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 Musky predation.

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-1980’s, 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. It’s important to note also that approximately 1500-2000 Musky have been stocked in the Chippewa Flowage each year since the early 1980’s, 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 Musky’s 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.