The WDNR Talks Through Its Butt…Again
By Craig Sandell © 2012

The Wisconsin DNR recently sent out its annual self serving notice regarding the “Good News” about the increase in Musky angling in Wisconsin. The notice included a link to the “2012 Muskellunge Management Update” from Madison which is authored by Tim Simonson.

I am sure that Mr. Simonson is a very nice person and he has penned an interesting information document…unfortunately it is long on estimates based upon opinions rather than on verifiable facts.

His report claims that 480,000 people in Wisconsin are fishing for Musky…C’mon Man.

How did he come up with that number?...Well, the number is based upon a survey of fishing license holders which asked if they fished for Musky. No distinction was made between the fisherman who is using Walleye or Bass tackle to fish for Musky and the dedicated Musky angler who, unlike the Walleye and Bass angler, will continue to fish for Musky regardless of the lack of action or success.

A better evaluation method would have been to speak with the registered guides in Wisconsin and ask them how many of their clients retain them to guide solely for Musky.

An even better way would be to require a Musky tag on Wisconsin fishing licenses with the funds going directly to support the enhancement of Musky fisheries rather than into the general fund. Of course the WDNR doesn't want to do that...they would have to justify and account for how the money was actually used.

The survey that was used had no qualifying criterion regarding what makes an angler a Musky angler. For example, an angler would be considered a dedicated Musky angler when;

He has tackle, rods, reels, and lures that are specifically designed for Musky fishing.

He is a member of Muskies, Inc.

He subscribes to Musky Hunter Magazine.

He owns a net that could hold a 6 year old child.

He fishes exclusively for Musky at least 4 weeks of the Muskie season.

Without some realistic method to determine who was and who wasn’t a dedicated Musky angler, the 480,000 angler number has absolutely no merit.

There is an article on Musky America titled "How Many Musky Anglers Are there Really?" that puts the number of dedicated Musky anglers in a more factual perspective.

Mr. Simonson also alludes to the use of creel surveys to support the outlandish angler number. Typically, the WDNR relies upon creel surveys as an indicator of fishing pressure. Creel surveys, however, are NOT a very accurate assessment of fishing pressure or angler numbers. There is an article on Musky America regarding the flaw in the use of creel surveys titled “How Many Casts…How many Anglers?” which I encourage all of you to read.

The bottom line is that creel surveys do not offer verifiable results when it comes to Musky, especially with the current low harvest rates…bar talk is a better assessment of Musky success on the water.

Mr. Simonson also refers to information obtained from Muskies, Inc. regarding the definition of what constitutes a “Trophy” Musky. He is relying on the opinions of an organization that has encouraged its members to abandon the concept of a trophy Musky as an angler’s personal best and replace it with the unrealistic application of a 50” Musky as a trophy. His opinion paper goes on to indicate that a Musky that is 50” is at least 17 years old.

Think about it…that musky has had to avoid predation by other Musky or Northern Pike, avoid injury through boating encounters, avoid water born disease, avoid capture and if captured, survive the release process. Regardless of the classification of a body of water as a trophy water, the likelihood of encountering a 50” musky by the average Musky angler is slim at best…especially when you consider that most Musky anglers have jobs and family responsibilities that limit their time on the water.

The glaring flaw in the "Good News" in Mr. Simonson’s opinion paper concerns the apparent lack of concern for the health of the forage base when harvest rates are driven artificially low through the unrealistic size limits that have been advocated by the lobbying of vocal minorities in the Musky community rather than by competent science.

Another article on Musky America titled “Intelligent Harvest” addresses the near collapse of the bone lake fishery due to a lack of consideration for the forage base.

Given the fact that fewer Musky are being harvested, there is obviously more pressure placed upon the forage base. Mr. Simonson includes the chart below to demonstrate the importance of prey to the health of a Musky fishery.

As can be seen from the chart, the assessment is 18 years old but even from this outdated data some conclusions can be gleaned. A very small number of game fish are represented as comprising the diet of a Musky.

Since Musky have to eat to live, if the forage base is in decline, the Musky will target game fish. It is an unavoidable fact that with fewer Musky harvested there will be more pressure on the forage base and the game fish population. If the forage base is not allowed to recover through natural reproduction or by stocking, the size and health of the Musky population will begin to decline as will the other game fish.

Ask the WDNR when they last boom shocked your favorite Musky lake to assess the health of the forage base.

So what is the bottom line assessment of Mr. Simonson’s Musky management update?

His assessment of the number of Musky anglers is an artificial estimate based upon opinion rather than fact.

His characterization of what constitutes a trophy musky ignores the fact that most Musky anglers will never see a 50” Musky given their limited time on the water.

His update ignores the increased pressure placed upon the forage base by the unscientific size limits for Musky. (Slot limits would be a better approach.)

In my opinion this 2012 Musky Management Update is not worth the time or money it took to produce it. It is short on facts and long on opinions and estimates based on bad or no science. If this is the best the WDNR can do with the funds it gets, our Musky fisheries are in real trouble.

Mr. Simonson's Email address is: Timothy.Simonson@wisconsin.gov

Tight Lines