WI - Efforts to establish a self-sustaining population of spotted musky in Wisconsin's Lake Michigan waters got a boost this fall when 7,000 musky fingerling averaging 17 inches were stocked into the Fox River, several Green Bay tributaries, Lake Winnebago and three inland lakes. The fingerlings were raised for a year in cool water ponds at Wild Rose State Fish Hatchery. They now weigh about a pound and average 17 inches in length, although some were pushing 19 and 20 inches. Department of Natural Resources fish crew members stocked roughly 1,350 fish into the future broodstock lakes of Anderson and Archibald Lakes in Oconto County and Elkhart lake in Sheboygan County, according to Jesse Landwehr, hatchery supervisor. The three inland lakes will serve as the source of brood stock in future years. Beginning in 2019, the DNR tentatively will spawn spotted muskies in an effort to ramp up production in the hatcheries. Historically, spotted musky were native to Lake Michigan and its tributaries in Wisconsin, but habitat destruction, pollution and over-exploitation during the early to mid-1900s decimated their populations. The DNR, in cooperation with several local musky clubs and the Musky Clubs Alliance of Wisconsin, started to reintroduce the Great Lakes strain musky into Green Bay waters of Lake Michigan in 1989. They stocked fish that were hatched from eggs collected from Michigan waters where spotted musky still are found, and raised them at Wild Rose State Fish Hatchery. Those stockings have helped create a popular fishery in Green Bay with anglers reeling in many 50-plus-inch fish, but the ultimate goal of the project - creating a self-sustaining population - has been elusive. DNR staff have worked in recent years to diversify the genetic pool in hopes of seeing better natural reproduction. Michigan had been providing 5- to 6-inch fingerlings to Wisconsin hatched from disinfected eggs and Wisconsin has been sending northern Wisconsin musky fingerlings to Michigan in return. Creating broodstock lakes will enable Wisconsin to spawn its own fish. All the fish going into the three brood lakes were fin-clipped and PIT tagged so the DNR can identify individual fish and their parentage. "This enables us when we are spawning on the brood stock lakes in the future to maintain genetic diversity," Landwehr says. For the rest of the fish going into the Green Bay system, 20 percent were tagged and clipped to help local biologists identify individual fish and assess their growth rates.
SOURCE: Wisconsin DNR
Surveys show plenty of big sturgeon for unique winter fishery
MADISON, WI - The deadline to purchase licenses for the 2018 Lake Winnebago sturgeon spearing season is Oct. 31, with state biologists forecasting great opportunities to land the fish of a lifetime while enjoying time outdoors with family and friends. "Getting together with family and friends is what keeps people coming back year after to year, but spearers will be happy to know that our 2017 assessments once again show there are a lot of really large fish out there to challenge them," says Ryan Koenigs, Department of Natural Resources Lake Winnebago sturgeon biologist. "We handled nine fish greater than 75 inches and 65 fish over 70 inches this spring," he says. "The biggest fish we measured was 81 inches, so it should be a really exciting year for everyone enjoying this unique winter event." The Winnebago System is home to one of the largest populations of lake sturgeon in North America. DNR's careful management of that population, in conjunction with citizens and conservation groups, allows the continent's largest recreational harvest through a unique winter spear fishery dating to the 1930s. The 2018 spearing seasons open on Feb. 10, with separate but simultaneous seasons for Lake Winnebago and for the Upriver Lakes. Participation in the Upriver Lakes season is determined by lottery. The seasons run for 16 days or until harvest caps are reached.
SOURCE: Wisconsin DNR
Lake sturgeon hook and line season opens Sept. 2
MADISON, WI - Anglers interested in pursuing a big, hard-fighting fish will want to try their hand at fishing for lake sturgeon - armed with a stout rod and heavy line. The hook and line season for lake sturgeon opens Sept. 2 and runs through Sept. 30, on several major river stretches for a fish that can grow to more than 6 feet long and exceed 150 pounds. The world record taken by hook and line was a 170-pound, 10-ounce lake sturgeon pulled from Yellow Lake in Burnett County in 1979. While anglers can purchase a carcass tag to harvest one fish per season of 60 inches or greater, the growing catch and release opportunities for this fish are what's exciting many anglers, said Lori Tate, a fisheries biologist and member of the Department of Natural Resources sturgeon team. "There's definitely still an interest in harvesting sturgeon in the state, but we're also seeing anglers enjoy catch and release opportunities for lake sturgeon," Tate said. "Sturgeon fishing opportunities are improving as a result of the more protective length limit we implemented in 2007." "We're very lucky. I don't think there is any other place in North America where you can fish for lake sturgeon like anglers can in Wisconsin rivers." Wisconsin offers a hook-and-line season on several major inland waters, including sections of the Chippewa River, Wisconsin River, Flambeau River, Jump River and Yellow River. All anglers fishing for lake sturgeon must have a valid Wisconsin hook and line fishing license. Anglers need to purchase a harvest tag if they intend to keep a sturgeon. The harvest tag is available throughout the season and costs $20 for residents and $50 for