Fishing, Life, Love & The Great Outdoors
For Wisconsin Outdoors / Wolf River Experience
Written July, 2010

DNR Faces Off With Local Anglers

July 13, 2010 may have been a historic day in local angling lore, or another stumbling point in the relationship between the DNR and local sportsmen. This all due to concerns over the DNR's spring electroshocking practices and the perceived need to do so. Anglers, led by well known local fisherman “Woody” Fellner and founding members of Shadows On The Wolf, all came together to voice their concerns. It was an interesting scene that I will do my best to describe.

I got there well after the start because a meeting of The Wolf River Walleye Club in Fremont. Upon arriving I found a fairly tense crowd who had been listening to a great deal of information on what the DNR does each spring and how the information helps them keep tabs on the walleye population. To them it is pretty simple, use every available tag. That's because tag returns help provide harvest limit and other information. They had charts and power point presentations with numerous speakers and experts to provide detail. It went on for 2 hours! To the vast majority in attendance, which was close to 100 anglers from all over the area, it was a long filibuster. In fact, some people complained about he length of the presentation, and left prior to the “intermission” where cheese, sausage and crackers were provided, a peace offering of sorts I thought.

It was well past 9:30 when the DNR finally got around to asking questions and allowing comment from those in attendance. Wardens with side arms took position on each side of the room and Ron Bruchs opened the flood gates. The need to shock yearly, the effect on the fish including mortality rates, the effect on northern pike fry, walleye eggs and reports of DNR shocking boats tearing up the marsh and operating in the river around actively fishing people in boats were all part of the discussion. Speakers had scientific evidence and eye witness reports to support their position regarding the effects of electroshocking. Others talked about DNR shocking boats operating downstream of them in openly fish-able waters. Passions were riding high and the room was charged with emotion.

The level of expertise of those running the equipment on the shocking boats was also questioned. A segment of a TV show was provided to highlight this where Kendall Kamke's words were taken out of context to provide a short round of laughter at his expense. Knowing him well, and the dynamic behind making a TV show, it was an unfair jab at someone who has done a LOT to help re-establish what had been a floundering fishery. His hard work and that of Ron Bruchs, Art Techlow and others have done all of us, and our grandchildren, a great service.

Anglers talked about greater difficulty in catching fish off the rafts the last 10 years and the virtual disappearance of the northern pike population in the area. Others talked of large numbers of dead fish floating down the river, something I found hard to believe. No one got out of line but you could tell that the people from the Shiocton area and those in attendance wanted some real answers....... and change!

After well over an hour of the verbal tennis match I was able to get Ron Bruchs to agree to look at all the scientific evidence provided by the local groups and to also meet with them to discuss future protocols in regards to their electrofishing habits. The need for a study on the northern pike population was voiced but getting the budget for it out of the state of Wisconsin in the present economy was also noted. I was also able to get them to realize that tag returns from the area were LOW, due to local opinion of the need to shock the marshes at such a high level. A resounding NO was heard throughout the room when asked if local anglers return tags. That heightens the need to work with local anglers, get their input and meet what ever needs make sense. Without those tag returns all numbers for population estimates are potentially skewed/

A three year study on the walleye population was blamed for the Herculean effort to tag the fish since 2008, but that did little to ease concern for the future in the room. What DID ease concerns, at least for the immediate future, was Ron Bruchs promise to work with local groups prior to spring 2011. He vowed to discuss protocol as far as being in the marsh when the fish are spawning, marsh maintenance that includes the summer burning or cutting of the spawning grounds, shocking in the river around anglers and a promise to look at scientific information regarding the use of electrofishing to tag fish. The use of fish traps to replace or supplement the capturing of fish for tagging was also discussed and in general, even those who were red faced and pointing fingers ended up in a good, friendly discussion after the meeting adjourned.

The DNR plans additional informative meetings in the area on the spring electroshocking practices and their views on the condition of the walleye population in the vast Winnebago system. The power point presentation IS quite informative. I'm sure each meeting will be filled with questions but not the vigor shown by the local anglers at the meeting in Shiocton. After all, they are most effected by the electrofishing due to the fact that the vast majority of the spawning grounds are where they live, and fish. I've read the information provided to me by my friend Woody Fellner and believe there is some value in the research that our local DNR might not be cognizant of. I also believe that my friend Ron Bruchs and Kendall Kamke will do what they promised and that in general the walleye population is in good hands, and growing.


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