Lower Wisconsin bass rules still the subject of debate

Editor

Dodgeville, Wis. DNR fish biologists and the Conservation
Congress have struggled and sparred over the DNR’s proposed
14-inch, one-fish per day bass limit to bolster the Lower Wisconsin
River’s fishery since the idea surfaced last year at about this
time.

Although the proposed rule passed on a statewide vote at spring
hearings in 2002, counties along the river opposed the change, so
the Natural Resources Board sent the idea back to the DNR for more
study. This time around, in January, the DNR suggested running the
special limits on the river from Muscoda up to the Prairie du Sac
dam, instead of the entire Lower Wisconsin, as was proposed last
year. The congress countered with cutting that distance in half,
and having the rule on the river from Spring Green upstream to the
dam.

Now both proposals will appear on the April 14 spring hearing
agenda and fishermen will be asked to vote for the proposed rule
they most support.

There also will be a third option offered to voters leave the
river the way it is.

Since the disputed bass regs surfaced again in January, some
fishermen are wondering why the DNR has to go with a “14 and 1” to
achieve improved quality in bass sizes. Why not a slot limit to
allow those who want to keep and eat a few bass to do so?

DNR fish biologist Gene Van Dyck of Dodgeville said that idea
had been considered, but bass harvest rates on the Lower Wisconsin
are too high for a slot limit to work.

“You have to remember that slots were developed down south, and
slots only work where you have high reproduction and low mortality
on the lower end of the slot. If you don’t have that, it absolutely
will not work,” Van Dyck said.

Van Dyck also said the DNR’s fish committees have researched and
developed a set of regulations for each fish species, with each
regulation having a set goal.

“Our bass committee spent a lot of time on this and has come up
with basically three categories a general, quality and trophy. The
regulation for a quality bass fishery is 18 by 1. We don’t really
want to nickel and dime that regulation package,” he said.

The state’s basic bass regulation is the 14-inch minimum and
five-fish daily bag limit. The trophy rule has a 22-inch limit and
one-fish daily bag. That regulation is reserved for unique bass
fisheries like Chequamegon Bay’s smallies.

Van Dyck maintains the Lower Wisconsin needs a minimum of the
“14 and 1” to see improved bass fishing.

“Right now, the bass are overharvested and the forage base is
underutilized. We think we can achieve a quality fishery down there
and have an awful lot of happy people,” he said.

However, members of the Conservation Congress Executive Council
said they heard from local residents along the river that they like
to keep a few smaller bass for the frying pan, and that’s the main
reason for last year’s local opposition.

Allowing any lower-end harvest wouldn’t bump the size quality,
Van Dyck said.

“Based on our creel data on bass and walleyes, we know anglers
absolutely will cream off the small fish. The impact of the current
14-inch limit already shows how many small bass they were keeping.
Largemouth numbers are way up.”

The DNR has proposed running the new regulation from Muscoda
upstream to the dam because biologists have learned that most fish
upstream of Muscoda migrate upstream in fall and winter below the
Prairie du Sac dam. Below Muscoda, most of the fish winter in the
Mississippi River. Van Dyck maintains that by adopting Muscoda as
the cut-off point, most of the upriver fish would be protected by
the new rule.

“That would be a biologically sound proposal,” Van Dyck
said.

Conservation Congress chairman Steve Oestreicher said the
congress countered with the Spring Green cut-off because people
below that line don’t want the stricter rule.

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