Posted January 15, 2019 by Dave Neuswanger
Wisconsin DNR’s Sawyer County Fishery Management Biologist, Max Wolter, has completed a major project aimed at maintaining and improving the quality of fishing on Teal and Lost Land lakes. Co-authored with QLIA President Dave Neuswanger, the November 2018 Fishery Management Plan culminates a process begun in 2006 when Dave (as WDNR Area Fisheries Supervisor) facilitated a visioning session at the Spider Lake Town Hall, offering QLIA members an opportunity to weigh in on fish species priorities and preferences.
This novel approach to documenting stakeholder interests on an ecosystem-specific basis and setting goals accordingly was embraced by Max, who conducted a more inclusive online survey of area anglers in 2018 that confirmed earlier results. The end product is a plan that reflects stakeholder priorities and preferences while offering specific, science-based recommendations for fish harvest, stocking, and habitat management. Teal and Lost Land are now among only a handful of Wisconsin’s 15,000 lakes that have customized fishery management plans. To download and read the full plan, click on the bold blue link below:
For a quick look at highlights of the plan, QLIA President and Fisheries Program Leader Dave Neuswanger offers the following synopsis of the document he co-authored, in order of stakeholder preference for each fish species:
Walleye: Teal Lake is thought to be more suitable for walleyes than Lost Land. Therefore, the plan calls for twice as many adult walleyes in Teal (4-8 per acre) as in Lost Land (2-4 per acre). However, the proportion of 10-inch-and-longer walleyes that are also 15 inches and longer should be twice as high in Lost Land (20-40%) as in Teal (10-20%). Because survival of wild-hatched juvenile walleyes has declined to low levels over the past 15 years, in 2011 WDNR initiated an ongoing program (with help from QLIA) to stock large walleye fingerlings (6-8 inches) in the fall in alternate (odd) years in order to augment populations in both lakes. Furthermore, harvest regulations were changed in 2015 to promote higher walleye survival, protecting all fish less than 15 inches long and all prime-age spawning adults (mostly females) between 20 and 24 inches long, while fixing the daily bag limit at 3, of which only 1 may exceed 24 inches. Concurrently, the 14-inch minimum length limit and early-season harvest prohibition (until third weekend of June) for largemouth bass were rescinded in 2016 in an ongoing effort to promote greater angler harvest of largemouth bass, thereby reducing competition with and predation on juvenile walleyes. Continued liberal harvest regulations for northern pike (5 daily bag limit with no minimum length limit) may also increase the odds that more juvenile walleye will survive to adulthood in the future. This integrated approach – selectively harvesting competing predators – could result in improved natural recruitment of walleye, obviating the need to stock them indefinitely. From a standpoint of genetic stock conservation, naturally spawning fish that are adapted specifically to our waters would be preferred to hatchery-reared fish.
Muskellunge: The plan proposes to maintain existing, well-balanced populations of muskellunge in both Teal and Lost Land lakes. Moderate numbers of desirable-size fish have originated from a mixture of natural reproduction and hatchery stocking, and will likely continue to support a high-quality musky fishery under protection of a 40-inch minimum length limit and a strong voluntary catch-and-release ethic for legal-size fish. The plan’s objective to have 15 to 25 percent of all muskellunge exceed 42 inches seems attainable if natural reproduction continues at a moderate rate and stocking is done only when necessary with hatchery-reared fingerlings sourced from Teal or Lost Land. Selective angler harvest of predatory northern pike (currently moderate in number) and largemouth bass (currently excessive in number) should increase the odds that some naturally produced juvenile muskellunge will survive to adulthood in both lakes. The addition of some complex woody cover near shore (“tree drops” or “fish sticks”) would provide juvenile muskellunge with increased protection from predators. Since 2008, WDNR fishery workers have implanted a total of 576 adult muskellunge in both lakes with invisible Passive Integrated Transponder tags, similar to those used to identify pets. With an additional 1,304 muskies PIT-tagged and stocked into Lost Land in fall of 2012, fishery managers hope to learn a great deal about recruitment, mortality, and movement in this system over the next several years. WDNR Fishery Management Biologist Max Wolter has already learned that approximately 10 percent of all muskellunge move from one lake to the other (via the Thoroughfare) in any given year.
Black Crappie: Crappies have always been important to anglers on Teal and Lost Land lakes. Strong crappie fishery interest was expressed in the 2006 visioning session and the 2018 online survey. Recent WDNR netting surveys have indicated moderate numbers of black crappies in both lakes, in line with plan objectives, but average size has consistently fallen short of angler expectations.
The plan objective is for 20 to 40 percent of all 5-inch-and-longer crappies to also exceed 10 inches; but WDNR netting surveys and angler reports suggest that almost all catchable-size crappies in recent years have ranged between 7 and 9 inches long. Subsequent to publication of this Plan, Max Wolter and his team at WDNR determined the age distribution of crappies in both Teal and Lost Land lakes. What they discovered was not only surprising, but also helpful in confirming the best strategy for managing crappies going forward.
