ASHLAND, Wis. - As proud father Dave Derusha explains it, one of the great things about fishing on Lake Superior's Chequamegon Bay is that you never know quite what you'll catch.
Some days it might be coho salmon or brown trout, other days possibly walleye, northern pike or splake. And then there are the rainbow smelt.
On one late winter day this year, Derusha and his son Tanner, age 9, were jigging through the ice with slender spoons resembling young perch. The two had already caught a number of smelt, which typically run about 7 to 8 inches, when Tanner felt a slightly stronger tug on the end of his line.
"We had already been catching some of the biggest smelt I'd ever seen in my life," Dave Derusha said. "You can always tell when you have a smelt on the line because they really flutter around. They're actually quite exciting to catch on a light jigging rod."
When Tanner hauled his fish up through the ice and placed it in the bucket, father and son both had reason to get excited when they noticed the smelt was quite a bit bigger than the others. The fish measured 10 1/2 inches long and weighed almost one third of a pound!
"It really was exceptionally large for a smelt, so I pulled out my phone and started checking the internet to see what the record was," Dave Derusha said. "I also made a couple of phone calls from inside our pop-up shelter and eventually realized there wasn't a Wisconsin record category for rainbow smelt. I thought, well, if Michigan has one, Wisconsin should too. So we went ahead and got it weighed and notorized and submitted it. DNR was extremely helpful through the process.
"If somebody gets a bigger smelt next month or next year, well so be it," Dave Derusha added. "Nobody can take away our great memory."
Karl Scheidegger, who coordinates the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource's state record fish program, said the Derushas' experience proves that age and hours on the water don't always matter when it comes to catching record fish. Wisconsin's productive lakes, rivers and streams continue to generate new records in a variety of categories involving anglers of all ages.
Last year, for example, Noah Boissonneault of Arkdale was bowfishing when he landed a state record quillback carpsucker on the Petenwell Flowage. The fish, counted in the alternate method category weighed in at 12 pounds 4.8 oz. and was 26 inches long.
During 2016, hook and line records were also set for a Lake Michigan pinook salmon (a cross between a chinook and a pink salmon) that weighed in at 9 pounds, 1.6 oz. and measured 27.88 inches, as well as a West Kickapoo Branch River tiger trout, a cross between a brook trout and a brown trout that weighed 1 pound, 11.3 oz. and measured 17.25 inches.
"Heading into this year's general inland season fishing opener on May 6, Wisconsin anglers have every reason to be optimistic," Scheidegger said. "Based on our spring fisheries surveys, we know there are some big fish out there. While our state record musky dates to 1949 and our state record walleye goes all the way back to 1933, records are made to be broken and we're seeing it happen with many species."
Starting on opening day, this year anglers also will have the opportunity to submit fish for a new live release record category. The program aims to provide anglers with the win-win satisfaction of achieving a state record and a successful live release. Scheidegger said the new program is part of a larger effort to promote quality fishing and encourage the careful release of trophy-size popular sport species. Similar efforts have found success in other states and among some national record-keeping organizations.
Anglers are reminded that the new license year began April 1 for waters or species with a continuous open season. Licenses and stamps for anglers in all state waters for the 2017 license year are now on sale through GoWild.Wi.Gov. Fees for the 2017 license year remain the same as last year.
Anglers fishing Lake Superior and all other Wisconsin boundary waters are again reminded they must possess a paper copy of their license and any stamps to be legal. The paper printouts are required so law enforcement officials in the surrounding states can verify compliance with license and stamp regulations.
MADISON - Celebrations across the state are taking place to celebrate Forest Appreciation Week, which is capped off by Arbor Day on Friday, April 28. Governor Scott Walker issued a proclamation recognizing Forest Appreciation Week and Arbor Day. Wisconsin has celebrated Arbor Day since 1883.
"Wisconsin's forests are important to the overall health of our state's economy, environment, and culture," said Chief State Forester Fred Souba at the Department of Natural Resources. "The 17.1 million acres of forests in Wisconsin provide nearly 65,000 Wisconsin jobs and contribute more than $24 billion annually to the state's economy as well as providing beautiful vistas for recreation activities and many other environmental benefits."
"Because everyone works together at every level from the foresters helping woodland owners plan tree plantings to the loggers working with woodland owners to responsibly harvest their woodlot, our woodlands are healthy and sustainable for future generations to enjoy," Souba said.
In honor of Arbor Day, the DNR Division of Forestry donated about 33,000 tree seedlings to Wisconsin fourth-grade classrooms to commemorate Arbor Day to help young people learn about the important role trees play in Wisconsin's natural beauty.
"Urban forests can reduce energy costs, provide health benefits, improve air quality and control erosion," according to Jeff Roe, DNR urban forestry team leader. "It is clear our residents recognize the social and environmental benefits trees offer since so many communities across Wisconsin have earned Tree City USA designation."
Wisconsin is second in the nation for Tree City USA communities. Holding an Arbor Day celebration is one of the four standards of urban forest management a community must meet to achieve Tree City USA status. The other requirements are: maintaining a tree board or department, having a community tree ordinance and spending at least $2 per capita on urban forestry. For ideas on how to celebrate Arbor Day and to see if your community is designated as a Tree City USA, go to http://dnr.wi.gov/education/educatorresources/arborDay.html.
FLORENCE, Wis. - Construction of a new Florence County boat launch represents one of the many ways the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources works with partners to improve access to great fishing and other outdoor recreation opportunities.
The launch, which involved a $157,331 grant from the state, was matched with funds from the federal Sport Fish Restoration program as well as support from Florence County to provide road access and funds for ongoing maintenance. While the Kingsford Flowage project was awarded during the 2015 grant cycle, in 2016, DNR provided funding for 38 projects to expand recreational boating access, provide for clean vessels or extend sportfishing opportunities. The deadline for the next funding cycle of recreational boating facilities grants is June 1, 2017.
