Catch And Release - Time For Some Straight Talk
by Craig Sandell © 2013

This article is going to make a lot of people angry but it's time for some straight talk about catch and release and the negative effect that it is having on the Musky fisheries in Wisconsin.

As most of you know who follow the Musky issues in Wisconsin, there is a philosophy being put forward by the Wisconsin DNR to have a universal size limit of 50 inches for musky on all Wisconsin Musky lakes. That is just plain stupid…actually a 50 inch size limit is stupid.

You would think that people educated in fishery biology would have a better grasp of what it takes to have a healthy and productive Musky fishery. The short sighted fishery policy being put forward by Wisconsin fishery management people seems to support a belief that "age and education are no guarantee of competency or intelligence".

Every Musky lake in Wisconsin has a limited forage base that can only support a limited number of Musky...That is what is commonly called "Carrying Capacity". The application of what amounts to a 100% release policy has resulted in the population of Musky being unchecked and thereby overloading the carry capacity of many of the Northern Wisconsin Musky fisheries..

It doesn't take a degree in biology, just a little common sense, to recognize that too many Musky chasing too little forage will result in Musky that will never reach their growth potential. If you truly value our Musky fisheries, get your head out of your butt and deal with that reality.

Certainly, there was a time back in 1969 when our musky fisheries were in need of drastic measures to save them from complete collapse. With the establishment of Muskies Inc., a voice for the policy of catch and release became a reality. In today's reality however, blind allegiance to catch and release has become the mantra of the fanatic. Catch and release now has the potential to destroy our fisheries for Musky and Walleye and Bass as well.

High Size Limits Do Not A Trophy Musky Fishery Make!!!

There is a dramatic decline in the forage base across Northern Wisconsin Musky fisheries. Another article on the effect of unchecked Musky populations on the forage base is available; CLICK HERE

The Wisconsin DNR has not done a forage base assessment based upon boom shocking on these lakes for years. The guides who service these lakes are seeing Musky lakes, once considered a trophy lake, degrade to action lakes. The populations of perch, cisco and other forage fish on these lakes are no longer abundant enough to feed the predator species. Musky have to eat so if forage is not available they will turn to Walleye and Bass to fill their belly.

The Wisconsin DNR, which is charged with stewardship of Wisconsin’s fisheries, continues to ignore its responsibility to inject informed fact into the discussions that happen at the Conservation Congresses that happen each year. The panel of DNR representatives at these Congresses sits quietly in front of each gathering offering no counterpoint to an audience stacked with folks who have been duped into believing that larger size limits are the only approach to creating trophy fisheries. Then the DNR pronounces that "the will of the people" has dictated the need for higher Musky size limits while offering no informed biological assessment of the impact of such size limits upon the long term health of the fishery.

It's not like the DNR doesn't appreciate the importance of the forage base to a healthy Musky fishery. In a recent article from the WDNR penned by Tim Simonson, he included a chart of the belly contents from kept and mounted Musky.

The chart he included is from 1994. The chart shows the importance of the forage base to a healthy Musky fishery.

Unfortunately, due to the higher size limits resulting in 100% release of Musky, there is no current information on what Musky are eating but it is unlikely that dietary preferences have changed very much.

So, if the forage base is this important to the health of a Musky fishery, why isn't the WDNR doing forage base assessments on Wisconsin Musky fisheries on a regular basis? The WDNR will most likely try to blame a shrinking budget but that is just another copout to avoid the development of good science. They seem to have the money to pay for useless creel surveys and uncertified Musky telephone surveys.

As an example, lets look at Northeastern Wisconsin. As you can see from the illustration at the left, this area has a good population of water that is considered to be Musky fisheries.

Many of these lakes were once considered "big fish" waters; among them Star Lake and Preque Isle Lake. They had that reputation because there was a robust forage base supporting a nominal Musky population. Today, that is not the case.

The higher Musky size limits and stocking practices have resulted in extreme pressure being placed upon the forage base. The result, according to local guides who have been fishing these waters for years, is that there are too many Musky chasing too little food.

These lakes are now considered action lakes rather than trophy lakes. That was not the published goal of the WDNR when they increased the size limit on these lakes. The published WDNR goal was to enhance the trophy potential of these lakes through higher size limits.

Of course, the WDNR station at Boulder Junction has no perspective or comment on the decline of these lakes. The reason for this lack of WDNR knowledge is the direct result of two major factors;


1.) The absence of a Musky population assessment prior to the imposition of higher Musky size limits and

2.) The disregard for the effect that higher Musky size limits would have on the forage base.

So what is it that I am suggesting to address the emerging decline of Wisconsin's Musky fisheries? Well, I am NOT suggesting that the WDNR needs to change...that is a lost cause. The WDNR has evolved into to a self serving, self propagating bureaucratic wasteland.

  • If Wisconsin's Musky fisheries are to be prevented from further decline and eventual collapse, the change has to come at our insistence.

  • We need to insist that the WDNR start a regular program of forage base assessments and, where indicated, start re-stocking the forage base to balance the fisheries rather than to continue the stocking of Muskies.

  • We need to petition for the reduction of the size limits for Musky down to 44 inches so that pressure on the forage base can be reduced.

  • We need to discourage the policy of blind fanaticism promoted by Muskies, Inc. to catch and release and encourage a sensible holistic approach to enhancing our Musky fisheries.

I am sure that there will be resistance to common sense taking the control of Wisconsin's Musky fishery policy away from commercial publications like Musky Hunter Magazine whose focus is on making a buck rather than the long term health of our fisheries...After all, common sense is not necessarily a productive marketing approach.

That is the other element to the problem that needs to be addressed. We have got to stop letting a small group of money motivated self involved cult enthusiast assert control over long term Musky fishery policies.

It is time to start the conversation and that conservation starts with YOU.