Largemouths, bluegills doing very well in Lake Nancy
Lake Nancy remains a healthy fishery for largemouth bass, northern pike, and panfish. Walleyes remain at low densities, but provide another option for anglers. Muskellunge are present but anglers are unlikely to encounter them.
Walleyes are where the DNR invests the most resources for Lake Nancy via stocking and surveys. However, they remain at a low density and below the current recommendations for walleye stocking (1.5 fish per acre). Lake Nancy had a high-density walleye fishery in 1965, and in 1976 walleyes were considered the most abundant game fish and stocking was discontinued.
Since those surveys, despite efforts with walleye stocking, spawning habitat, and more restrictive walleye regulations, and liberal bass regulations, the walleye population became and remains low. Walleye natural reproduction now appears to be non-existent while largemouth bass have become abundant. The creation of spawning reefs in the early 2000s did not result in increased spawning success.
Stocking has become the main source of recruitment for Nancy walleyes.
Walleye growth was generally above average, though very few year classes are represented. The male-to-female ratio (1:1) also suggests a low-density population. These characteristics are typical for most stocked fisheries in Washburn and Burnett counties. It is currently assumed that a combination of factors are causing walleye declines in Lake Nancy and other lakes in northern Wisconsin.
Northern pike catch rates were lower than 2012, when looking at fyke net catch data. The crew also did not see any large female pike during the most recent survey from the spring of 2019 that provides the information for this report. These results are due to netting locations not being effective for northern pike in this survey since the focus was on sampling for walleyes, so nets were set near sand and gravel and adjacent to deeper water instead of in areas that would be more attractive to pike. Due to this change in sampling, the crew did not capture the numbers or size of spawning pike seen in 2012.
Muskellunge are likely present because an extremely low level of natural reproduction is still occurring in Lake Nancy from the experimental stockings in 1984, 1987, and 1990. This study concluded that there is no evidence to suggest that Leech Lake muskellunge would perform better than Wisconsin muskellunge in Wisconsin waters. However, during the study researchers concluded that Leech Lake muskies did reproduce in Nancy. The rates of natural reproduction were lower than average for self-sustaining muskellunge populations in Wisconsin.
The two muskies netted last spring were likely a remnant of that stocked population established with the research study. However, it is unlikely the lake would ever achieve a fishable population again without stocking.
Largemouth bass are present at higher densities than 2012 and the average size increased from 2012 by one inch – the size structure appears better, too. Growth, though good for its lakes classification, is similar to 2012. After 15 years of the no size limit, the density should be lower. Harvest did increase from 1998 to 2012 based on the latest DNR creel survey, with seven times as many fish being harvested. It appears that more harvest may be needed to help increase Nancy’s largemouth bass size structure.
Bluegill size structure seems to have benefited from higher predator numbers. The average size of bluegills increased 1.6 inches since the last survey. Growth had an inverse relationship after age 6 when comparing 2004 and 2019. The improved size structure is likely due to increased numbers of walleyes and largemouth bass. Stocked walleyes have also been shown to prey heavily on small bluegills. Walleye stockings and naturally increasing bass numbers have created a better bluegill fishery. However, bluegill growth appears to have slowed in fish younger than age 7.
Looking ahead, the team will continue to look at the fact that largemouth bass abundance appears higher since 2012. That means increased harvest is not having the desired effect. The current regulation should continue with a goal of reducing bass densities to 25 adult fish per mile of shoreline, or less.
The five-bag, no size limit pike rule will continue since the 2019 survey did not represent that fishery well. Walleye densities did improve since 2012 as a result of stocking, but are still under 1.5 fish per acre, which is the adult population goal. The walleye fishery would be non-existent without stocking. If measurable reproduction (more than 10 young-of-the-year fish per mile of shoreline) is not found during the next five fall surveys (2020-24), then the walleye regulation should switch to the base reg for the ceded territory, acknowledging Nancy as a put-and-take fishery.
Nearest town: Minong
Surface area: 757 acres
Max. depth: 39 feet
Water clarity: 18 feet
Fish species present: black crappies, bluegills, pumpkinseeds, yellow perch, suckers, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, northern pike, walleyes, and muskies.
For information: DNR regional fisheries office (715) 372-5678, the DNR website http://www.dnr.state.wi.us, or call Sportsman’s Headquarters, (715) 686-2636.