Early muskie season set for repeal

Eagle River, Wis. – With overwhelming legislative support, Gov.
Jim Doyle is expected to sign a bill that nixes an early
catch-and-release muskie season and that removes a barbless hook
requirement for early muskie and bass anglers.

Prompted by a public outcry and heavy opposition at the 2008
spring fish and game hearings, Rep. Dan Meyer, R-Eagle River,
reversed his position since slipping both items into the 2007-09
budget bill.

Opponents accused Meyer of usurping normal channels that afford
the public ample chances for input regarding fishing regulation
changes. They also said the early muskie season could harm the
fishery, and that anglers wouldn’t use barbless hooks when they
could claim to be fishing other species.

The early muskie season and the barbless hook provisions were to
start in May 2009, but Assembly Bill 4 repeals both measures.

A spokesperson in Meyer’s office said the bill passed the
Assembly on an overwhelming voice vote Feb. 24, as it did March 24
in the Senate. The governor’s office said April 6 that the deadline
for signing is April 16, and at this time they expect the bill will
become law.

Meyer used the budget bill to further what he believed anglers
wanted following a vote of support by Oneida and Vilas county
sportsmen at the 2007 fish and game hearings.

Though the DNR did not object to the law, the new season became
a sore subject for many. At the spring hearings in 2008, a majority
of those attending voted to oppose the new season.

“My job is to represent what the people want, and in this case,
it appears that passage of this season turned out, in the end, to
not be what the majority wanted,” Meyer said.

The law created a catch-and-release muskie season north of Hwy.
10 that would start on the first Saturday in May, concurrent with
the walleye, bass, and trout seasons. Supporters of the measure
believed the new season would boost the spring economy in northern
Wisconsin.

While Meyer continues to believe this would be true, he said he
has a fundamental responsibility to represent the sportsmen who
have since voted against the early season.

Much of the pressure came from Eagle River fishing guide Fred
Brogle, who worked with individuals from Muskies Inc., the
Wisconsin Musky Alliance, Bill’s Musky Club, and the Vilas County
Lakes Association to repeal the law.

The three-week season would require anglers to use only
artificial lures with barbless hooks. The regular catch-and-kill
muskie season would still open on the Saturday of Memorial Day
weekend.

Brogle asked Meyer to reconsider, arguing that any muskie
fishing during the spawning period is harmful to the fishery and
that use of the budget bill deliberately bypassed traditional
processes involving the DNR and the Conservation Congress.

“The point of barbless hooks is ludicrous; no one is going to
change the hooks on a $40 lure,” Brogle said. “It is also
ridiculous to expect law enforcement to take the extra means to
uphold this law when a person can just say, ‘I’m fishing for
northerns.’ “

Meyer said because of opposition to the early season in central
and southern counties, the budget bill was the only mechanism
available to effect the change.

At a May 10, 2007, meeting of the Joint Finance Committee, Meyer
made economic arguments for the early season and got it added to
the budget on a 13-3 vote.

“DNR officials were present in the room and they had a copy of
my amendment in their hands,” he said. “No one spoke against
it.”

Meyer said with the seasonal economy in northern Wisconsin and
May tourism business being much less than it was historically, the
early muskie season could provide some extra business.

Brogle pointed out in letters to Meyer that sportsmen in 68 of
the 72 counties opposed the early catch-and-release muskie season
question at the April 2008 hearings.

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