Grand Rapids, Mich. — Michigan muskie and pike anglers are giving the nod to a proposed set of rules that are expected to improve fishing for trophy-size predators by restricting their take on lakes statewide. Some are calling it an important shift for the state.
“It’s a great conservation move for the state,” said Will Schultz, of Grand Rapids, president of the Michigan Muskie Alliance. “It’s something that will increase tourism.”
Schultz is an avid muskie angler and a member of the DNR Warm-water Resources Steering Committee, the group that developed the proposed regulations. He likes the idea of keeping only one muskie per season and called that rule a good compromise. MMA had sought a higher size limit to control the take – a 46-inch size limit on certain waters.
The current 42-inch limit will remain if the new rules are adopted.
“We were looking for different ways to manage the overall muskie take,” Schultz said. “But the entire committee thought one fish per season was the best option.”
Overfishing is the biggest issue when it comes to muskies. They are large, slow-growing predators that take 6 to 8 years to become sexually mature and reproduce.
Maintaining the population requires limiting angler take to 5 percent of the population annually, according to Schultz. But in the real world of muskie fishing, that isn’t what’s happening.
A 2-year, tagged muskellunge study done by the DNR, partially funded by MMA, showed high exploitation, over 30 percent on the Lower Antrim chain of lakes. That problem is exacerbated by growth rate differences that vary widely from lake to lake.
Muskies in some waters are 34 to 38 inches long at maturity. They are still protected by the 42-inch size limit.
But in other waters, like Torch Lake, they grow much faster. They might reach the legal 42-inch limit before they’re old enough to spawn, Shultz said.
Kregg Smith, the DNR fisheries biologist coordinating the rule change process, said the proposed regulations will provide more opportunity to catch a muskie, and the pike rules should result in larger pike in more waters.
“Pike anglers were requesting larger fish, and most commented they were getting smaller-size fish in most lakes,” Smith said. “For muskie anglers, the concern has been a high level of exploitation and providing more fishing opportunities for them.”
Joe Bednar, a pike angler from Battle Creek, said he was “thrilled” about the one-muskie limit and supports the changes for pike. Bednar is also a member of the steering committee.
Something had to change, he said. There are too many lakes now where big pike are gone. The proposed pike rules should change size structure in lakes, but they may not go far enough, according to Bednar.
“If we really wanted to bite the bullet and make improvements, we would keep only small ones and reduce the density of small fish and let the big ones go,” Bednar said.
“We fished AuTrain Lake in the Upper Peninsula and caught over 400 pike. Only three were just over 24 inches (keeper size). When you see how we have altered the size structure of these fisheries, it is shocking.”
Mike Holmes, of Iron Mountain, president of the Michigan Darkhouse Anglers Association, represented spearing interests on the committee. Holmes also called the rules a compromise, one he hopes will lead to more opportunity for muskie and pike spearfishing.
Holmes said spear fishermen have historically been “shut out and demonized” by pike and muskie anglers, who “say we spear all the big fish.”
Holmes said that assertion is untrue and that his group and others “got over that hump” with the compromise regulations.
“We have hopes about how it will work out,” he said. MDHA, he added, would like to see mandatory reporting along with a muskie tag.
“It would show that a lot more hook-and-line anglers are harvesting muskies,” Holmes said.
Smith said mandatory reporting had been discussed, but is not on the table.
“We’re not going to implement that. It’s too much to ask,” he said. “But this has been a good process with more involvement by the public than I have seen.”
The rule package was discussed at the September Natural Resources Commission meeting and is expected to be acted upon in October.