While anglers cannot harvest walleye from the Minocqua Chain until the year 2020, bass anglers have been taking advantage of some great fishing there. Many club tournaments are held on Lake Tomahawk/Minocqua every year, but most people would not know that. Club tournaments usually have fewer boats - often 10 or less - and are not advertised. Because they are small, they usually go unnoticed, but they still make an impact on the area.
Last weekend there were two club tournaments on Lake Tomahawk and Lake Minocqua. One of the clubs was the Antigo Bass Warriors. The other was the Portage County Bass Anglers. Several of these anglers stayed in the area and also fished the Central Wisconsin River Series tournament on Lake Mohawksin on Sunday. So those anglers stayed in hotels in the area, spent money in our restaurants, bought gas for their trucks and boats and, in general, contributed to the economy. I am sure many of them stopped into our local bait shops as well, either looking for information or stocking up on some baits or terminal tackle. As they say, every little bit helps. As for the tournaments themselves, I attended both weigh-ins and most anglers said they caught large numbers of fish, but catching big fish was hit and miss.
In both tournaments, weights were about what anglers have come to expect from the chain - smaller fish than 10 years ago and many more of them. But even at that, they know there are still big fish to be had. The big smallmouth on Lake Tomahawk were down deep, meaning many anglers did not attempt to fish them. Catching smallies out of deep water requires a technique called fizzing, which empties the fish's air bladder, equalizing the pressure when they are put in the livewell or released back into the water. Without fizzing, a fish caught in very deep water will likely die. Several of the anglers I talked to are not comfortable with the technique and left those deep fish alone. Those fishing deeper water, though, did report incidentally catching good numbers of walleye in certain areas on the chain.
Both clubs could fish any lake on the chain, so they were essentially fishing the same water. The difference in the tournaments, however, is the Antigo Bass Warriors chose to pull a permit for their tournament. Because club tournaments are so small, it is not required to pull a permit. However, having a permit does allow culling in a bass tournament. During the hottest part of summer, however, from mid-July through mid-August, when the water is warmest, "summer time rules" for bass go into affect. This means the bag limit falls to three fish per angler. A non-tournament angler, who is just out fun or fishing for dinner, is still able to keep five fish, but once you pull that permit, you are relegated to three fish. For me, that does not necessarily make sense. If I am going to kill fish, I can keep five, but if I am going to release them alive and well back into the water, I can only have three (because someone is apparently concerned with fish mortality). But, nonetheless, that is the way the system works.
The one other difference was one club had a 14-inch size limit, which is the normal size limit for bass in Wisconsin and the other went with no size limit, which is the DNR regulation for the chain. There are two schools of thought on this: one is "it is legal to catch and keep any size fish on the chain, so why not do it?" and the other is "Who wants to weigh in a four-pound limit?" The second group prefers all of their tournament rules to be the same, and will set a 14-inch size limit for the tournament, regardless of the missing size limit on the chain.
The interesting thing is it did not seem to matter, and average weights were fairly similar between the two clubs.
The winning weight for the Portage County Club was Kelly Callaway's five-fish limit weighed in at 11.25 pounds. He also had big bass for the tournament at 4.05 pounds. Chet Netzel's 10.40-pound bag came in second for that tournament.
In the Bass Warriors tournament, which had a 3-fish limit, Josh Hafner took first place with 6.88 pounds. Kacey Meyer had three fish for 6.44, taking second place. He also had big bass of 2.64 pounds.
Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at email@example.com.
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