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In Wisconsin, The Sport Of Musky Fishing Has Evolved To Preserve The Fish & The Environment

Colin Crawford with a musky
Courtesy of Colin Crawford
Northwoods angler Colin Crawford with a musky he caught and released, a tradition that started in Wisconsin because of Muskies, Inc., a non-profit group of musky anglers, in the 1990s.

There’s no bigger prize for many anglers in Wisconsin’s Northwoods than the musky. It’s the top of the food chain in the state’s and surrounding areas’ lakes and is known as a freshwater equivalent of the barracuda. It can span up to five feet and weigh up to 70 pounds.

Since the mid-'90s, people who fish for muskies have been encouraged to throw them back to ensure the ecosystem of the lakes and keep the sport accessible. There are even regulations that make it illegal for people to keep a musky that’s below a certain size, as it likely hasn’t reproduced yet to keep the population numbers up.

A feature story on musky fishing in Wisconsin's Northwoods
From WUWM's Maayan Silver

Because of this, musky fishing has never been better than it is right now, says Jordan Weeks, a team supervisor for Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources. "We catch more muskies annually than we did the year before. We're also catching more large fish than we ever have, at least on record," he says.

musky gas station
Maayan Silver
Musky fishing, and fishing in general, is so baked into the Northwoods culture that gas stations sell live bait and tackle.

Weeks would love to say this is because of great management. "And I know that's a big part of it," he says. "But our hatchery system is one of the best in the world. When we stock fish, they tend to survive and they tend to live a long time."

He gives a nod also to protective regulations that allow fish to grow old and an angling public that's very in tune with catching and releasing the fish. Catch and release, Weeks says, "allow[s] these fish to be recycled and caught numerous times in their lifetime and enjoyed by a whole bunch of different people, instead of just one person."

Rollie and Helens Outside.jpg
Maayan Silver
Rollie & Helen's in Minocqua, Wisconsin bills itself as 'the world's largest musky shop.'

Catch and release is also ecologically beneficial — it is a way to balance the other fish populations.

"The common misconception with muskies is that they're just these voracious fish that'll decimate all the other populations," Weeks explains. "And when you look at the actual data and the research that's been done on muskies, the best fisheries [are] the most balanced fisheries that have pan fish all the way up to the big predator fish [muskies]."

Weeks says the best walleye lakes in Wisconsin are also the state's best musky lakes; the best bass lakes are also the best musky lakes.

Jim Stewart and musky shop associate at Rollie & Helens.jpg
Maayan Silver
Jim Stewart, owner of Rollin & Helen's Musky Shop in Minocqua, Wisconsin, which bills itself as the 'world's largest musky shop,' and his associate Tyler are ready to outfit locals and tourists for musky fishing adventures.

Another reason to catch and release muskies — they don't taste very good. Jim Stewart, of Rollie & Helen's Musky Shop in Minocqua, says, "It's kind of like, you know, if you're having a steak, you don't want to eat an old bull. It's kind of the same thing [with muskies]. If you're going to eat something, pan fish and walleye is going to be a lot better tasting than a great big musky for sure."

Maayan Silver has been a reporter with WUWM’s News Team since 2018.
Kobe Brown is WUWM's Eric Von fellow.
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