Are new rules needed for Chequamegon pike?

Ashland, Wis. – Mention Chequamegon Bay, and most anglers
picture big smallmouth bass or hard-fighting trout and salmon. Many
people may not realize the bay holds some trophy northern pike.
However, some anglers believe this top-notch pike fishery has
fallen off in recent years.

“If there was ever a water in the state of Wisconsin with the
potential to grow 45- to 50-inch northerns, it would be Chequamegon
Bay,” said Craig Putchat, owner of Outdoor Allure in Washburn.

Putchat and ice-fishing guide Jim Hudson, of Bayfield, are among
those who have been pushing the DNR to change the current 26-inch
size limit and two-fish daily bag to bring back what they believe
are declining numbers of trophy northerns.

“There are a lot of fish around, but the fish are a lot
smaller,” Hudson said. “I started to talk to other anglers and they
were seeing a decline in large pike, as well.”

The DNR held a public hearing at the Northern Great Lakes
Visitors Center in Ashland on June 11 to allow anglers to give
biologists their input on pike management in Lake Superior.

About 40 people attended, listening to Bayfield fisheries
biologist Mike Seider give background information and survey data
on Chequamegon Bay pike. He said northerns are found in low
densities in the bay. However, you won’t find a lot of snake pike,
and many fish are of quality size. Seider said the 26-inch size
limit and two-fish bag limit was enacted in 1995. Prior to that,
the bay was under a five-fish bag with no size limit.

Spring spawning data dating back to the late 1970s shows that
the average length of spawning fish measured 24 to 28 inches. These
lengths were similar both prior to, and after, 1995 with the
current rules.

Still, Hudson insists that large pike are becoming harder to
find.

“To me, it’s just sad to see what it used to be and what it is
now,” he said. Hudson said that in previous years, he felt he had a
decent chance at catching a trophy-sized pike every time he went
out. Not anymore.

However, there was plenty of opposition toward increasing the
pike size limit.

“I do believe the impetus for this is guide services,” said Mike
Joanis, an Ashland native who drove up from his current home in Eau
Claire for the meeting.

There’s truth to Joanis’ statement. After all, it was the guides
who brought their concerns to the DNR. Their original plan,
however, was to impose a protected slot limit for Lake Superior
pike from 25 to 40 inches. This would still allow harvest of
“eater” pike while protecting spawning stock and creating better
trophy potential. Their proposal was submitted to the Conservation
Congress and passed at the spring hearings in Ashland and Bayfield
counties. It went to the Congress’ Great Lakes Study Committee, but
eventually was shot down.

At the June 11 meeting, anglers were allowed to vote on three
northern pike options, but the slot limit was not one of them. The
options were to keep the current rules, impose a 32-inch size limit
with a one-fish bag, or impose a 40-inch size limit with a one-fish
bag. Results of the vote were not available at press time.

Many attendees said a higher size limit would prevent young
anglers from keeping an “eater-size” fish, and they would have to
release what many would consider trophy fish at 30 inches. Others
expressed concerns that they like to eat fish, and that the higher
size limits would take that away. Some also criticized the guides
for wanting to create a trophy fishery for their own
self-interests.

“The guides want 40-inch fish,” said Bill Chango, of Ashland.
“You’re never going to grow them where everyone goes out there and
catches 40-inchers.”

Hudson denied that the trophy rules were only to benefit
guides.

“It’s not just the guides,” he said. “There are a lot of people
who see this for their kids. They see the pressure that is coming
onto the water and they want to see (pike) be here for a long time.
They’re low density, and they’re susceptible to overharvest. Why
don’t we be the stewards and protect these fish?”

Hudson said Chequamegon Bay is a unique fishery that has the
potential to create trophy northerns, and there’s no doubt there
already are large fish in the bay (a 46-incher turned up in DNR
nets this spring). He would like to see the bay’s potential
maximized, similar to the way Green Bay has been maximized into a
trophy muskie fishery.

“I could travel inland to catch all that I want to eat,” he
said. “Can’t we have areas that can grow big pike?”

Hudson also believes that having a world-class pike fishery in
Chequamegon Bay would be good for tourism-based local
businesses.

“Those guys are driving through here to (Canadian) fisheries
when we have the potential here. Big fish make people come and
big-fish fishermen are the ones who spend money,” he said.

Still, not everyone sees things as Hudson does.

“You can’t keep a bass no more, you can’t keep a rainbow no
more, what’s next? I would say 75 percent of the people are against
this,” Chango said. “It’ll be real interesting to see if the
special interests (guides) get this on the ballot.”

Joanis agrees.

“What you’re showing is that we have a good, sustaining pike
population here. The people that fish – we’ve been chastised and
regulated. The DNR has fixed a lot of things in the fisheries and
now it’s going the other way,” he said.

Seider was pleased with the meeting.

“We were happily surprised with the turnout,” he said. “It’s
hard to get people to come out unless they’re really passionate
about it. It accomplished what we were hoping,” he said. “It
certainly gave us a lot to think about.”

Seider said the votes will be tallied and a plan to keep the
regulations the same or change them will be decided upon in coming
weeks.

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