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May 24, 2011

HAYWARD -- Musky anglers in search of larger fish stand a better chance than their parents did of catching their hearts' desire when the northern musky zone season opens May 28.

Preliminary results from fisheries studies are showing that a decade after an overhaul of Wisconsin's musky stocking strategy, the changes are boosting fish size.

"We'll need more surveys and time to fully look at the data but I think it is safe to say that on the subset of lakes where we actually stopped stocking muskies, we have seen a reduction in their abundance but a big improvement in their size," says Steve Avelallemant, the Department of Natural Resources northern fisheries supervisor for the last 25 years.

Signs of Things To Come

Northern Zone Musky Season Opens May 28!

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    Fish supervisor Steve Avelallemant holds a 47-incher netted earlier this spring in a Vilas County lake.

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    Escanaba Lake has musky bragging rights with this 44-incher and ...

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    ...this 43.5-inch musky!

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    Fish biologist Scott Toshner holds up a musky from Upper Eau Claire Lake in Bayfield County.

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    More musky in tanks after being netted from Upper Eau Claire Lake, Bayfield County.

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    Citizen volunteers Jeremy VanErt and Karl Barkow show off a monster 49.5-inch, 34.7-pound musky netted from Shawano Lake.

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    VanErt releases the musky back into the waters of Shawano Lake.

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    Shawn Chapin, a volunteer from Fox Valley Technical College, holds this husky, 48.5-inch, 40-pound musky, also netted from Shawano Lake.

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    Fish biologist Greg Matzke shows off a 48.1-inch, 26.06-pound musky from a Florence County lake.

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    Weighing in at 28.25 pounds, this 46.8-inch fish can be found in a Forest County lake!

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    Tom Merritt with a Sawyer County musky!

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    Greg Johnson with a Sawyer County musky.

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    Johnson releases the musky back into the lake.

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    Mark Neubaur has a good reason to smile with this fish!

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    Nice catch!

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    More Sawyer County musky love!

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    What are you waiting for? Get ready to fish!


The average proportion of 42-inch and larger fish in these populations more than doubled, increasing from about 7 percent to about 17 percent five or more years after stocking ended.

Thirty years ago, the rule of thumb was to stock lakes at twice the annual harvest rate. Because there wasn't good information on the harvest, fisheries staff assumed the harvest rate to be one fish per acre, according to Tim Simonson, the DNR's longtime warm-water species specialist, and co-chair with Avelallemant of DNR's musky committee.

So most lakes were getting stocked at two fish per acre, regardless of whether the lake had naturally reproducing muskies.

By the late 1990s, the musky world was changing. Higher minimum length limits were in place and catch and release had taken hold, Simonson says.

It was clear that the stocking formula overestimated the harvest. In the early 1980s, the projected harvest from 356 Class A, or "trophy waters," was 38,318 fish statewide. By 1990, that total had dropped to an estimated 8,541 fish, and by 2001, only 1,987 muskies were kept by anglers.

So starting in 2001, DNR changed its stocking strategy, a move described in the Natural Resources Magazine article, Long Live the Kings.

Each of the 220 stocked musky waters in the state at that time was assigned to a specific stocking practice for 10 years based on its reproductive status. Stocking rates ranged from zero, where stocking was stopped because natural reproduction existed, to a rate of .5, 1 and 2 fish per acre in waters where the fishery depended on stocking.

Since the change, preliminary data on 75 percent of the lakes where stocking was stopped shows that 95 percent show some evidence of natural reproduction and that the proportion of larger fish is increasing, Simonson says.

In order to confirm these initial results, DNR will be conducting more detailed surveys on several of these populations over the next two to three years, Simonson says.

The better size structure is likely due to several factors including maturation of more abundant year classes of muskies when stocking was greater as well as increased voluntary catch-and-release and the effects of higher minimum length limits where those are in force.

"The future of our musky fisheries as far as larger fish goes looks pretty good," Avelallemant says.

For those anglers who still favor strikes over size, there are plenty of waters to keep them happy as well: 250 of the total 794 lakes or river segments across Wisconsin with musky are so-called "action" waters.

Northern zone musky season details

The musky season opens May 28 in Wisconsin north of U.S. Highway 10, excluding Wisconsin/Michigan boundary waters, and runs through Nov. 30, 2011. The daily bag limit is one and the minimum length limit is 34 inches in most cases, but some lakes have special regulations. Please see the "Guide to Wisconsin Hook and Line Fishing Regulations 2011-12."

Wisconsin-Michigan boundary waters opened for musky fishing on May 15. The southern zone musky season opened with the regular game fish opener on May 7 and runs through Dec. 31, 2011.

Lake Michigan waters north of Waldo Boulevard in Manitowoc open for musky fishing May 28. Included in this season are the Bay of Green Bay, the Fox River upstream to the DePere dam, Sturgeon Bay and other bays to Lake Michigan and Green Bay. The daily limit is one, the minimum length limit is 50 inches, and the season closes Nov. 30.

The Lake Michigan season for musky south of Waldo Boulevard in Manitowoc is already open. It runs May 7 through Dec. 31, 2011, and the daily limit is one. There is a minimum length limit of 34 inches.

More information is available on the Wisconsin musky page of the DNR website.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Steve Avelallemant (715) 365-8987; Tim Simonson (608) 266-5222

Musky Fast Facts
Last Revised: Tuesday, May 24, 2011

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