Walleye populations on the Minocqua Chain are doing better than they in much of the last 20 years.
But they’re still not at the levels the Wisconsin DNR wants to see, especially when it comes to natural reproduction.
“Stocked fish are working. They’re replacing what used to be produced by natural reproduction and really at a pretty similar level from what we saw in the 1990s when walleye were doing well out there,” said John Kubisiak, DNR Treaty Unit Fisheries Team Supervisor.
He requested the Natural Resources Board extend the zero-bag limit for walleye on the chain through May 2025.
That will be 10 years of catch and release only.
Kubisiak hopes it will be enough to see walleye start reproducing and meet the other goals outlined for the chain.
“We’ve reestablished those adult populations, met the 2 per acre and 3 per acre goals, and that is providing a potential spawning habitation. We’re not sure if we’ve restructured the fish community. That’s probably a slower process and we’re not opening it up to limited harvest so we’re not meeting that stated goal. We do have multiple year classes showing up in those adult populations, but we’re not meeting the natural reproduction goal,” said Kubisiak.
It will also give the DNR an opportunity to dig into another potential issue that’s come to light in recent years. The male to female ratio of walleye on Minocqua and Kawaguesaga have shifted.
“In the 1990s, when walleye were doing well out there, we saw about 2 to 5 males for every female in the adult population. That completely flipped around to where we’re currently seeing 2 to 3 females for every male in the population. This has changed and we’ve attributed to a change in our recruitment to hatchery fish,” he said.
A couple board members had questions about how this ratio impacts walleye population, what the DNR can do to change it, and what has caused the shift.
Kubisak said those are all great questions, ones the DNR are researching to answer.
“It’s probably not the same sex ratio coming out of the hatchery every year, but it is overall being dominated by females,” he said. “We’re not sure what the cause is and we’re not sure what the problem is or if it is a problem, but it’s certainly not what we see natural populations.”
Before the vote to approve the order, DNR Secretary Preston Cole reminded board members how important healthy fish populations are to Wisconsin’s economy.
“Whether we are putting in fish in our big lakes or in our inland lakes all of this drives the economy in the state of Wisconsin, specifically above highway 29. That said, it is damn important for this board and the department of natural resources to answer the question that are weighing before us because of the impact around our nature based outdoor economy,” said Cole. “Just reminding folks that we’re number three in the nation for out of state fishing sales. That $10 billion economy is a big deal for folks that have gas stations, restaurants, bars, tackle, all of that drives that economy. You now begin to see the science and the economy coming together.”
In May 2025, after the zero-bag limit ends. There will be a one bag limit for walleye. Anglers could keep walleye that are a minimum 18 inches but not between 22 and 28 inches.
The order still needs to be approved by the legislature and Governor Evers.
Some other changes are likely coming to walleye fishing on other Northwoods lakes.
The Natural Resources Board approved rules voters had approved during the fisheries management spring hearings.
There are two statewide changes and more than 60 changes to specific water bodies.
One of the statewide changes would apply ceded territory walleye regulations to waters across six counties across northern Wisconsin including Price, Iron, and Vilas.
“Protected slot limit will really help protect smaller walleye so they can mature and then increase the overall population density. This is a regulation that’s been broadly utilized the ceded territory already. Just in light of certain areas where there’s been a slight decline in walleye, this will really help bolster the population,” said Meredith Penthorn is the DNR Fisheries Management Policy Specialist.
Here is the full list of the approved rule change questions from the spring hearing.
These ones also need to be approved by the legislature and the Governor.