DNR biologist John Kubisiak, left, and DNR fisheries technician Stephen Timler head out to set nets for a fish population survey on Lake Kawaguesaga in 2015. A similar snapshot of the walleye population will be conducted this spring on Lake Minocqua and Kawaguesaga with the help of Walley’s for Tomorrow, the Wisconsin Valley Improvement Company, the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, and the Wisconsin DNR.
4/13/2019 7:30:00 AM WFT and GLIFWC to do walleye count on Lake Minocqua
Groups to join forces to net the lake and take snapshot of the walleye population
Jacob Friede Of the Lakeland Times
Walleye on the Minocqua chain of lakes are a treasure to all who fish them, and never has that been more apparent than over the last four years when an unprecedented collaboration of conservation groups, tribes, and government has been conducting a massive effort to strengthen their population.
Since 2015, the Headwaters Basin Chapter of Walleyes for Tomorrow (WFT), the Lac du Flambeau Band, and the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC), and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources have been cooperating on an extensive rehabilitation plan on the chain which has included substantial stocking, habitat improvement, and an absolute no harvest law. The project has had the complete support of the DNR.
"We're all working together on this Minocqua chain effort and I think that's unprecedented," Walleyes for Tomorrow Minocqua representative and publisher of The Lakeland Times Gregg Walker said.
Mark Luehring, a GLIFWC inland lakes biologist working on the project agreed.
"It's a good thing," he said. "It's nice to see everybody working together for a common goal."
The groups got together for a conference call last week to discuss spring plans to take a "snapshot" of the walleye population on Lake Minocqua and gauge the effectiveness of their rehab work on the lake over the last four years.
It will truly be a group effort.
Using Walleyes for Tomorrow nets, crews on boats from WFT and the Wisconsin Valley Improvement Company will be doing fyke netting on Lake Minocqua. They will net, clip the tail fin, record the length, and take a spine sample from every walleye that can either be identified as a male or female or is greater than 15 inches in length, which is the standard for an adult walleye.
Then a crew from GLIFWC, who is also providing supervision and additional supplies for the data collection, will do an electrofish count on the lake to gauge the proportion of fish that were marked.
Through that recapture run they can make a thorough overall walleye population estimate.
A similar survey, which will include Lake Tomahawk, will be conducted in 2020. That survey will analyze all species of fish and include a creel survey of anglers, but this year's effort allows the group to give particular attention to the walleye population and stay as up-to-date as possible.
"It's going to give us a better idea going into 2020 how to make whatever decisions are going to be made," Luehring said. "Part of the plan was to see, are we reaching our goal, have we made our goal, are we close, are we not, and because of a potential reopening in 2020 we want all the information ahead of that to think about."
The population goal, originally set in 2015, is two adult walleye per acre on Lake Tomahawk and three adult walleye per acre on Lake Minocqua and Lake Kawaguesaga.
But another goal set was signs of natural reproduction and according to Mike Vogelsang, a fisheries supervisor and regional program manager with the WDNR office out of Woodruff, that has not been evident.
"There should be a very strong correlation between the number of adults and what you have for natural recruits out there," he said. "So one of these years in the fall if we went and electrofished Minocqua and Kawaguesaga and we saw 15-25 young of the year walleye per mile that would be a good thing. That would be a great thing. We're not anywhere near that yet."
The hope of the group is the years of no harvest have boosted the adult population and, in turn, increased egg production, fry hatching, and survival odds of young fish into the fall to establish a year class.
The survey is set to be conducted as soon as the ice is completely off the lakes.
"What we're looking for is to net through just the peak of the spawn and then our recapture run is just post peak or almost right at peak," Luehring said. "It seems like walleye use photo period as well as water temp as a cue for their spawning, so as the days get longer they're more and more ready to spawn."
There are a lot of questions concerning the Minocqua chain, but what is not in question is the cooperation being practiced and hard work being done by all the groups involved to answer them. Right now nobody is sure when the harvest ban will be lifted, but this survey will go a long ways in determining that and if there is a future for walleye on the chain at all.
"As we continue to build the population, I would certainly expect if we're going to see a natural year class, a good one, it's probably going to happen in these next couple years," Vogelsang said. "Fingers crossed anyway."
Jacob Friede may be reached
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