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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

October 2006

Readers Write

No Fans Of Tournament Fishing
Horse Sense About Prairie Chickens
Bobwhite Encounter
Melanistic Mutant Pheasant
Two Birds In Bush Not Worth Handling
Do Fish Feel Pain?
Northern Pike Tumors
Getting Technical
Keep Wolves Wild
UPDATE: Investigating Losses After Fishing Tournament

No Fans of Tournament Fishing

I was delighted to see Pat Schmalz's article in your June 2006 issue (Contemplating competition). It was very clear to me that detrimental results of competitive fishing far outweigh the minimal benefits. The biological effects, after numerous scientific studies, showed alarming survival rates. I quote, "Many species are homebodies. If they are moved even a few miles from their home habitat, they don't find their way back." The upside of tournament fishing is all economic – money!

Being a very competitive person, I have played tennis, golf, bowling, baseball, volleyball and chess, and enjoyed it when I won. But then I would go fishing to relax! No pressure – just me and the fish. I live on the water and have observed hundreds of tournament guys come by my property. They are all so "hyped" up, making 30 casts per minute, and they call that fun! I'd call it a job! None that I have seen take the time to appreciate their catch. They crank the bass as fast as possible, toss it in the live well and move on. Has the greed in these fishermen grown to where the real fun is lost?

Also, they only come to my lake when the bass are spawning and very vulnerable. Then they move north to the next "ripe" lake. How sporting is that? If the DNR refused permits for tournament fishing until they determined a post-spawn date for bass, tournaments would fold. Amen!

Jim Cox

The article Contemplating competition about big money fishing tournaments in Wisconsin caused my blood pressure to skyrocket.

Big money tournaments involving full-time, professional participants simply ought to be completely and quickly terminated! They represent a bastardization of what should be a relaxing, contemplative personal enjoyment of one of nature's oldest and best human activities.

Our Mississippi and many other rivers and lakes in the U.S. are now crowded with full-time, professional contestants in $100,000+ boats, trailers, etc. many of whom have no legitimate occupation. They are rude, thoughtless persons who ignore all common sense and thoughts of courtesy. If you don't believe me, ask any lock and dam operator (or truly recreational boater) on the Mississippi.

Back in the late 70s, I remember us discussing the relatively small problem while I was on the Natural Resources Board. Some of us were in fear that this practice might grow to become a serious problem. Now 30 years later, the gorilla is in the living room!

My friends in the local fisheries division of our DNR office tell me that the terrible mortality rate of released bass is being grossly underestimated. One of them tried to find out how the unsportsmanlike "culling" or "upgrading" exception for some bass tournaments got on the books. He found out there was not one record of whom, how or why that concept was slipped into the tournament rules. They felt it was done at the behest of wealthy persons upriver who could make a fortune by buying up all the major boat and related equipment manufacturers.

The DNR "advisory committee" is said to be actively discussing limitations on tournaments on smaller Wisconsin lakes and rivers. That committee should save its time and simply work for the elimination of all big money tournaments on all Wisconsin waters.

Daniel T. Flaherty
La Crosse

Horse Sense about Prairie Chickens

As a boy, I had experience with prairie chickens as they came in from the Great Plains during the dry years of the Great Depression (The drummer of love, February 2006). I believe some of my experiences could be applied to preserving the surviving birds. First, farming involved raising some timothy hay for horses – often it was the last hay harvested and some was often left to stand if it wasn't needed. Prairie chickens would fly into the snow covering it, both to escape the wind and extremely cold night temperatures and to feed on the timothy hay seed.

Also, farmers cleaned their barns and put the manure in little stacks every so often on the fields. This included horse manure which often had oats that had passed through the horse's system – but which was food for the prairie chickens. As it was above the snow, they could feed on it. Farmers were also adding to their farms by cutting down trees from the wood lot. Some went for logs, some to brush piles and most to firewood. The brush piles were burned and prairie chickens used the ashes to get rid of parasites under their feathers by flecking their bodies through the cold ashes. It was also a time when trapping was done by farm boys to earn a little extra money. I trapped skunks for $.75 to $1.25 per pelt – depending on the width of the skunk's stripe, the narrower the better. Foxes, coyotes and other enemies of prairie chickens were few and far between.

Dr. Allan J. Mortenson

Bobwhite Encounter

I enjoyed your article in the June 2006 issue on bobwhite quail in Wisconsin (Silent whistle). While spring turkey hunting this year in southern Portage County I got a look at a bobwhite which did just what you said in your article; it froze on the spot and did not move. This is the first bobwhite I have seen in that area and I am excited at the possibility of a flock taking hold there. Unfortunately, according to your article I see the mortality rate is pretty high, which I'm sure is the case with many game birds. Is there any place online I can listen to the sound of the bobwhite? I have no idea what their whistle or call sounds like. Maybe I have heard it without realizing it.

