Will 2015 muskie season produce new record from Green Bay?
Green Bay, Wis. — While size and bag limits are the subject of frequent discussion among many anglers, there’s one group of fishing enthusiasts who are relatively unaffected by such matters: muskie hunters.
A glance at online fishing forums indicates most muskie anglers would never keep a muskie unless they believed the fish was unlikely to survive or it was a record fish. Steve Hogler, a senior DNR fisheries biologist, said his experience with muskie anglers on Green Bay and the Menominee River bears this out.
“Over time, our creel surveys have indicated fewer than 10 muskies per year are actually being harvested from Green Bay,” Hogler said. “For the anglers who have kept the fish, either it’s the largest fish they’ve ever caught in their life or they have a firm belief that it couldn’t be released healthy, maybe because it swallowed the bait too far. When we went to increase the size limit from 50 to 54 inches in 2014, we had very few complaints from muskie hunters because the anglers already viewed it as a trophy fishery.”
Muskie fishing was the focus of many anglers throughout the DNR’s Northern Region during the Memorial Day weekend. The northern zone season opened Saturday, May 23 and extends until Nov. 30 on inland waters north of Hwy. 10, including Green Bay and most of its tributaries. On the Menominee River, the season runs from May 15 to Nov. 30; on inland waters south of Hwy. 10, the muskie season opened May 2 and runs to Dec. 31.
The state’s general muskie size limit on most state waters is 40 inches. The 54-inch size limit on Green Bay and the Menominee River distinguish the region as one of a select few in the world capable of producing such large fish. Ample forage in the form of gizzard shad, suckers, and alewives help muskies grow quickly, and they typically reach sexual maturity at age 4 or 5 for males and 7 or 8 for females.
“The sheer biomass in Green Bay is incredible, and it’s dominated by forage fish,” Hogler said. “Ideally, you’d like a 20-to-1 ratio of forage to predators, and I’m sure it’s much higher than that. That means the great walleye, bass, and muskie fishery that anglers are experiencing now probably will be there for the foreseeable future.”
Without a unique partnership involving the DNR and half a dozen private sportfishing clubs, however, the trophy muskie fishery would not exist. Muskies are native to Green Bay, but vanished from the region due to overfishing, pollution, and habitat loss in the early 1900s. In the mid-1980s, DNR fisheries managers identified the return of a muskie population to the region as an important goal, but it wasn’t until private groups stepped in with funding and volunteer support that the effort could progress.
Hogler said Dave’s Muskie Club of Kaukauna, Packerland Muskie Club of Green Bay, Titletown Muskies, Inc., of Green Bay, Muskies, Inc., of Sheboygan, and the Muskie Clubs Alliance of Wisconsin all have made critical contributions to an effort that has resulted in some 155,000 muskies being stocked into Green Bay since 1989. The involvement of the clubs continues, with some providing support for rearing operations after the fish are spawned and the eggs taken to the Wild Rose State Fish Hatchery and the C.D. “Buzz” Besadny Anadromous Fish Facility near Kewaunee.
One remaining challenge involves establishing natural reproduction to help sustain the Green Bay muskie fishery. Natural reproduction has been occurring on an extremely limited basis in the Menominee River and Little Sturgeon Bay, but Hogler said fisheries team members believe greater population density, additional genetic diversity, and improved habitat are needed for more successful spawning to occur. Currently, population densities are running below the target range of one fish per 5 acres.
Beyond additional stocking, efforts are now under way to introduce fresh genetics from Great Lakes spotted muskies out of Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River. More woody debris along the river shorelines and aquatic vegetation likely is needed to improve spawning success and provide places for young muskies to hide.
In the meantime, the waters of Green Bay are supporting a trophy fishery in which fish larger than 50 inches are commonly caught by anglers. The question, said Randy Schumacher, DNR eastern district fisheries supervisor, is whether the region will yield a record fish anytime soon.
A 69-pound, 11-ounce fish from the Chippewa Flowage stands as the current state and world record. While conditions in Green Bay are uniquely suited for producing large fish, the strong release ethic among anglers in the region may prove to be a factor in how long the current record stands.
“There’s no other place in Wisconsin with more fish that muskies like to eat than Green Bay and it’s a good possibility that there are record fish out there right now,” said Schumacher, a 39-year DNR veteran who plans to retire later this month and spend more time fishing. “But given the sense of stewardship among muskie anglers, that record may not be broken anytime soon.”