Muskie anglers have changed, study says

Madison Findings from a study indicate anglers who target
muskies are more experienced, more likely to practice catch and
release, and have a higher expectation for what constitutes a
trophy than muskie anglers a decade ago.

The study, conducted by DNR researchers and published in the
2004 North American Journal of Fisheries Management, involved a
mail survey to 1,400 anglers to reveal their opinions about the
muskie fishery and trophy management in Wisconsin. Surveys were
sent to anglers who were randomly selected from the membership
lists of muskie clubs, and anglers who lived in the northern third
of the state, where 90 percent of Wisconsin’s muskie waters lie.
State fisheries managers estimate there are 360,000 anglers who
pursue muskies in Wisconsin, a considerable increase from past
decades.

The 23-page survey covered questions ranging from angling
behaviors to regulation options to perceived problems. Scientists
Terry Margenau, a longtime DNR muskie researcher who is now a DNR
fisheries supervisor in Spooner, and Jordan Petchenik, a DNR social
scientist, compared responses between muskie anglers and general
anglers. They also compared responses to a similar survey Margenau
conducted in 1989.

The researchers found significant changes in angling behavior
and attitude among muskie anglers:

42 percent of muskie anglers in 1999 indicated they had been
fishing muskies for more than 20 years, compared with 30 percent in
1989.

35 percent of muskie anglers fished muskies 21 to 50 days in
1999, up from 33 percent in 1989.

62 percent of muskie anglers in 1999 believed a muskie had to be
at least 50 inches or longer to be considered a trophy, compared to
44 percent of muskie anglers in 1989.

98 percent of muskie anglers in 1999 said they generally release
legal-length fish, compared to 90 percent in 1989.

The research also revealed interesting differences between
muskie anglers and general anglers, starting with muskie anglers’
single-minded pursuit of their fish. Seventy percent said they had
few or no other substitutes for muskie fishing, compared to 10
percent of general anglers.

General anglers were more likely to keep a legal-size muskie,
although the 90 percent who said they generally release such fish
is up from 59 percent in 1989. General anglers also are less
supportive of restrictive muskie regulations, such as minimum
length limits, while muskie anglers backed regulations based on a
water’s biological potential, along with increased restrictions,
such as higher minimum length limits.

Muskellunge, Wisconsin’s largest game fish with the exception of
lake sturgeon, are managed as a trophy fish so harvests are
restricted through relatively high length limits and low daily bag
limits to promote more large fish in the population. Only
hook-and-line fishing is allowed for muskellunge, and restrictions
on trolling (originally developed to reduce muskellunge harvest)
exist in many waters throughout the state.

In 2004, the statewide minimum length is 34 inches and a daily
bag limit is one fish, with special regulations on a number of
waters. Yellowstone Lake in Lafayette County, for instance, has a
daily bag limit of zero.

Of the state’s 800 muskie waters, 72 percent have 34-inch
minimums, 24 percent have 40-inch limits, 10 percent have a 28-inch
limit, and 1.9 percent have a 45- or 50-inch limit.

Check the state fishing regulations or go to the DNR web site at
http://dnr.wi.gov for special regulations on specific waters.

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