WDNR…The New Musky Record Keeping Agency?
By Craig Sandell © 2020

I have never made a secret that I am not a big fan of the Wisconsin Department Of Natural Resources (WDNR).

Over the years, I have posted many articles that have exposed the WDNR for its collection of bureaucratic bumbling and general incompetence regarding Wisconsin Musky fisheries;

Wisconsin’s DNR Secretary..Where Are You? DnrSecretary.htm
Funding Our Fisheries  Funding.htm
Wisconsin’s Musky Fishery Crisis  MuskyCrisis.htm
The Wisconsin DNR Is Lying To You!!!  DnrTrollingLie.htm
Genetic Fiasco...DNR Must Accept Blame  GeneticVilas.htm
Stop Stocking Inferior Musky Strains  Hayward.htm
WDNR Forage Harvest Creates Musky Fishery Tipping Point  ForageHarvest.htm
WDNR Slight Of Hand…Again  Slight.htm
Vote No On Motor Trolling  2013NoTroll.htm

There are additional articles on Musky America but I did not want to belabor the point.

There are, however, two recent examples of WDNR sophistry;


During the Wisconsin Musky Expo in March of 2013, Tim Simonson, the DNR spokesperson from Madison, was asked about the upcoming vote at the Conservation Congress on statewide motor trolling. Tim indicated that the vote was not a mandate to the WDNR but merely an expression of public sentiment that was not binding on the WDNR. I pressed Tim on the issue regarding what was likely to be a split between the folks in Southern Wisconsin and the folks in Northern Wisconsin on the trolling issue. Tim assured me that the WDNR had latitude regarding the application of any rule and that local sentiment would weigh heavily on the WDNR’s action.

I should note that I have always been told by the WDNR when I questioned the DNR’s imposition of a fishery rule that was obviously bad science and bad fishery management, that the "people had spoken" and the WDNR was obliged to enact the rule even if they did not agree with it.

Well, as we saw from the recent kangaroo court that was the Natural Resource Board Hearings, Tim Simonson was blowing smoke up my ass. Regardless of the fact that counties in Northern Wisconsin voted overwhelmingly against motor trolling, the WDNR representatives, Tim Simonson included, pressed for the imposition of statewide trolling. The WDNR "compromise" to Northern Wisconsin Counties voting against motor trolling was to reduce the number of lines from 3 to 1. That was just a load of buffalo bagels coming from the representatives of the WDNR that was put on the plate of the Natural Resource Board who anxiously embraced the WDNR position rather than questioning the efficacy of the WDNR position in light of the vote from the Northern Wisconsin Counties.

Only after the application of political pressure on Governor Walker was the imposition of the trolling rule suspended in favor of more community input.


The WDNR has announced on their website its planned changes to the designation of record fish caught on Wisconsin waters. Most notable among the items being considered is the designation of the catches of the past as legacy records. This is mainly focused on the Wisconsin State Fish, the Musky.

The WDNR plan is to create a modern day record program. In consideration of the current application of almost universal catch and release, the WDNR is proposing a "Live Release Record". The basic requirement for consideration of a released fish as a record is a picture of the fish lying on its side against some sort of measuring device. The catch does not have to be witnessed to be considered…the WDNR position is that "the program is honor-based and witnesses are not mandatory".

First, there are already two established record keeping agencies for fish of all species in all states and around the world. There is no need for the WDNR to establish its own program of record keeping for just Wisconsin. There is also no mention in the WDNR plan regarding how this program will be funded. As we all know, the WDNR has attested to the fact that the WDNR budget is not adequate to support the operation of hatcheries and stocking at previous levels. The WDNR has indicated in their current budget projection that they will also have to cut personnel because of diminished revenue. All this begs the question, How Will This Fish Record Program Be Funded?

Second, the lack of specific requirements for the measuring device used for the release program opens the possibility of "friggin in the riggin". What is to stop someone from creating a ruler or bump board where a represented inch is less than an inch; thereby making the measurement appear to be larger than it actually is? The only way to assure the accuracy of the measurement is for the WDNR to certify measuring devices and require that only certified measuring devices be used in order for the fish to be considered.

Third, in today’s reality of computer enhanced photo manipulation, a picture cannot be considered as a legitimate representation of the event. I have an article on Musky America called "Is It Photo Fun Or Photo Fraud". This article recounts the fact that there are companies making money by computer manipulation of photos of caught fish. In order for the WDNR to accurately assess the veracity of photos, they will have to either retain a person on their staff with photo evaluative expertise or contract with an independent organization that specializes in photo analysis. Either way, this represents an additional cost to the WDNR to administer this records program…money they do not have!

Now, I imagine there are some of you saying "Who would engage in such underhanded activity". Well, consider that a person with a record Musky catch could stand to benefit from financial arrangements with lure and tackle manufactures if he states that the fish was caught on their lure or with their tackle…"A Payday Fish". This is not uncommon in the hype surrounding fishing lures and equipment. How many times have you seen pictures of Musky or Bass fishermen holding up a fish and representing that it was caught using a certain bait or a certain rod and reel combination.

Even Musky Hunter Magazine has been sucked in by photo misrepresentation…See my article "A Question Of Trust".

Should the WDNR get into the record keeping business or concentrate on their "real" job…fishery management?

You be the judge.