"The new Florence County boat launch reflects years of dedicated effort by DNR, the county and outdoor enthusiasts who committed their time and talent to make the project a reality," said Mary Rose Teves, director of the DNR Bureau of Community Financial Assistance. "Access to the Kingsford Flowage, part of the Menominee River running between Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula, opens up nearly 500 acres on the Kingsford Flowage to anglers and other visitors who will bring tourism dollars to the area. The new landing also will help DNR staff better monitor fish populations and the lake's ecology."
Patrick Smith, Florence County forestry and parks administrator, said he anticipates many more visitors to the area as a result of the new boat launch. The 6.5 -mile stretch of river did not previously offer direct access from the Wisconsin side.
"We're pleased to see this project completed as it provides for motorized, non-motorized and handicap access to the flowage," Smith said. "Previously, the only access to the flowage on the Wisconsin side involved driving down a one-lane dirt road to an unimproved landing on the Pine River, which was still one mile upstream from the flowage. Given the great northern pike fishery, solid bass populations and developing musky fishery, we know this launch will be welcomed by anglers."
Teves said the Kingsford Flowage project included construction of a new access road, boat launch and parking lot as well as handicap accessible parking, restroom and boarding dock. The project, within the boundary of the Spread Eagle Barrens State Natural Area, also should enhance public enjoyment of the area's unique open grasslands and pine barrens. The access site incorporates environmentally protective design features such as stormwater collection, infiltration and vegetative buffer best management practices.
State recreational boating facilities grants may be applied for by counties, towns, cities, villages, tribes, sanitary districts, public inland lake districts and qualified lake associations for a variety of projects. Examples include ramps and service docks to gain access to the water, feasibility studies, purchase of aquatic weed harvesting equipment, navigation aids and dredging waterway channels.
MADISON -- Many black bears have begun to emerge from their dens throughout Wisconsin, and homeowners are encouraged to take precautions to avoid potential conflicts.
"Many conflicts between homeowners and black bears occur as a result of some type of attractant, especially bird feeders, garbage cans, grills, uncontained compost or pet food left outside and accessible" said Brad Koele, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources wildlife damage specialist.
According to Koele, it is especially important to remove these attractants during the spring, when bears are emerging from dens and looking to restore depleted energy reserves when natural foods are limited.
It is illegal to intentionally feed bears in Wisconsin, but it is also important for homeowners to make sure they do not unintentionally feed bears via an accessible food source near their home. Black bears normally avoid contact with people, but when food sources are available bears can quickly learn to associate humans with food.
If a bear finds food such as bird feed or garbage near your home it will likely return, but visits are more likely to stop when food is no longer available. Bears will periodically check sites where food was once available, so it may take several days to weeks before a bear will quit visiting a site once the food source has been removed.
Homeowners can follow these steps to avoid attracting black bears:
"If a bear is near your home, wave your arms and make noise to scare it away--back away slowly and seek a safe location where you can wait for the bear to leave; when scaring a bear away, make sure it has a clear escape route - never corner a bear," said Koele. "If you encounter a bear while in the woods, stay calm and do not approach the bear. Never approach a sow with cubs, and do not attempt to break-up a fight between your pet and a bear."
The department partners with U.S. Department of Agriculture - Wildlife Services to respond to approximately 800 bear-related complaints reported in Wisconsin each year. Homeowners who are unable to resolve a conflict with a bear should contact the USDA Wildlife Services toll-free line at 1-800-433-0663 for properties in Southern Wisconsin, and 1-800-228-1368 for properties Northern Wisconsin.
MADISON - Both landowners and hunters with disabilities are reminded to consider enrollment in the Gun Deer Hunt for Hunters with Disabilities Program, which helps provide opportunities for everyone to enjoy hunting in Wisconsin.
Time spent pursuing white-tailed deer is difficult or unrealistic for some, as sitting in a hunting stand or blind is a privilege that is often taken for granted. This program gives disabled hunters an opportunity to hunt deer while mild temperatures persist and mobility is relatively unhampered.
With only six properties enrolled in the first hunt in 1990, the program has grown considerably over the years as private landowners and organizations have discovered this great opportunity to volunteer their time and land. In 2016, more than 70 landowners in 48 counties enrolled roughly 79,000 acres of hunting land to provide opportunities for over 400 participants to take part in the gun deer hunt for hunters with disabilities.
"The Gun Deer Hunt for Hunters with Disabilities is an amazing opportunity that allows people to hunt deer that otherwise may not have been able," said Maggie Stewart, Department of Natural Resources assistant big game ecologist. "This program has continued to grow since its start in 1990 because of the generosity of landowners - we are grateful for all of the sponsors and volunteers who help make it happen."
Interested landowners are encouraged to enroll their property for the 2017 hunt by June 1. Potential sponsors need at least 60 acres of land and must be willing, if contacted, to allow access to at least three hunters with disabilities. The 2017 disabled deer hunt will take place Oct. 7-15.
A complete list of sponsors will be available on the department's disabled deer hunt website after the June 1 deadline. Sponsors are then required to submit a list of participants online or by mail no later than Sept. 1.
To learn more about the program or complete an online application, visit dnr.wi.gov, search keywords "disabled deer hunt" and find the section titled "information for sponsors." Interested landowners can also request a physical copy of the application by contacting Maggie Stewart, DNR assistant big game ecologist, at 608-261-7588 or via email at Margaret.Stewart@Wisconsin.gov.
The Weekly News is updated every Tuesday at noon.
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