Rich Rawson

Several websites offer free online access to bird songs including this one, Songs and Calls of Some New York State Birds. You can also buy CDs with recordings of birds commonly found here. One such recording that we admire has been previously reviewed in this magazine. We recommended John Feith's "Bird Song Ear Training Guide." He made most if not all of his recordings here in Wisconsin. Use a search engine with the topic "bird songs" to explore further, and congratulations on seeing quail.

Melanistic Mutant Pheasant

© Howard Goeden

Enclosed are pictures that my wife took last May. We were about one and a half miles south of Picket on County Highway M (northern Fond du Lac County) when we saw this odd looking pheasant in a field beside the road. We had the camera in the car so we quickly turned around to get these pictures.

Howard Goeden

This bird is a melanistic mutant pheasant, a pure breed often called "black pheasant" by hunters. Upland Wildlife Ecologist Andrea Mezera says that, "like all pheasants, they are not native and any found in Wisconsin are the result of a release. A variety of pheasant strains raised on Wisconsin game farms are released on game preserves or by folks with dog training permits." We asked Andrea if they can be legally hunted. She said since Wisconsin small game regulations aren't specific for ring-necked pheasant, other varieties, including the melanistic mutant are fair game and can be considered part of the daily bag limit.

Two Birds in Bush Not Worth Handling

Someone once wrote, "There's a little good in the worst of us and a little bad in the best of us." Of course, that refers to humans, but I can't help wondering if the animal kingdom is also included. As a bird watcher and nature observer, the abundant critter population near our home gave me plenty to watch and study. During a storm one day, I saw a blue jay nest fall from a pine tree. Two blue fuzz-balls huddled in the grass. They were so cute that I thought maybe I could get a picture.

Armed with my camera, I hurried outside, set my lens on close-up and focused. Just as I was about to snap a really great picture there was a terrifying, raucous screech accompanied by a sharp poke to my head! I think I screeched back, covered my bruised cranium with my one free arm and ran! Mrs. Jay was a bit upset.

I tried to forget the babies when we left on an errand, but I couldn't. When we returned, they were still there cradled in the wet grass as rain continued to fall. I was sure they would be more comfortable and content if moved to a protected area. My smarting wound reminded me to be cautious. I continued my surveillance, scanning the trees and sky before finally deciding all was clear. I tried again, sans camera. As I stepped outside, I knew exactly where I'd move the downy duo and stooped to retrieve them. SHRIEK! She was back and I was running! That's it, I decided, my good deed would go undone.

The next time I looked out, I melted. The mother bird was sitting beside her tots, one wing extended over them for protection. She may not have spoken, but her message came through loud and clear: Mind your own business, I'm perfectly capable of taking care of my family. I guess there is good in the worst of us.

Dolores Eggener

Do Fish Feel Pain?

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Over the years I've met very few people who think about – or admit they think about – the torment that fish are subjected to before they're killed.

When I saw the cover of the latest issue of your magazine (June 2006), it was so repulsive, so graphic a depiction of the barbaric methods of "catching" fish, that I had to weigh in with this magazine on the issue of tormenting any creature in order to capture it. It's just wrong.

As far as I know, only some Native Americans and indigenous people of other countries practice a humane method of killing fish. I wonder why more Americans haven't learned how to do that.

I think it would be appropriate for this magazine to raise the consciousness of people who use unnecessarily cruel tactics to "catch" fish and to teach them that there are more civilized ways of catching fish. What is required to humanely catch/kill fish is true sportsmanship. I think that's a concept that your magazine might want to support.

Marilyn Gardipee

We certainly do not consider catching fish with lures to be a cruel or barbaric harvest method, nor would we consider spearing or netting, followed by dispatching and filleting to be more "humane." As omnivores, people choose to eat other animals, and that process should be handled humanely and efficiently.

Do fish feel pain? Perhaps, but we suspect in a different way than people feel pain. Fish have tough, bony mouths designed for consuming hard, often spiny prey like crayfish, other finned fish and mollusks. Many studies note that fish lack the higher brain functions associated with feeling "pain." Further, fish that strike at lures will often repeatedly strike after being released. Would they do that if they had an elaborate sense of pain? Would fish continue fighting once hooked if they sensed a lot of pain? We don't know definitively, and one can certainly find ample research supporting both sides of this debate.

Our fishing courses and educational materials advocate sportsmanship, fishing with barbless hooks, using circle hooks designed to hook fish in the mouth, handling fish carefully and respectfully to maintain their slime coat, and releasing fish promptly if anglers are not going to keep them for food. Repeated research shows that better than 90 to 95 percent of fish can survive if anglers follow established catch-and-release techniques.

