FISH group launches muskie adoption plan

Spooner, Wis. — Looking for the perfect gift for your outdoor addict who seems to have everything? Christmas will be here soon and a local “friends group” has an idea for you. Why not give them their very own state fish – a Wisconsin muskellunge to follow over its years of growth?

In these times of limited financial resources, friends groups are becoming vibrant partners in helping maintain Wisconsin’s natural resources. Wisconsin state parks, rivers, streams, forests and various public lands are the beneficiaries of the hours and dollars donated by these volunteers.

One of the state’s newest friends groups – and apparently the only one in the nation dedicated to a fish hatchery – is called Friends Into Spooner Hatchery, or FISH. Their goal is to provide support for improvements to the visitor’s center at the Gov. Tommy G. Thompson State Fish Hatchery and to help fund the fun of fish and fishing. This effort includes turning a 100-year-old building on the hatchery grounds into museum for the display of vintage hatchery equipment from around the state.

The hatchery, located along Hwy. 70 across the road from the DNR’s Northern Region office in Spooner, has been raising fish for more than 100 years. Renovation and expansion of the facility was completed in 1995 and it’s now one of the most modern cool-water hatcheries in Wisconsin.

Fundraising for support of their cause is always a challenge for friends groups. This year FISH came up with an innovative idea to accomplish that by allowing the public to adopt a tagged muskie raised at the hatchery before its release into the Chippewa Flowage.

On Oct. 8, about 100 people came at the invitation of FISH to watch as 6,000 of the 7,500 muskies raised for stocking in the Chippewa Flowage were tagged with a passive integrated transponder or, as it’s commonly referred to, a PIT tag at the hatchery. Attendees also selected the muskie they wanted to adopt, although opportunities still exist for others interested in adoption.

The PIT tag is a coded electronic tag about the size of a grain of rice. It’s inserted into the abdomen of these muskies and can be detected and decoded by using a scanning device and without needing to handle the fish. The tags are designed to aid research and management of these fish, although they are the same type of tags used to identify pets if they get lost.

When the fish is PIT tagged, all related information about the tagging, including size of the fish at the time, location and organization doing the tagging, is recorded in a central database.

The DNR’s Sawyer County fish biologist, Max Wolter, out of the Hayward office, is glad to have the help of FISH.

“We’re excited to work with them to develop the FISH Adopt-a-Musky program. This program raises funds for the group that will help support hatchery operations and promote fishing. By getting people to adopt a muskie they are also getting them to buy into our management program,” said Wolter.

The stocked muskies were hatched from eggs collected from adult muskies this past spring by the DNR’s hatchery team. By insuring these fish are returned to the flowage, the genetic purity of the strain remains in place.

“This stocking was part of our normal stocking rotation,” he said, “but it’s notable that this is the most muskies stocked in The Chip since 2001 and their average length was the largest ever on record for stocking in the flowage.”

Wolter said FISH isn’t alone in promoting the muskie adoption and stocking idea.

“The Hayward Chapter of Muskies, Inc., made a donation to buy extra food for these fish to grow them to a larger size before stocking,” he said.

Studies have shown the survival of stocked muskies –actually fish of any type – increases if they are as large as possible when they are released. Wolter also acknowledged the help of volunteers when the fish were tagged, saying, “The staff at Gov. Thompson Fish Hatchery should be applauded for all the incredible work they do to rear these fish in tough conditions year in and year out.”

With the PIT tags, the muskies can be scanned with a special scanning device when they are netted during future lake surveys – or even if they swim within a certain distance of any spot where a scanner is set up, say a bridge or shoreline along a spawning area.

“When the scanner is passed over a muskie captured in a survey, a unique number will be shown. That allows us to track each tagged fish when we find them in surveys or to keep track of which fish are being used as brood fish,” said Wolter.

A second technique to track these fish relies on the expertise and volunteer time of sport anglers. “We’ve supplied local guides and Muskies, Inc., members with some of these scanners so they can help collect more data too,” said Wolter.

With these scanners, anglers can do a quick check of muskies they catch to see if it has a PIT tag.

Retired DNR fish biologist and FISH board member Larry Damman is an advocate of the unique partnership.

“With this program biologists will be able to track and learn more about The Chip’s muskies over the course of their lifetime by monitoring their movements and spawning ability,” said Damman.

Anyone interested in adopting a muskie may do so for a suggested donation of $5 per muskie. During the periodic checks of muskie populations of the Chippewa Flowage, biologists will be able to identify the muskies by scanning the PIT tags, then measuring and releasing the fish. The results will be posted on the FISH website annually in February so the “parent” of an adopted muskie can see if it’s been recaptured and how much it’s grown.

Those adopting a muskie will get a certificate with the number of “their” fish displayed. For information of adopting a muskie, go to spoonerhatchery.com

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