New 40-inch muskie size limit in place in Wisconsin

Madison — When northern Wisconsin’s muskie season opens Saturday, May 26, about 600 of the state’s muskie waters will bear a new 40-inch size limit.

Another 10 lakes will join a suite of lakes that have a 28-inch size limit, and five lakes will be added to the 50-inch list.

Anglers supported all three size limit changes during the 2011 spring hearings.

The increase from the previous 34-inch limit to the new 40-inch limit was approved by about a two-thirds margin with the expectation that the change eventually would increase the number of larger muskies while also lowering hatchery costs by boosting natural reproduction as the current group of young muskies mature.

Tim Simonson, a DNR fisheries biologist who handles muskie issues for the agency, suggested anglers still read the regulations, though, because there are 44 lakes that have a size limit other than 40 inches.

Twenty lakes now have a 28-inch size limit; 10 lakes were added to that list for 2012. That rule began with nine lakes in 1996 (one was added in 2002) with the intent of lowering muskie densities in lakes with low growth rates.

Six lakes are at 45 inches, and 17 lakes are now at 50 inches. The first three 50-inch lakes were designated in 1996; five more were added for 2012, with angler support at the 2011 spring hearings.

The state has one catch-and-release lake – Yellowstone Lake in Lafayette County. That rule began in 1998.

The five lakes added to the 50-inch-limit list for 2012 are: Rice Lake (including Stump Lake) in Barron County, Anderson and Archibald lakes in Oconto County, Redstone Lake in Sauk County, and Big Elkhart Lake in Sheboygan County.

Anderson, Archibald, and Big Elkhart lakes went to 50 inches because they have been designated as “brood lakes” for Great Lakes spotted muskies, according to Simonson. That idea also was supported by voters at the 2011 spring hearings.

The 50-inch size limit began in 1996 with Grindstone and Lac Courte Oreilles lakes in Sawyer County, and Namekagon Lake in Bayfield County.

The 10 lakes added to the 28-inch-limit list were approved by sportsmen at the 2011 spring hearings. Those 10 slow-growth waters are: English and Mineral in Ashland County; Bearskin, Booth, and Squaw in Oneida County; Julia in Oneida/Forest counties; Butternut and Solberg in Price County; Spider Lake in Sawyer County; and Upper Gresham Lake in Vilas County.

Simonson said he wasn’t surprised that sportsmen supported the changes. He and local DNR fish biologists had been getting requests from fishermen and resort owners for higher muskie size limits for some time.

In a mailed survey from 12 years ago (2000), more than 1,000 muskie anglers were polled on a number of muskie issues, and 70 percent of those who responded favored at least a 40-inch size limit on most waters. In that survey, 62 percent said that a muskie has to be 50 inches to be considered a trophy.

Over the years, muskie research in Wisconsin has shown that, on average, it takes a little more than six years for a female muskie to hit 34 inches, and just less than eight years for a male to reach that length.

Similar research in Ontario from the late 1990s suggests it takes a female muskie about nine years to reach 40 inches and another seven years to make 50 inches.

Wisconsin DNR fish biologists have seen sexually mature female muskies at 27 to 28 inches, but few females are spawning at that size. Simonson said DNR biologists estimate that about half of all female muskies mature at 30 inches, but others don’t begin spawning until they’re between 34 and 37 inches long.

Simonson said the state should see better muskie reproduction in a few years, because research has shown that muskies are more successful at producing young fish after their third or fourth year of maturity. Bigger fish produce more eggs, and spawning success varies each year because of environmental conditions.

If that comes to pass, the DNR can then use its hatchery capacity to stock just the lakes that have little or no natural reproduction, Simonson said.

However, he does not expect any lakes to become “overrun” by muskies to the detriment of other species that also are popular with fishermen.

He noted that muskies are a low-density fish. In most lakes, they exist at less than .5 fish per acre, and that number is less than .25 fish per acre in most of those lakes.

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