The anglers we know have tremendous respect for fish and spend a lifetime learning more about the habitat that fosters strong fish populations. They care about the waters they fish. They care about shoreline development. They support protecting and conserving aquatic resources. They understand the importance of stemming runoff and pollution. They are willing to financially support pollution prevention and they take an active role as outdoor policies are formed. Those attitudes and actions often develop as a consequence of staying involved in angling.

Northern Pike Tumors

I would like an explanation of the lesions and tumors on the northern pike population in Nelson Lake in Hayward. We were ice fishing this winter and caught a few northerns and every one had tumors and lesions on them. The locals said to pitch them and not eat them. It looks like it has highly infected the northern population in that lake. Why and what can be done to remedy the problem?

Andy Gajewski

Sue Marcquenski, fish health specialist, and Frank Pratt, fisheries supervisor from Hayward, provided this explanation: The skin tumors and sores on Nelson Lake northerns have been diagnosed as Lymphosarcoma, a fish disease that affects northerns and muskies in several Wisconsin lakes, as well as in other states, Canada, Europe and the U.K.

The malignant tumors are thought to be caused by a virus. Most infected fish have large, red sores on the skin that are slightly raised. In some cases, larger lesions appear as ball-like tumors. The disease is likely transmitted by fish-to-fish contact during spawning.

The disease is specific to northern pike and muskies and does not affect other fish species. It is not a danger to human health but because it affects the muscle tissue, it makes fish unpalatable and they should not be eaten.

Pratt believes the disease may cause a major decline in Nelson Lake's northern population and the lake's northern pike trophy initiative will have to be delayed. He also warns that the disease can be transmitted to other waters and asks anglers to be diligent in their efforts to prevent such a spread. Pratt advises anglers to keep all northerns caught on Nelson Lake, discard infected fish in the garbage, not back into any waterbody, and that fish without external lesions may be eaten.

Getting Technical

I have to tell you that your story Superior adventure (June 2006), was very good. The story and photos are very insightful but I think I found a mistake. On page 24 in the middle of the page you mention that Lake Superior is the "world's largest lake." I am sure it is America's largest lake but not the world's largest lake. That lake is in Siberia or Mongolia, I believe, or maybe eastern Russia. Will you please look into this and put a correction in the next issue of the magazine?

Steve Wattron

Technically, you're right, so let's call Lake Superior the world's largest freshwater lake. The Caspian Sea that lies between Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan has a surface area of 143,200 square miles, but it is saltwater. By comparison, freshwater Lake Superior is the world's second largest lake with a surface area of 31,700 square miles. And as long as we're talking facts, the world's deepest lake is Lake Baikal in Russia. Its 5,712-foot depth is more than four times Superior's maximum depth of 1,333 feet.

Keep Wolves Wild

With regards to the wolf photograph in the Black River State Forest (June 2006 Readers Write), I would like to caution anyone from getting out of their vehicle to photograph a wolf or any wild animal. The photographer states, "I decided to be bold and get out of my truck." The only thing bold in that picture is the wolf. Any wild animal that becomes habituated to humans and loses its fear is a dangerous animal. All wild animals should have a natural fear of humans. Many wild animals can run faster than humans and are unpredictable. The best way to photograph wildlife is from your vehicle. Please do not think by looking at that photograph and visiting Black River State Forest that you can get out of your vehicle and take great pictures of wolves. We need to keep the "wild" in wild animals.

Alice Droske
Elk Mound

Update: Investigating Losses after Fishing Tournament

DNR fisheries biologists in La Crosse continue to investigate the death of 639 fish, mainly largemouth bass following the area's largest and most lucrative fishing tournament in mid-July. This year's die-off marks the second consecutive year of higher than normal mortality following the Wal-Mart FLW Stren Series Bass Fishing Tournament, held this year July 12-15.

Almost all of the dead fish recovered in the first few days after the tournament had been fin-clipped on their tails, indicating they were fish that had been caught and released during this tournament. Hot weather, disease, the stress of being caught and held in a live well before release may all be factors in the mortality. Tests following the post-tournament die-off last year confirmed that most of the dead fish tested positive for largemouth bass virus, a disease that can kill stressed fish. Results from testing this year are not yet available.

The Department of Natural Resources and the UW-Stevens Point Wisconsin Cooperative Fisheries Unit are studying fish mortality following big tournaments like this one that attracted more than 400 anglers who caught more than 2,800 bass.

When laws regulating fishing tournaments were revised in 2003, biologists were directed to study the biological, economic and sociological effects of catch-and-release bass tournaments. The study will investigate what role disease, weather and other factors may play in such die-offs in addition to the potential consequences of tournament angling.