No winging it on Wingra; surveys guide management
DNR Report / WON Staff
The Dane County DNR fisheries team ran a comprehensive survey on Lake Wingra in 2018 and 2019 to assess panfish and game fish populations.
The 2018 spring fyke netting survey targeted northern pike and muskies; a spring electrofishing survey looked for largemouths and panfish. In 2019, the crew ran a spring fyke netting survey to recapture spawning muskies in order to complete a population estimate.
Muskies are known to become “net shy” after being captured once, so crews return the following spring to capture fish tagged the previous year, while also capturing “fresh” fish the second year.
In 2018, 24 fish species were captured in nets. Bluegills were the most abundant (10,931) with an average length of 4.8 inches. The largest went 8.2 inches. Perch (254) ranged from 4.9 to 7.4 inches and were the second most common panfish species. Other panfish included black crappies (107, 3 to 7.2 inches) and pumpkinseeds (55).
Northern pike (47) ranged from 23.3 to 33.3 inches with an average length of 29.5 inches. Largemouth bass (103) ranged from 3 to 21.7 inches with an average length of 12.9. inches. Muskies (113 in 2018; 76 in 2019) ranged from 10.6 to 46.5 inches and showed an average length of 34.6 inches.
The muskie population estimate came out to 466 adult fish for the 336-acre lake, or a very healthy 1.38 adult fish per acre. A pike population estimate came out to 239 adult fish, or 0.7 fish per acre.
Lake Wingra muskies provide an “action” fishery with above average adult abundance, but also the ability to grow a few big fish. The DNR had previously stocked Wingra at a higher than average rate for muskies, resulting in abundant numbers of smaller fish. Muskies had been stocked in Wingra annually for many years, but with no signs of successful natural reproduction.
Recently, the DNR modified its stocking schedule with a goal to achieve 1.0 adult fish per acre, a density that should still provide an above average fishery, in terms of abundance, while hopefully improving size and body condition.
The 50-inch size limit is consistent with other Madison lakes and is in place on Wingra because muskies migrate between lakes Monona and Wingra via the outfall into Wingra Creek.
Other species included yellow bullheads, green sunfish, common carp, walleyes, and several species of minnows. The crew captured only two walleyes in 2018. They measured 17.6 and 19.5 inches.
Largemouth bass and northern pike follow muskies in the ranking of game fish important to Lake Wingra anglers. Largemouth bass numbers were deemed adequate, but crew members said those numbers could be improved upon. The lake’s largemouth size structure could be better, but the good news is that bass size continues to improve after the 2008 carp removal, with many fish from the 14- to 20-inch range. The catch rate was good (34.1/mile of shoreline). The protective regulations (18-inch minimum, one daily bag) have contributed to their resurgence by protecting those fish from angler harvest.
Wingra’s pike population was relatively low and should be monitored. While the pike do show excellent growth rates, recruitment potential is not clearly known. Pike likely migrated into Wingra from Lake Monona via high water during the spring spawn. The team will track pike presence in Wingra to see if they thrive, or if their presence is temporary and supported only by movement from Monona.
There are two areas the local fisheries team would like to manage in an effort to improve game fish and panfish size and numbers – controlling carp numbers and reducing aquatic vegetation growth.
In a report written after the 2018-19 surveys, the local DNR fisheries team said Wingra’s management options hinge on the ability to manage carp biomass at a rate of less than 100 pounds per acre. Doing so will promote high water quality, increased water clarity, and healthy diverse fish and plant communities. High carp numbers create turbid water where few desirable aquatic plants survive.
A carp removal project in 2008 showed improvement not only in clearer water and more rooted aquatic vegetation. And, as numbers of large carp decreased, largemouth bass and bluegill populations responded quickly in a good way. Carp were most efficiently removed through the ice in the winter when they congregated in the deepest waters. Open-water wrangling of adult carp was less successful.
As for managing unwanted weeds or invasive plant species, the fisheries team is working with DNR aquatic plant specialists and Dane County parks staff to monitor Wingra’s plant species, abundance, and “percent cover.”
At some point, if the team can find funding, the DNR would like to run an angler creel survey on Wingra to examine angler attitudes and preferences, while also comparing natural fish mortality to angler harvest.
Nearest town Madison
Surface area 336 acres
Max. depth 14 feet
Water clarity Turbid
Fish species present:
Black crappies, bluegills, pumpkinseeds, rock bass, yellow perch, white suckers, largemouth bass, northern pike, walleyes, and muskies.
DNR regional fisheries office (608) 275-3266, the DNR website http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/water/fhp/fish, or call D & S Bait & Tackle, (608) 241-4225.