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Fisheries Management

Fishing WisconsinMuskellunge research

Muskellunge researchers in Wisconsin use scientific experiments to find ways to improve muskellunge populations, and as a result improve the quality of muskellunge angling. A good research program forms a solid foundation that enables biologists to manage and protect muskellunge for future generations. Research studies take on a variety of shapes and forms from evaluation of cost-effective ways to stock muskellunge to determining factors causing the decline of natural reproduction. Research studies help determine the effect of new regulations such as size limits on the size structure, growth, and the abundance of muskellunge populations. Radio telemetry studies have helped researchers determine behavior and preferred habitats of juvenile and adult muskellunge. Such research is important for protection of critical habitat. On a broader scale, research produces information about how certain land use practices or shoreline development can affect muskellunge.

Musky Management Team

Wisconsin's Muskellunge Management Team (WMMT) is a standing team of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Bureau of Fisheries. Its members include state Fisheries Biologists, with representatives from Wisconsin's major muskellunge fishing organizations.

The three primary tools used to manage muskellunge in Wisconsin are:

Protection of habitat and water quality || Stocking || Angling regulations

Habitat protection

Maintaining good habitat and water quality is the first step in any fishery management program. Without good habitat, other management actions would be futile. Habitat protection for muskellunge is critical if we are to maintain natural reproduction, allow young muskellunge to survive their early life stagers, and support the healthy aquatic community that musky depend on throughout their lives. Habitat protection is an ongoing struggle in the face of increasing lakeshore development and wetland encroachment. Habitat protection measures include enforcement of shoreline, wetland, and water quality regulations; purchasing and preserving important shorelands and wetlands; and educating property owners about good shorelands management.

Stocking

Much of the success of Wisconsin's muskellunge management program can be credited to an excellent propagation and stocking program. Stocking has been used to establish new fisheries, but most stocking is done to maintain fisheries where natural reproduction, for various reasons, may be inadequate or nonexistent. State hatcheries produce large muskellunge fingerlings from eggs which are collected each spring from wild fish. The cost to produce and stock large musky fingerlings is high (between $2.50 and $3.00 each) compared to other species, and the relatively few fish that survive to reach large size are worth considerably more. The cost, however, can be justified in terms of the total value of the recreation and benefits to the economy provided by the fishery. Most anglers who catch a musky know that the experience is not something that can be measured in dollars!

Angling regulations

Angling regulations, such as size limits and closed seasons, can be important and cost-effective managment tools. Regulations help to allow sufficient numbers of muskellunge to survive to a size that anglers want to catch. In addition, effective regulations can benefit natural reproduction by assuring that adequate numbers of muskellunge survive to maturity, and preferably long enough to spawn more than once.

Although the muskellunge has always been considered a trophy fish, in recent years the sport of musky fishing has evolved rapidly toward a much greater emphasis on quality size fish rather than just quantity. Catch-and-release is now widely practiced among dedicated musky anglers, and regulations have become more restrictive in Wisconsin as well as in neighboring states and Canada. In 1996, the Wisconsin statewide muskellunge size limit was 34 inches, but several dozen waters now have special regulations such as 40-inch, 45-inch, and even 50-inch minimum length limits.

This trend toward stricter protection of muskellunge in a necessary result of the increased popularity of musky fishing and greater pressure on the resource. Some have argued that stricter regulations are not needed and because voluntary catch-and-release is doing enough for the fishery. Catch-and-release has definitely had positive impacts; however, harvest of muskellunge continues to be high enough that many waters remain well below their potential for producing trophy fish. A combination of effective regulations and voluntary catch-and-release of large muskellunge is the best way to realize more of the potential of our waters to produce trophy muskellunge.

For more information, please contact:

Tim Simonson, Fisheries biologist
(608) 267-7498

Last revised: Monday April 06 2015