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State stocks Geneva Lake with 3,000 muskies

First time DNR has put this species in the lake

October 20, 2010 | 08:45 AM
Williams Bay — Geneva Lake has a new predator.

The state Department of Natural Resources transplanted 3,000 muskellunge into lake waters Thursday and Friday, Oct. 14 and 15, said Doug Welch, DNR fisheries biologist for Walworth, Racine and Kenosha counties.

The fish were introduced to the lake in Williams Bay on the north side of the lake and near Trinke Estates in Linn Township at the south east side, Welsh said.

Welch said introduction of muskies into Geneva Lake has been under consideration by the DNR for the last five years. An environmental impact report submitted to the DNR about two years ago indicated that a limited population of muskie would have no impact on other fish populations.

With a surface area of more than 5,000 acres and depths up to 140 feet, Welch said Geneva Lake should be big enough to accommodate its new residents.

"The muskie won't be very abundant and competition for food and space should not be a factor," Welch said.

Welch said he talked with Ted Peters, director of the Geneva Lake Environmental Agency, about plans to put muskie into the lake.

Peters said he doesn't recall the conversation. He said the decision to introduce a new species of fish into the lake came as a surprise, and wasn't aware of it until he was called by the Regional News.

And he's not as confident as the DNR that putting muskellunge in Geneva Lake will not impact at least some part of the lake's ecology. He said he wasn't sure that northern and muskies could exist in the same lake, because they tend to occupy similar niches in a lake's ecosystem. Both tend to hunt near shoreline areas, he said.

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However, Peters said he's not a fisheries biologist.

"I'm a little surprised, but let's see what happens," Peters said. All of the fish are tagged and the DNR will track them as they become acclimated to the lake.

The fish transplanted to Geneva Lake were about 12 inches long, Welch said. He said it should take between four and five years before the fish are big enough to be harvested by anglers. Muskies must be at least 34 inches long before they can be kept by fishermen, Welch said. And that length may be increased in the next few years to reduce the impact of fishing on muskie populations.

Demand for putting muskies into Geneva Lake came from muskie clubs, like Muskie Inc., individual fishermen and fishing guides, Welch said.

The DNR has been stocking muskie in Delavan Lake since 1990, he said.

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The top predator in Geneva Lake has been the northern pike, a relative of the muskellunge. Welch said the DNR does not expect that the introduction of muskies into the lake will affect the northern population.

Transplanting fish species into Geneva Lake is nothing new. Lake and brown trout were not original to the lake, said Welch. And it's probable that the walleye are also a transplanted species, he said.

According to the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute website, the musky was named the official Wisconsin state fish in 1955. It is one of the most desired trophy fish in the Great Lakes region.

Muskies vary greatly in color and markings, but generally, they have dark colored bars on a light-colored background of silvery green to light brown

Muskie size varies by lake.

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In the ideal habitat, a muskie can grow to be more than 5 feet long, with trophy sizes starting at 50 inches. Trophy weights start at 40 pounds, but the fish have been known to reach up to 70 pounds.

Muskies tend to be solitary and stay close to their home range. They usually lurk near drop-offs from rock or sand bars in the middle of lakes, along weed beds or other vegetation, and in shady waters close to shores that are shaded by trees.

The muskies impale their prey on their large canine teeth and swallow it head first.

The larger a muskie grows, the larger its prey, and they don't just eat fish. Muskrats, ducks, shrews, mice, and frogs are all on the menus of larger muskie.

Muskies are voracious predators and tough fighters but muskie populations consist of only a few individuals per acre. They are in such demand by anglers that they must be stocked in most lakes.

The Wisconsin DNR reports that about 65 percent of the young fish die within the first several months of stocking.

The lake's other top predator, the northern pike, grows to between 18 to 30 inches and weighs between 20 ounces to 8 pounds.

The northern pike is a voracious predator and consumes three to four times its weight during the course of a year. Like the muskie, the northern's diet includes smaller fish, frogs, crayfish, small mammals, and birds.

Northern pike inhabit protected, weedy bays. After the spring ice melts, they move further into the shallows and marshes to spawn. They retreat to deep, cool waters in summer.

Northern and muskellunge can co-exist in the same lake, according to the Sea Grant site, but they tend to give each other wide berth.

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