Sunday, January 29th, 2023
Sunday, January 29th, 2023

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Wisconsin Lake Profile – Bone Lake, Polk County

 

Bone Lake muskies fewer in number, but showing size

 

By WON Staff

 

Wisconsin is blessed in having a long list of very good muskie fishing waters. Polk County’s Bone Lake has long ranked high on that list. In 2017 and 2018, the local DNR fisheries crew ran the latest muskie survey out there to monitor Bone Lake’s big esox population that has seen a 50-inch size limit since 2011.

 

The lake had a 40-inch limit from 1990 through 2010. The 50-inch limit came on in an effort to increase the number of fish longer than 45 inches.

 

Partly because of its size and reputation as a topnotch muskie lake, Bone has been one of the state’s most surveyed lakes. Bone has now seen eight muskie surveys in back-to-back years beginning in 1964-65. The 2011-12 survey came up with a moderate population density of 0.42 adult fish per acre. The DNR considers adult muskies to be 30 inches and longer. The density and size structure declined from the 2005-06 survey, which appeared to be from increased exploitation, according to a DNR report from that survey drafted by DNR fish biologist Aaron Cole in 2013.

 

Muskie density appears to have fallen a bit more since the 2011-12 survey. The 2017-18 survey put the population estimate of adult fish at 0.35 muskies per acre, or 627 fish. This is the lowest Bone Lake muskie estimate since 1964, but is still considered a moderate density compared to other muskie lakes. The survey also showed that as density decreased, Bone’s size structure increased from the last survey. Muskie size structure was the highest ever documented in Bone Lake, according to the report.

 

“The improvement in size structure was the most apparent difference with the Bone Lake muskellunge population between this survey and previous surveys,” wrote Cole. “The greatest size structure increases were observed in the largest size classes, which should be of interest to muskellunge anglers. It is too early to truly evaluate the 50-inch limit that was implemented in 2011. This increase in size structure could be partly attributed to the 50-inch limit, but likely was more due from the lower adult density and presumably lower levels of exploitation since the 2011-12 survey.”

 

The local team recommended a target population of 0.2 to 0.4 adult fish/acre that should maintain the higher size structure and a population density that would offer reasonable catch rates. The crew suggested the alternate year stocking regime be reduced from 1.5 large fingerlings per acre to one large fingerling per acre.

 

Bone Lake is on a six-year survey rotation. The DNR crew will continue to monitor the response of the population to the reduced stocking rate, population density, size structure and exploitation of the Bone Lake fishery.

 

The muskies handled in the 2017-18 survey ran 12.2 to 48 inches. The average length (sexes combined) was 35.7 inches. The average length by sex was 33.3 inches for males; 38.6 inches for females. The average female length was the highest ever documented in a Bone Lake survey. The oldest fish was aged at 17 years.

 

Although muskies are not native to Bone Lake, it has been managed for muskies since 1935, when the state first stocked the big esox. Muskies are not known to naturally reproduce in Bone Lake, hence the stocking. Bone is now managed as an A1 muskie water – it produces large fish, but the overall abundance is lower compared to other muskie waters. It was previously managed as an A2 water, a high-density action fishery with low size structure. Due to the higher stocking rates in the 1980s and 1990s, more restrictive size limits and the increase in sport angler voluntary release, the density became as high as 0.99 adult fish per acre in 1995. The high density provided good angling action, but size and condition declined. From 2001 through 2017, stocking was reduced to 1.5 large fingerlings per acre every other year. That is now one large fingerling per acre in alternate years.

 

Following the most recent survey, the local DNR fisheries team recommended implanting passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags into all muskies 20 inches or longer handled during future surveys. At the same time, crew members would collect anal fin rays from all PIT-tagged fish for aging purposes.

 

“Having a robust PIT tag database would provide growth information and give insight on growth, mortality, longevity and general movement patterns,” wrote Cole.

 

The team also suggested allowing angler-based PIT tag recapture programs, especially with permitted tournaments to increase the number of recaptures during non-survey years.

 

Bone will be surveyed again in 2023-24 to monitor the response to the reduced stocking rate and 50-inch size limit. In the meantime, lake dwellers are encouraged to reduce disturbance to the lakeshore and littoral zone and restore shoreline to a more natural state to protect fish and wildlife habitat and improve water quality.

Bone Lake

Nearest town: Luck

Surface area: 1,781 acres

Max. depth: 43 feet

Water clarity: Mod. Clear

Fish species present: black crappies, bluegills, pumpkin-seeds, rock bass, perch, suckers, smallmouth  bass, largemouth bass, northern pike, and muskies.

For information: DNR regional fisheries office (715) 635-2101, the DNR website http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/water/fhp/fish, or call Big Mike’s Outdoor Sports Shop, (715) 349-2400.

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