If You Feed Them.....
By: Craig Sandell ©
At the foundation of every healthy fishery is the forage
base. Without adequate forage at all levels of the food chain, a fishery cannot achieve
its potential for productivity. All ecosystems have a point of balance sometimes referred
to as Carrying Capacity. A fishery will seek this balance
naturally. Where there is intervention in the name of fishery management or as a result of
the introduction of non-indigenous species, a fishery will attempt to re-balance itself.
The Chippewa Flowage is a prime example of this mechanism.
The catch history of the Chippewa Flowage has provided an opportunity to see how it
actually works. From 1964 to 1979, the Chippewa Flowage harvest average was around 550
Musky per year. Less than 5% of all Musky caught during that time were released. Over that
15 year period, the forage base was stable and balanced. Bullheads were the focus of most
Starting in 1979, the Catch and Release philosophy really
began to take hold. The result was immediate. Without the regular harvest, the Musky
population began to increase, as evidenced by the increase in the annual catch. More Musky
means more pressure on the forage base. By the mid-1980s, the increased predation
caused a collapse of the bullhead population. Well, Musky have to eat if they are to live,
so their "taste" in forage had to change. Its important to note also that
approximately 1500-2000 Musky have been stocked in the Chippewa Flowage each year since
the early 1980s, putting further pressure on the available forage. An additional
complication was the accidental introduction of Northern pike in the Chippewa Flowage
by the WDNR. The
Muskys forage selections are well documented on the Chippewa Flowage. They have and
continue to feast upon crappies, blue gill, perch, Northerns and walleye, not to mention
suckers and shiners. Many accomplished Musky anglers subscribe to a philosophy that seeks
to select a lure that most resembles the Musky's forage.
In fact, Musky anglers are always trying to "match the hatch" by using the lure most "appetizing" to Musky in a particular
body of water. For instance, if you are fishing the west side of the Chippewa Flowage,
where the water is less stained, you are probably best served using more colorful lures.
Remember, however, that over the years, the standard darker lures have been shown to be
consistently productive. Remember also that the one factor having the greatest effect upon
fishing is the weather. Musky fishing is no exception. When the traditional weather
patterns are upset, Musky will react in untraditional ways. Some folks may mistake this
reaction to weather as a change in feeding patterns, a shift in the forage base or a
decline in Musky population. Musky populations on the Chippewa Flowage are not a problem.
The Chippewa Flowage is a Musky Factory. Over the past couple of seasons, we have seen
some very erratic weather. These erratic weather conditions are not unusual. They happen
every 11 years or so. The best thing we can do as Musky anglers is be flexible in our
tackle and lure selection and persistent in our fishing efforts. There is no such thing as
a "Magic Bullet" in Musky fishing.
Editors Note: There is an unintended
consequence upon the health of any fishery when Musky are not culled from
the population. Musky do two things; they eat and
have little Musky. If you do not remove any Musky from a fishery
population, the population of larger fish, which eat more, increases. This
makes it tougher on the smaller Musky to get enough food to grow to their
size potential. Eventually, you will end up with a smaller skinnier Musky
population. The overall health of a fishery demands that there must be an
intelligent application of reasonable size limits and an focus on the
replenishing of the forage base.