State's muskies need growth spurt
Written by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel   
Thursday, 29 June 2006 15:48

Casting a musky lure out on Pewaukee Lake, with the sun shining bright and the breezes blowing cool, I had a chance to discuss the Wisconsin-Minnesota musky issue with my friend and musky guru, Steve Miljat.

By way of background, last year Larry Ramsell of Hayward and two other members of the Muskies Inc. fishing club issued a report concluding that Wisconsin has been stocking genetically inferior muskies, incapable of growing to trophy size, in some state waters for decades.

Tim Simonson, co-chairman of the Department of Natural Resources Musky Committee, disagrees with that conclusion, but conceded that the report was a catalyst for some musky research and changing practices at state hatcheries in Spooner and Woodruff.

Ramsell, a musky guide, also maintains that a strain of muskies from Minnesota's Leech Lake is genetically superior to Wisconsin's hatchery fish. The DNR plans to study the growth rates of the Wisconsin and Minnesota muskies.

Meanwhile, many Wisconsin musky anglers - including Miljat - are traveling to Minnesota in pursuit of big muskies.

"Right now Minnesota is the state to catch big muskies," Miljat told me. "All the stories about the big fish are true. There is definitely something going on in Minnesota and it's good. It seems like the best musky fishermen in the world are flocking to Minnesota waters."

Miljat, of Milwaukee, has been a musky guide on Pewaukee Lake for 16 years. He first fished Lake Vermilion, in northeastern Minnesota, in 2004.

"On my second day of fishing there I landed my heaviest musky, a 51 1/2 -incher with a 26-inch girth," he said. "We lost several fish that were larger. I saw three fish that I felt were over 50 pounds."

That was more than enough to bring Miljat back for more. Last year, he spent a month fishing the lake and this summer he's planning to spend five weeks.

"I heard that the average musky there was 42 to 44 inches long, and that's the truth," he said.

Miljat remains open to the musky genetics theory.

"I'm all for the best possible stocking program," he said

But he added that other factors may be more important for growing big muskies

One is regulation. Most Minnesota lakes have a 40-inch minimum size limit for muskies, compared to a 34-inch limit in Wisconsin.

"That keeps the fish in a body of the water longer, and that helps," Miljat said.

But he believes the most important factors are habitat, forage and lake size. Simply put, big lakes with abundant forage grow more big muskies, he maintains.

"The reality is, there are more big muskies in Minnesota," he said. "But it's because the state, in general, has more big lakes with favorable forage to grow big muskies. My contention is, if you put fish in a lake with a good forage base, you're going to grow heavy muskies."

Lake Vermilion, for example, is a 40,000-acre lake that is 27 miles long. Leech and Minnetonka lakes are two other large Minnesota lakes that are also attracting Wisconsin anglers, Miljat said.

Wisconsin has many lakes with good musky forage, including ciscoes, suckers and gizzard shad.

"Lac Courte Oreilles, the Minocqua chain and Okauchee Lake all hold trophy fish of the same caliber as Minnesota, but not as many," Miljat said. "The forage base is there but the acreage isn't."

When comparing Minnesota and Wisconsin waters, Miljat said: "We're talking about big bodies of water vs. lots of little bodies of water. The Chippewa Flowage, Green Bay and the Lake Winnebago system may be the only fair comparisons in Wisconsin to the huge Minnesota systems."

Despite the current situation, Miljat believes that Wisconsin could regain its former musky glory.

"I think Wisconsin has a chance to really shine with the Great Lakes Spotted Musky strain being reintroduced into Green Bay and the Lake Winnebago system," he said. "Wisconsin has the potential, down the road, to get a new world record musky."

That, no doubt, is a motivating thought that lingers in the backs of the minds of many a musky hunter.

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