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A league for lunkers
Anglers have always known that Wisconsin is a great state to fish. With a new award program, they can show everyone just how good it is – and they are.
Casting for salmon off the stern of a Lake Michigan charter boat. Tempting trout in a clear, coulee stream. Pursuing an elusive musky on a remote northern lake. Working walleye around the Mississippi's wingdams. Where else but Wisconsin could an angler enjoy such a range of outdoor experiences, each with the promise of a fine catch?
It hardly seems possible that fishing in Wisconsin could get any better. But it has. Beginning the opening day of fishing season, May 4th, Wisconsin anglers can be recognized for their skill in the sport, their knowledge of fish species, and their conservation practices by becoming members of the "Hooked on Wisconsin" Anglers' Club.
This new award program highlights outstanding sportfishing accomplishments and it gives anglers a chance to contribute valuable field information about the condition of the state's fisheries. The club is open to anglers of all ages, resident or nonresident. And – are you sitting down? – membership is free!
Giving credit where it's due
The DNR Bureau of Fisheries Management has wanted to acknowledge Wisconsin anglers for their exceptional catches with an award program for some time.
"Big fish are an exciting part of fishing" says Lee Kernen, fisheries management director. "Every year hundreds of fine fish are caught from our waters, and our fisheries program never hears about them, let alone gives credit for them," Kernen added. "I've wanted to recognize our anglers and provide the means for anglers to share the excitement of their experience with all of us. I think we're on the right track with a program like the Anglers' Club."
The catch alone has never been the full measure of the angling experience. The Anglers' Club aims to foster appreciation for Wisconsin's diverse fishery by increasing the angler's knowledge of fish species and encouraging catch-and-release of trophy-sized fish for others to catch again.
The club idea was cooperatively developed by the Department of Natural Resources, the Division of Tourism, local tackle manufacturers and sporting organizations. Charter contributors who will help fund the Anglers' Club include Mercury Marine, Uncle Josh Bait Company and Muskies Inc. Other sporting businesses and organizations have also expressed interest in club sponsorship.
Anglers can qualify for membership in the Anglers' Club in any or all of the following three categories:
How do I become a member?
To be initiated into the Anglers' Club, you must first meet the requirements of a particular category and, if you're over 16 years old, must also possess a valid resident or nonresident Wisconsin fishing license. All fish must be caught by hook and line according to current Wisconsin fishing regulations.
How do you document your angling exploits? Start by tucking a camera, film and a tape measure in your tackle box. To qualify in the Kept Fish category, anglers must catch and weigh whole, unfrozen fish to the nearest half ounce on a commercial scale (Don't rely on your tackle box spring scale!) in the presence of two witnesses. To qualify in the Live Release category, anglers should measure caught fish to the nearest quarter inch in the presence of one witness. Each entry in these categories must by accompanied by a clear, side-view photograph of the fish, and be submitted with an Anglers' Club application within 30 days of the catch.
In the Mixed Bag category, clear, close-up photographs of all caught and released species should be taken for identification and attached to the entry form.
Photographs of released fish must be taken at the catch site (no exceptions). Your snapshots will play an important role in promoting the club, so pose your fish in the best light possible bring plenty of film and take several photos before releasing the fish! (Ed. note: You might review our June 1993 article on photographing your catch.)
All anglers submitting qualifying entries will receive a "Hooked on Wisconsin" Anglers' Club embroidered patch. In the Kept Fish and Live Release categories, participants will receive attractive certificates along with chevron patches for each species. Certificates and patches will be awarded for every 10 species caught and released in the Mixed Bag category. For example, an angler will receive recognition and an award for catching and releasing 10 species, 20 species, 30 species, and so on. With over 80 fish species in Wisconsin that will bite a hook, the angler that pursues the Mixed Bag category can look forward to a lifetime of fishing variety and challenge.
To encourage the catch-and-release fishing ethic, a drawing will be held at the conclusion of each membership year for all entries submitted in the Live Release category. The winner will receive a wall mount replica of the fish species that was released.
Recognition has its benefits
Other than the DNR's Record Fish program and miscellaneous accounts gleaned from newspapers, there has never been a consistent way of compiling information on outstanding fishes taken from Wisconsin waters. The experiences of Anglers' Club members will certainly help fill that information gap. The information they share will identify the exceptional fish harvested and released in the state. A summary of the previous year's catches and select photos will be published in a summer issue of Wisconsin Natural Resources.
We can learn much about our fishery from the people who enjoy it the most. For instance, we'll track which waters produce outstanding fish, Kernen says. As we gather information from Anglers' Club members over time, we'll see trends that affect angling such as how fish populations and size structure change in response to harvest and management practices. "Anglers' Club members will help us monitor the quality of fishing in the state and give us an indication of how well the DNR fisheries program is managing Wisconsin's fisheries," Kernen says.
You can pick up an application form for the "Hooked on Wisconsin" Anglers' Club at DNR offices, Wisconsin Information Centers, local sporting goods and bait vendors, and participating resorts throughout the state. Or write:
"Hooked on Wisconsin" Anglers' Club
Fishing enthusiasts of all ages, residents and visitors, are eligible to join. Membership is open from January 1 to December 31 of each year. Entries must be received by January 15 to qualify for the previous year's membership.
We hope you'll get caught up in the "Hooked on Wisconsin" Anglers' Club. We guarantee it will add a new dimension of fun and challenge to your favorite pastime. Good luck – and good fishing!
Minimum length and weight standards for the species that count
Fish species that qualify in the Kept Fish and Live Release categories are generally considered game fish and panfish. Minimum length and weight standards were chosen based on expected growth rates statewide to provide challenging, yet achievable, catches. The Mixed Bag category includes additional species to those listed here which are legally caught by hook and line in Wisconsin waters.
Lake sturgeon (1) 65.0 lb./65.0 in.
1. Must be taken by hook and line, not speared during the special winter season.
2. (GL)=Great Lakes: includes tributaries of the Great Lakes with substantial fish migrations.
Fisheries Biologist Karl Scheidegger works for DNR's Bureau of Fisheries Management.