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

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WI: Muskie size limit up for vote

Madison – Anglers across the state will soon will have an
opportunity to weigh in on a proposal to set the size limit on
muskellunge at 40 inches statewide.

If approved, the change would include about 600 Wisconsin waters
and would reduce the number of regulation categories from five to
three.

Question 4 on the April 11 Conservation Congress and DNR spring
hearings questionnaire will ask if sportsmen and women would favor
increasing the size limit to 40 inches for muskies on all waters
that now have a 34-inch size limit, with the exception of 10
slow-growth waters. An additional 20 lakes would maintain their
“trophy” designation, with size limits up to 50 inches.

Tim Simonson, chair of the DNR Muskellunge Committee, notes that
the average length at which 95 percent of female muskellunge reach
sexual maturity is 40.8 inches.

“This (34-inch limit) doesn’t allow for a female fish to achieve
reproductive maturity,” he said.

In addition, researchers contend that muskellunge have increased
reproductive success after their second or third year of
spawning.

Lifelong muskie angler Roger Sabota, of Rhinelander, agrees with
the proposed size limit and fewer size categories.

“By going statewide with a 40-inch minimum size we will gain back
the faith that Wisconsin is able to produce numbers of large
muskies. This rule will give female muskies the opportunity to
spawn several times before being taken home,” Sabota said.
“Although the majority of anglers practice catch and release, there
are still a number of smaller muskies kept.”

According to Simonson, the change offers a better match with the
biological potential of the fish and constitutes a better fit with
angler expectations.

“We can increase the number and size of big muskies in Wisconsin,”
he said.

Simonson points to data collected during a 15-year period using a
40-inch restriction on selected waters that show a significant
increase in the percentage of 40-inch and larger fish relative to
lakes that maintained the 34-inch size limit. Even lakes as small
as 50 acres are capable of producing 40-inch or larger fish,
researchers say. The exception is a few high-density lakes with
slow-growing fish. These lakes would not be included in the 40-inch
limit.

Reducing the number of categories is a good thing, claims Larry
Slagoski, president of the Musky Clubs Alliance of Wisconsin. While
conceding that some slow-growth lakes may need a lower size limit,
he would like to see a 40-inch limit everywhere in Wisconsin, “…
so you don’t end up with the problem (of complexity) that the trout
fishermen have.”

Objections to the proposal include the idea that young anglers
might be discouraged if they have to release a fish that measures
less than 40 inches.

Slagoski refutes that claim.

“What better way to teach a kid than to release a fish with the
hope that someday he can catch it when it will be even bigger,” he
said. “A camera can do just as well at preserving the
memory.”

There is also a concern that male muskies will not grow to more
than 40 inches. Simonson rejects that notion, as well. “It’s just
not the case – males often exceed 40 inches if allowed to grow,” he
said.

Others have raised concerns about bigger fish eating too many of
other species. Simonson said those lakes with 40-inch size limits
also are some of the state’s best walleye waters.

He also said that Wisconsin has the most liberal size limits in the
Midwest. Size limits in the four states bordering Wisconsin range
from 36 in Illinois to 48 in Minnesota.

“Our goal has always been to manage muskellunge as a trophy fish in
Wisconsin,” Simonson said.

The spring hearings will take place on Monday, April 11, at 7 p.m.
in all 72 Wisconsin counties. Go to www.dnr.wi.gov and click on
“Conservation Congress,” then “Spring Hearings” to find the
location for your county.

The muskie size limit question will read: Do you favor increasing
the minimum size limit to 40 inches for muskellunge on all waters
that currently have a 34-inch minimum size limit, and decreasing
the minimum size limit to 28 inches for muskellunge on ten
slow-growth waters: English and Mineral lakes (Ashland County);
Bearskin, Booth, and Squaw lakes (Oneida County); Julia Lake (on
the border of Oneida and Forest counties); Butternut and Solberg
lakes (Price County); Spider Lake (Sawyer County); and Upper
Gresham Lake (Vilas County)?

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