The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Meredith Penthorn brought an emergency rule to the Natural Resources Board (NRB) last week asking to close the Minocqua Chain to walleye harvest for one more year. The chain has been closed to walleye harvest for five years, but researchers believe continuing that closure will allow the fishery to rebound to numbers with which the department will be comfortable.
The five year study has looked at walleye recruitment, habitat and stocking efforts. Walleyes for Tomorrow, an integral part of the project, has helped the department with a recent $50,000 donation that would allow the DNR to hire an LTE warden to perform extra patrols on the chain. The Headwaters Basin Chapter of the group has also put out approximately $100,000 for spawning habitat, with two rock structures installed in Lake Minocqua.
For years there has been a decline in walleye populations in the lake. Habitat loss, predation and other conditions have been pointed as the problem, but the root of the problem is likely a complicated mix of many things. While the DNR has held hook and line anglers to a zero bag limit, the tribes, too, have held off allowing their members to harvest from the chain. The closure, and the study, has truly been a joint effort from many parties.
Penthorn told the board the latest scientific evidence coming from studies make researchers feel confident one more year of a zero bag limit is the best course of action for the chain. She also said stocking will continue, as the department is yet unsure of natural reproduction numbers.
“We seem to be on pace to achieve most of our goals,” said Gregg Walker, representative from Walleyes for Tomorrow. “I think the group felt it would be nice to see natural reproduction before we begin harvest and one more year may get us there.”
Krystal Westfahl from the Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce said the Chamber was happy to see so many groups working together to return the fishery to its former glory. Fishing is a staple of the local economy, she said, and the chamber made a fairly swift turn toward attracting visitors who were interested in other species as well. Bass fishing, she said, has seen an uptick, with many more families and even tournaments coming to the area. Those anglers are the root demographic for Minocqua, Westfahl with families coming to spend time on the water in pursuit of bass. Panfish, she said is also popular with that demographic. Minocqua positioned itself early on as a destination for bass, while other surrounding towns focused on musky, giving a unique flavor to the Minocqua area and the chain itself.
The board approved the zero bag limit for walleye for one more year on the chain.
Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at [email protected].