|Catch and release fishing yielding larger muskies from Wisconsin waters
MADISON – Big muskies – really big muskies – await Wisconsin anglers this fishing season, based on what anglers reported catching and releasing last year.
“This tells you what is coming,” says Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist Tim Simonson, referring to a graph he prepared showing that Muskies Inc. members reported catching and releasing 105 muskies 48 inches and longer in Wisconsin in 2009.
“The 48-inch-plus fish have been increasing every year and in 2009 was the highest ever in their 40 years of record-keeping,” says Simonson, co-leader of DNR’s musky management team.
This year, those fish are now a year older and about an inch longer, based on average growth rates among older muskies in Wisconsin.
Musky populations, heavily fished in Wisconsin in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s after four world record catches triggered a musky fishing frenzy, are now recovering and the young fish are allowed to grow bigger. Learn more in the Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine article Long Live the Kings.
The last cast of opening day of the 2010 inland season was the best for the Nelson family of Madison. Conrad, 9, caught and released a 44-inch musky off the dock while his dad, Dan, was bringing the trailer to take the boat out after 8 hours of fishing. The crowd gathered in line to take their boats out broke into applause as the boys brought the fish to the dock.
“What we’re seeing is a combination of higher size limits and increased voluntary release of legal size fish over the years,” Simonson says. “The growth rate of muskies is slow so it’s taken a long time to produce 48-inch and larger fish.”
Wisconsin records suggest that it takes 18 years on average for a musky to reach 50 inches, with the fish growing faster when they’re young and slower later in life, Simonson says. Before age 10, they grow about 4 inches a year. After about age nine or 10, they grow about 1 inch per year.
The growing popularity of catch-and-release has given Wisconsin muskies time to grow. Wisconsin anglers reported releasing 96 percent of the 223,101 muskies they caught during the 2006-07 license year, the most recent statewide mail survey of anglers.
This catch-and-release ethic also has helped to make this fabled “fish of 10,000 casts,” more like the fish of 3,000 casts, Simonson says.
“Our goal is to maintain catch rates of one musky every 25 hours,” he says. “That means that two anglers in a boat would spend about 12 hours to boat a fish.”
Musky densities are generally very low, even in the best waters, because muskies are large top predators with low reproduction. Good musky waters average 1 adult fish for 3 surface acres, compared to up to 20 adults per 3 surface acres in good walleye lakes.