Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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No changes in store for Chequamegon Bay pike

Bayfield, Wis. – Chequamegon Bay northern pike minimum size
limits and bag limits will not change – at least for now – say
local DNR fisheries biologists after receiving angler requests to
increase pike size limits or reduce bag limits to protect trophy
fish.

The current 26-inch minimum size limit with a two-fish daily bag
will remain in effect for the foreseeable future, according to
Michael Seider, DNR fisheries biologist at Bayfield.

Earlier this year, some local fishing guides had approached the
DNR, claiming they were catching fewer large pike. They pushed for
changes to protect large pike and enhance trophy potential. The DNR
sought input from local fishing clubs and held a public hearing at
the Northern Great Lakes Visitors Center in Ashland on June 11 to
get a feel for what anglers wanted from the bay’s pike fishery.

About 40 to 50 anglers attended the June 11 meeting, with nearly
80 percent choosing to keep the current regulations. The majority
of anglers at that meeting did not want to adopt a 32- or 40-inch
minimum size limit with a one-fish daily bag.

“If we would have seen overwhelming support for a change, then
we certainly would have considered it,” Seider said. “We just
didn’t see overwhelming support for a change, and the average
angler is looking for a consumptive fishery where they can take a
medium-sized fish home and eat it.”

Seider also said the makeup of the fishery doesn’t warrant a
protected slot limit, which is generally put in place on waters
that have an overabundance of small fish. A slot limit allows
angler to harvest some small fish, while allowing larger fish to
grow and mature.

Chequamegon Bay’s northern pike population, however, is
low-density and does not fit the mold for a slot limit. Plus,
according to DNR surveys, more than 46 percent of spawning pike
meet or exceed the 26-inch size limit.

“We determined that the slot limit just wasn’t appropriate. We
don’t have an overabundance of small fish,” Seider said. “We really
don’t have any survey data that show the average size is going
down. We’re not seeing the evidence of serious problems. We’re
allowing the fish to reproduce a couple of times before they’re
harvested.”

Still, anglers such as Jim Hudson – a Bayfield ice-fishing guide
who claims he’s seeing fewer large fish and was instrumental in
pushing for the regulations change – would like to see more
protective regulations.

“In my time fishing in the bay (this year) we’ve caught 30 to 35
pike, and the biggest we’ve had in my boat was 31 inches,” Hudson
said, adding that about 90 percent of those fish were under the
26-inch size limit. “I feel that the DNR should have pushed forward
with a higher minimum size limit, even if it was just the 32-inch.
There’s that much more use – so many more users using the resource.
In this day and age, conservative regulations should be the norm.
In my own mind, something has to be done.”

Still, Seider insists regulatory changes are unnecessary.

“We could put higher minimum size limits on all species and
probably grow bigger fish. But is that what the average angler
wants It doesn’t seem so,” Seider said.

Mike Joanis, an Ashland native who drove from his Eau Claire
home to attend the June 11 meeting, applauded the DNR’s recent
decision to maintain the status quo.

“I think the DNR did the correct thing,” Joanis said. “I’m glad
they listened to the people who voted.”

Seider realizes that this issue is an emotional one, and anglers
on both sides are passionate about pike fishing.

“People are going to be upset and this may not be the end of
this issue,” Seider said. “We’ve looked at our surveys and we also
went out and talked. The process went through the way it
should.”

Hudson says he will continue to work for protection of the bay’s
trophy northerns, saying he would consider pushing to get
Chequamegon Bay’s pike season to close concurrently with the inland
pike season. Right now, the pike season remains open
year-round.

“We’re going to continue to try to do something and hopefully
get something changed,” he said. “I understand these guys don’t
want conservative regulations, but it benefits the fishery itself
and the future. Some of these guys can’t see that.”

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