nonresidents. Anglers who harvest a legal-size fish must immediately attach the harvest tag to the fish and take it to a registration station by 6 p.m. the next day for registration. Find a list of harvest waters, harvest registration stations and instructions for properly tagging a harvested fish on the Lake Sturgeon Hook and Line Season page of the DNR website. Ryan Koenigs, the fisheries biologist who chairs DNR's sturgeon committee, offers these tips for anglers wanting to fish for lake sturgeon during the hook and line season. * Use a good sturdy rod and reel and heavy tackle including high pound test line. * Use a large gob of night crawlers as bait. Cut bait can be effective as well. * Present the bait along the bottom in either deep holes or areas with swift current, making sure to use an adequate amount of weight to hold the bait in place. * Try fishing in the tailraces below dams, as fish are drawn to current. * Use special care after landing the fish if you plan to release it. * Take any photos or measurements quickly and release it quickly to reduce stress on the fish. If it is a large fish, consider leaving it in the water when taking your photos. Do not tether or tie the sturgeon by the tail to weigh it or lift it by the head as this can damage the fish. If a smaller sturgeon is caught, simply hold the fish under the belly when handling. The Chippewa River is home to a healthy lake sturgeon population. In 2017, 196 lake sturgeon were captured by the DNR fisheries crew out of the Eau Claire office. The fish ranged from 13 to 67 inches and weighed up to 56 pounds, so there are trophy fish out there to be caught. Last year, eight sturgeon were harvested from the lower Chippewa River and anglers reported catching numerous sub-legal fish. Most anglers use night crawlers or cut bait and fish downstream of the dam or in deep holes of the river. Anglers should be prepared for a hard fighting fish, so a stout rod is needed along with heavy line and a large landing net. - Joseph Gerbyshak, fisheries biologist, Eau Claire, 715-839-2877 Lake Wisconsin, starting above the Prairie du Sac Dam and including the main lake and the Wisconsin River up to the Kilbourn Dam in Wisconsin Dells, holds a lake sturgeon population that is completely self-sustaining. The adult sturgeon population in the lake (those greater than 50 inches) currently sits at around 1,600 individuals, and has remained stable for many years. Although no fish have been harvested from this section of lake/river since 2012, anglers continue to catch and release many fish each hook and line season, with the upper end of the main lake and the segment of river just below the Kilbourn Dam in Wisconsin Dells being two popular places to fish, said Nathan Nye, fisheries biologist in Poynette. The Wisconsin River below the Prairie du Sac Dam remains a very popular place for sturgeon anglers to fish as well, and all of the sturgeon harvest from the Wisconsin River since 2012 has occurred below the Prairie du Sac Dam, with nearly all of the harvest occurring from the tailrace down to the Highway 12 Bridge at Sauk City. The tailwater adult population is generally between 150 and 200 fish in a given year, and since the 60-inch minimum length limit was instituted for the 2007 fishing season, harvest has averaged around eight fish per year. Typically, more fish are harvested later in the season as adults move up from points further downriver and concentrate in the deeper areas immediately below the dam, said Nye. DNR crews sampled 105 adult sturgeon that averaged 55.2 inches and 41.3 lbs in 2017 in the Yellow River. All fish were captured upstream of Yellow Lake in the Yellow River during their spawning migration. The largest fish this season was 72.8 inches and 106 lbs. Yellow Lake anglers traditionally do very well during the September hook/line season and are generally catch and release anglers with very few fish harvested. Harvest last season was four fish and the 2015 season had one fish registered. Overall, anglers can expect to see a good hook and line season with cooler water temperatures going into September, said Craig Roberts, fisheries biologist in Spooner. The section of the Menominee river upstream from Grand Rapids Dam is open to hook and line with a 60-inch minimum size limit. DNR has stocked the 10 miles of upper Menominee River from Sturgeon Falls Dam to Quiver Falls since 1982. Crews just surveyed the river and caught a fish over 60 inches near the Sturgeon Falls dam. It's the first fish in that size range that has been caught in that section of river. If the public wants to try a new section of the river they could explore that area, said Mike Donofrio, fisheries supervisor in Peshtigo. Veteran sturgeon anglers as well as newcomers to hook-and-line sturgeon fishing should find plenty of catch-and-release opportunity for sublegal-size fish in the Flambeau and Upper Chippewa rivers, along with an occasional chance to harvest one far exceeding the 60-inch minimum length limit. Of the eight sturgeon harvested from these river segments in the 2016 open season, two were 74 inches long. Popular shore fishing spots include the tailwaters of most hydroelectric dams and the deeper pools in the free-flowing river reaches, though some sturgeon anglers prefer to fish from boats in the impoundments. Some prefer cut bait or prepared stink baits, but many sturgeon anglers use a gob of night crawlers. Fishing is always prohibited in the fish refuges immediately downstream of the Turtle-Flambeau Dam and the Upper Park Falls Dam on the North Fork Flambeau River and below the Arpin Dam on the Chippewa River, said Jeff Scheirer, fisheries biologist in Park Falls.