Nebagamon’s walleyes only a mild concern for DNR team
Information for this report came from a 2014 comprehensive study conducted by the DNR’s Douglas County fisheries team. Lake Nebagamon has supported, and continues to support, a diverse fish community.
With the exception of walleyes, good natural reproduction supports all species. Efforts to improve habitat, adjust regulations, and stock extended growth walleye are ongoing. Walleye abundance was lower in 2014 (1.9 adult walleye per acre) than average historical density (2.0 adult walleyes per acre) on Lake Nebagamon and below the state walleye management objective of 3.0 adults per acre. Only the 1992 walleye estimate was above 3.0 adults per acre; the remainder of the six surveys were below that value and occurred in the time span of 1986 to 2014.
Factors contributing to consistent low walleye abundance may be related to sporadic natural recruitment, changes in weather patterns or unknown variables that are yet to be identified. Walleye recruitment has declined on Lake Nebagamon. Relative abundance of young-of-the year walleyes from fall electrofishing surveys has varied, however, when comparing 1986 to 2005 (period with high adult walleye abundance) with 2006 to 2014 (period with low adult walleye abundance).
In an effort to increase walleye densities in Lake Nebagamon, large fingerling stocking was initiated in 2011. Fall stocking in 2012 and 2013 contributed 47% and 77% of the age 1 fish found the following spring, which also indicated natural reproduction was present. Survival of stocked fish from the fall of 2013 to the following spring was 14%.
In 2014, an 18-inch walleye size limit was implemented with the intent of allowing females to spawn at least once prior to being vulnerable to harvest. Future surveys will discern the effects of the regulation on size structure. A 14- to 18-inch slot may be prudent if adult densities increase and natural recruitment increases.
Annual fall electrofishing surveys are planned and spring electrofishing surveys are planned for the spring following stocking of fin clipped large fingerling walleye. These surveys will help assess natural walleye reproduction and contribution and survival of stocked walleyes.
Smallmouth abundance and size, when compared to lakes of similar characteristics, was in the 77th and 73rd percentile, indicating a quality smallmouth population. Smallie abundance has remained relatively stable over time on Lake Nebagamon and is considered above average when compared to similar lake types in the Wisconsin.
Largemouth bass population abundance was considered low, but area lakes have had an increase in largemouth bass abundance in the past 10 to 20 years and this may happen in the future on Lake Nebagamon. Despite the fact that the population is considered to be low, largemouth bass have increased in abundance since prior survey years. In area walleye lakes similar to Nebagamon, largemouth bass abundance has been increasing and it may be expected to increase in the future on Nebagamon. Largemouths represent an extra harvest opportunity for anglers. Removing size limits poses no population concerns.
Northern pike and panfish were sampled during the 2014 survey but were not targeted. Relative abundance of northern pike was lower in 2014 than in previous surveys. Mean length of northern pike has been increasing over time on Lake Nebagamon.
Yellow perch were the most abundant panfish sampled in the survey and the relative abundance was highest of any survey completed. The increase in yellow perch abundance could bode well for walleyes since yellow perch are their preferred prey. Bluegills, black crappies, and rock bass were also sampled but the early ice-out that spring may not reflect the populations as a whole.
“Fish sticks” habitat projects have been implemented on Lake Nebagamon since 2012 and have resulted in the addition of about 322 trees to the littoral area of the lake. A wood count completed in the near-shore area of Lake Nebagamon in 2013 found 141 trees that were naturally occurring.
The fish sticks program could be considered a success since the efforts more than doubled the amount of woody habitat in the lake. However, more could be done since the abundance of wood, both natural and placed from the fish sticks project, now equates to 43 logs per mile of shoreline.
The crew often works with local residents and lake association volunteers. The local team has also leaned on the DNR lake grants program to adopt and follow the management plan, which includes continue strategies for protecting and restoring aquatic and shoreline habitats.
Nearest town: L. Nebagamon
Surface area: 986 acres
Max. depth: 56 feet
Water clarity: 11 feet
Fish species present:
Black crappies, bluegills, pumpkinseeds, rock bass, yellow perch, white suckers, trout, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, northern pike, and walleyes.
DNR regional fisheries office (715) 392-7988, the DNR web site http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/water/fhp/fish, or call The Bait Box, (715) 398-3554.