Fishing, Life, Love & The Great Outdoors
Dick Ellis' On Wisconsin Outdoors - Submitted February 2010

The Shocking Truth
By Joel “Doc” Kunz

Each spring crews from the Wisconsin DNR, headed up by Fisheries Biologists Ron Bruch and Kendal Kamke, work the spawning grounds of the Wolf River tagging walleye. It’s work that is important in the management of the resource and has been going on for a couple of decades. Fish are measured and tagged, then released to resume their spring ritual. Later, many of those fish are caught by anglers and information is returned to the DNR. Others are recaptured during subsequent shocking efforts where they are once again measured and released. This information helps the DNR understand growth rates, year class and population density over a long period of time. Now this may not seem like astounding news, but there is a part to this story that should be told. That story is the amount of volunteer time, effort and donations needed to perform this yearly ritual.

Tagging walleye is an expensive proposition. Lets start with the tags. Fisheries Biologist Kendal Kamke informed me that he bought 15,000 tags to use in 2010. At 54 cents a piece, thats $8,100. There is also the need for truck and boat gas plus maintenance costs and general supplies such as forms. Add salary costs for the DNR employees who operate the three Winnebago unit shocking boats and you have what adds up to a pretty penny. But none of it could go on unless it was for the volunteer efforts and donations made from individuals and groups such as Walleyes For Tomorrow. It’s these people and organizations that provide funding for the boats, motors, generators and other equipment necessary to operate such a vessel as a shocking boat.

But there is more needed than money and donated boats. It would be impossible to perform the act of shocking, catching, measuring and tagging the walleye without the manpower provided by the many volunteers who work each spring. Crews of 2 to 3 help net fish in a choreographed effort not to smack each other in the head with the back end of a 16 foot long net pole. It is hard work but an amazing amount of fun for any fisherman. It is exhilarating being perched on the front of the large flat bottom boat watching as walleye appear before your eyes from the flooded grass. Getting as many walleye as possible safely into the collection tank is important so concentration and diligent effort is expected.

Meeting at the launch, it’s a great feeling to see the big green “Boom Shocker” show up. Strapping on a life vest and heading out towards a spawning marsh you see the envy in the eyes of many anglers. Some shout out questions, others just go about their business catching fish. After entering the marsh, shocking booms are put in their holders and spread out in front of the boat. The holding tank is filled with water and the generator is started. The netting crew gets ready on the bow where they must stand on rubber mats or current is not properly directed into the water. Now ready, the boat proceeds slowly through the flooded marshes and wooded areas where there is ample depth, fresh current and grass.

You see an amazing number of walleye at times. While most of the fish escape the paralyzing effects of the amperage being applied to the water from the dangling electrodes, many are shocked enough to be netted. They are stunned for just a few seconds, so getting them in to the net as quickly as possible is important. It is also important to capture as many as possible. Every fish tagged gives the DNR additional chances to interact with anglers. That, in the long run, helps them manage the fishery which helps provide us a vast resource of walleye fishing on the system. That resource provides jobs and brings tourism dollars in large amounts and provides countless recreation hours and friday fish fry’s for those who use the system.

If there is enough crew and a collection boat available, the shocking boat will transfer the fish then continue to gather more walleyes while the collection boat measures and releases the fish. That speeds up the process and allows for the tagging of a larger number of walleye. Crews will rotate, giving “netters” a chance to take a break, eat lunch and help with or watch the measuring and recording process. If the “shocker” is the only boat at work that day, they will tie up to a tree, measure the fish, record the information and release them. Some are kept for additional study such as aging, but only a small number.

So there’s the story of the symphony of effort needed to operate the spring boom shocking efforts in the marshes of the Wolf River and Fox River. These hatcheries to the Winnebago system are an important resource and valuable asset to the people of Wisconsin. Each year volunteer crews work with DNR personnel to gather information that has helped make the Winnebago system one of Americas destination walleye fisheries. A fishery that according to DNR Fisheries Biologist Kendal Kamke should continue to produce great fishing for decades to come. That opinion is based on information gathered during last falls trawling efforts where the second largest year class ever showed up. Those fish will show up again this spring as the 10 - 12 inch fish that keep anglers busy between keepers. They will show up in a few years in the marshes where many of them will be tagged, measured and released to join those who have gone before them.

To learn more about this great fishery and get a chance to register to join a netting crew with the author, make sure to visit ICE BREAKER 5, March 12 -14, 2010. It’s a FREE Sports Show held this year in Fremont, Wisconsin to talk about the great fishing in the Wolf River and Winnebago system. Get fishing tips and techniques from local guides, resort owners, outdoor writers and touring pros. See Kendal Kamke’s “State of the Lake” presentation which discusses all the information gathered during spring and fall shocking and trawling efforts. There will be boats on display, tackle for sale and a full list of seminars. See us at Channel Cats / Fremont Event Center or check and our facebook page for more information.

Joel “Doc” Kunz is a 2005 “Readers Choice” Award winner and member of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW). Visit his web site at


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