Outdoors / Sports

Record-seeking anglers will have to wait for new opportunities

Wisconsin fishing records were scheduled to have a different look this year.

By now, an 8-plus pound smallmouth bass would have likely taken the smallie crown. A walleye of more than 13 1/2 pounds might have been entered, too. A musky of greater than 52 1/4 pounds? That's a longer shot but possible.

And dozens of catch-and-release records would certainly be on the books.

The lakes and areas that produced the record fish would have been highlighted by news media and helped spur interest in fishing, conservation and tourism.

At least that was the plan.

Due to an unspecified number of complaints, the Department of Natural Resources has shelved revisions to its Wisconsin fish records program pending further review.

"We received responses from constituents who were concerned about the proposed changes to the program, particularly the Legacy/Modern Day record categories," said Karl Scheidegger, who handles outreach and marketing for the DNR Bureau of Fisheries Management.

"Given the contrast in opinions, the fisheries program was asked to take a step back and gather more public input on the proposed changes before possibly moving forward."

Last August, the DNR announced two changes to its fish records. The first separated fish into two categories, Legacy and Modern Day. The second formed a Live Release category.

The agency posted criteria for the programs on its website. The changes were scheduled to take effect May 3, opening day of the 2014 Wisconsin fishing season.

"Talk about a great move for fishing in Wisconsin," said Pete Maina of Hayward, who worked as a fishing guide for 30 years and now hosts "The Next Bite" fishing show on television and is a frequent guest on John Gillespie's "Waters and Woods."

"Fishing in the state for a majority of game fish species is better than ever and these changes would have helped underscore that."

When the program was announced last year, the DNR said the impetus for the proposed changes came from inside and outside the department.

Many anglers simply don't believe some of the fish records, mostly those dating back 50 or more years. The validity of fish records has caused plenty of debate; several records across the United States have been expunged after it was determined they were faulty.

Record-keeping organizations differ, too. The International Game Fish Association and National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, for example, recognize different fish as their musky world records.

"The methods and standards of today are different from yesteryear," Scheidegger said last year. "We want to continue to recognize the historical records, but start a category for fish caught and verified in the modern time."

The DNR planned to move 13 long-standing records, including muskellunge, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass and walleye, into the Legacy category.

By establishing the Legacy category, the fish would continue to be a state record and kept in a place of honor, Scheidegger explained. To establish a Modern Day record, an angler would have to catch a fish of about 75 percent of the weight of the Legacy record.

The 13 records the DNR slated for Legacy listing were: largemouth bass (11 pounds, 3 ounces, caught in 1940); smallmouth bass (9-1, 1950); common carp (57-2, 1966); channel catfish (44-0, 1962); muskellunge (69-11, 1949); tiger muskellunge (51-3, 1919); northern pike (38-0, 1952); yellow perch (3-4, 1954); green sunfish (1-9, 1967); brook trout (inland, 9-15, 1944); lake trout (inland, 35-4, 1957); lake trout (outlying, 47-0, 1946); walleye (18-0, 1933).

The agency created minimum qualifying weights for the Modern category as: largemouth bass (8-6); smallmouth bass (6-12); common carp (42-13); channel catfish (33-0); muskellunge (52-4); tiger muskellunge (38-6); northern pike (28-8); yellow perch (2-8); green sunfish (1-3); brook trout (inland) (7-7); lake trout (inland) (26-7); lake trout (outlying) (35-4); walleye (13-8).

The other 55 species (everything from American eel to whitefish) would have "rolled into" the Modern category.

Maina called the plan "outstanding."

"It helps put the focus on today and the future and puts aside any controversies," Maina said. "When you look at legitimate benchmarks for these species, we are catching many state record-quality fish and often releasing them. It would add interest to fishing in Wisconsin and be a great promotional tool."

Maina's view is echoed by dozens of other anglers, guides and industry representatives I've talked to over the last several months.

"As a leader of one of the largest youth fishing organizations in the region, I think it is imperative to support the new and improved DNR state record fish program," said Kevin Bushnick, founder and chairman of the Youth Conservation Alliance as well as vice president and national youth fishing director of Muskies Inc. "I feel this program will also bolster participation with the next generation of fishing enthusiasts."

Bushnick also was highly supportive of the idea to create a catch-and-release division.

Fishing guides and clubs across the state could help clients and members participate in the process, said Chris Terry, a part-time guide from Wauwatosa.

"The catch-and-release angle alone would be a huge benefit," Terry said. "Dozens of kids and other anglers would have been able to apply for a new state catch-and-release record this year. How is that a bad thing?"

I've spoken to one opponent of the changes, John Dettloff, a resort owner, author and fishing guide from Couderay.

"A record is a record until it's beaten," said Dettloff, who has written a book about the state record musky caught in 1949 by Louis Spray on the Chippewa Flowage. "I'm against anything that would move these historical records to another category."

Emmett Brown, president of the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, said his organization had an international focus and neither supported nor opposed the plan.

Maina hoped an upwelling of support from anglers, clubs, resorts and the fishing industry would help convince the DNR to keep true to its 2013 plan.

Scheidegger said the DNR would establish a means to collect public comments over the next year, likely through an online survey other public venue. Based on results, he said the department "may be looking at a launch date of May 2015."

(c)2014 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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