DNR expands Great Lakes strain muskie stocking

Editor

Wild Rose, Wis. Wisconsin’s efforts to return Great Lakes strain
spotted muskies to state waters expanded this year with the release
of 1,160 two- to three-inch muskie fingerlings into Lake
Poygan.

This is the first time Great Lakes spotted muskie fingerlings
have been stocked into the Fox River/Winnebago system, according to
DNR fish biologist Kendall Kamke of Oshkosh.

“We’re trying to rehab and establish a population of Great Lakes
strain muskies in the Winnebago system,” Kamke said. “Historically,
there were muskies in there when the river was directly connected
to Green Bay. We haven’t seen those fish in this system in a long,
long time. There are muskies in the Winnebago system right now, but
those fish are inland strains.”

Oshkosh fish biologists will continue to make requests for
spotted muskie fingerlings each year. Most of those fingerlings
will be stocked in the upriver lakes of Poygan, Winneconne and
Butte des Morts.

The Great Lakes spotted muskies have been raised at the DNR’s
Wild Rose hatchery since 1989, when state muskie fishermen helped
the DNR get the spotted muskie program started, according to Steven
Fajfer, Wild Rose hatchery supervisor.

“We’ve been stocking spotted muskies into Green Bay since 1989.
Up until this year, that was the only place to get the Great Lakes
spotted strain,” Fajfer said.

In the past, most of the Green Bay spotted fingerlings were
stocked at the Fox River in Green Bay, or the Menominee River at
Marinette. This year, some fingerlings also will be released at
Sturgeon Bay.

Production of Great Lakes strain muskies has been going well
this year, according to Fajfer. This year, Wisconsin worked with
the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to import eggs from
Lake St. Clair.

“The reason for going to Michigan was for genetic diversity,”
Fajfer said. “Lake St. Clair has a good concentration of fish and
we’ve worked with Michigan before, so it made sense to go there.
Georgian Bay has a lot of muskies, too, but then we have to deal
with importation from Canada.”

The Wild Rose hatchery has been averaging about 3,000 spotted
fingerlings per year the past few years.

“We’re hoping to get 4,000 to 6,000 fall fingerlings (10- to
12-inchers) this year. It looks like there are a lot of muskies in
the ponds right now, so this will be a little better than average
years,” Fajfer said.

Besides the 1,160 small fingerlings already released into the
Winnebago system, the DNR released about 50,000 fry into the system
earlier this spring. Those fish were put out as fry because the DNR
didn’t have rearing pond space to raise that many fry to fingerling
size. Those fry were not placed in Green Bay because the bay has
been getting fin-clipped fingerlings each year. The fry would not
have been clipped, so if they survived to adult size, fishery crews
would not know whether they were stocked or the result of natural
reproduction.

This year, the Woodruff hatchery also is rearing some spotted
fingerlings. The Woodruff hatchery has some extra rearing space
this year because last year’s record muskie production at that site
relaxed the demand for muskies this year.

Fajfer said the spotted muskie program would not exist today if
it weren’t for the efforts of Wisconsin muskie fishermen and
fishing clubs.

“The DNR never had the money to take this on, but we did have
pond space available,” he said. “Wisconsin muskie clubs have
donated in the neighborhood of $10,000 per year every year since
1989 to help buy the minnows needed to raise these fish to fall
fingerling size. Their help has been critical to the success of
this program.”

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