In spring of 2018, WDNR collected otoliths (ear bones) from 34 crappies 7-10 inches long that had been captured in fyke nets. When these structures were sectioned and examined under a microscope, biologists were surprised to learn that 76% were 8 years old (crappies hatched naturally in spring of 2010). Dominant age groups are well-known in crappie populations, but rarely does one cohort comprise such a large proportion of the adult population so late in life. (Crappies rarely attain 7 years of age before being harvested by anglers or dying of natural causes.) Wondering if the 2018 sample was an anomaly, biologists re-examined otoliths from Quiet Lakes crappies captured in 2014, confirming that the 2010 age group dominated the sample then, too, when they were only 6.4 inches long. So there is no doubt that the 2010 age group of black crappies has supported the crappie fishery in Teal and Lost Land lakes for the past several years.
Otolith analysis does not allow biologists to determine the true growth of crappies (average length gained per year by individual fish). The spacing of rings on these ear bones is not proportional to the growth of the fish each year. But what we DO know is that crappies from the dominant 2010 age group are the slowest-growing survivors of that age group, left behind by fish that grew faster to a desirable length and were selectively harvested by anglers. We can assume their numbers have dwindled, and we know there are not many younger fish approaching harvestable length to replace them. The implication? Anglers must “make do” with what remains of the 2010 age group until another significant cohort comes along. Therefore, it is important to comply with the reduced daily bag limit of 10 crappies. Even at 10 per angler per day, the usual catch rate of crappies (particularly in Lost Land) may not match the action experienced in recent years, at least until the next significant age group comes along. Crappie hatches tend to be all-or-none in nature. Success requires optimal weather conditions during the typical two-week spawning period each spring, and that happens only occasionally.
In 2016, experimental panfish regulations were initiated on both Teal and Lost Land, limiting anglers to no more than 10 panfish per day of any single species (like black crappie) within the overall daily limit of 25 panfish. Minnesota DNR has had demonstrable success increasing the size of panfish in lakes where daily limits were reduced to 10, so it will be interesting to learn if the new regulations result in more crappies living long enough to reach and exceed 10 inches. Anglers are strongly encouraged to give this experiment a chance to work by complying with the new rule, hopefully improving the average size of crappies for all. (Most crappie anglers would rather clean ten plump 10-inchers than 25 skinny 8-inchers!) Good compliance with the new walleye regulations (especially the 15-inch minimum length limit) may help also, because young walleyes in sufficient number are by far the most effective predators on juvenile crappies. Periodic strong hatches of young crappies can be controlled by walleye predation so that surviving crappies have enough food to grow to desirable sizes. There is no escaping the inter-connectedness of all fish species in the overall fish community.
Smallmouth Bass: Unlike largemouth bass, smallmouth bass pose little risk of competition with or predation on juvenile walleye. Because of their superior fighting ability and negligible impact on other desirable sportfish, anglers who fish Teal and Lost Land lakes have expressed moderate interest in having a better smallmouth bass fishery. WDNR surveys indicate that smallmouth bass numbers are quite low on Lost Land Lake, but higher and just below the target range on Teal Lake, which has better habitat for smallmouth bass (more rock and wood in the near-shore zone). Attaining the desired density of smallmouth bass on Lost Land poses a difficult challenge, but it should be possible to do on Teal, especially if anglers comply with the 14-inch minimum length limit and the catch-and-release-only season that protects even legal-size smallmouths (but not largemouths) from harvest until the third Saturday in June every year. In Teal and Lost Land lakes, we have a classic example of the need for selective harvest, where largemouth bass are best kept for consumption while smallmouth bass are protected in order to sustain a quality bass fishery. Anglers who may have difficulty distinguishing between the two bass species will have ample opportunity to learn the difference on this website and on signs posted at both the WDNR’s public boat landing and several well-used private boat ramps at popular resorts around Lost Land Lake. QLIA’s Shoreland Habitat Enhancement Program Leader plans to contact landowners and volunteer helpers about placing fallen trees strategically along shorelines with gravel substrates preferred by smallmouth bass for spawning. Scientific research has shown that such habitat enhancements can increase the number of successful smallmouth bass nests, which in turn may result in higher survival of juveniles to catchable adult size. In order to achieve the plan objective for 5-10 percent of all catchable-size smallmouth bass to exceed a memorable size of 17 inches, skilled anglers are encouraged to practice voluntary catch-and-release of even legal-size smallmouth bass.
Largemouth Bass and Northern Pike: These are fine sport fish in their own right, and many anglers on Teal and Lost Land lakes will enjoy targeting them or catching them incidentally while pursuing more sought-after species. However, because these predators may compete for food and eat juveniles of our most-preferred species (walleyes and muskellunge), the Plan establishes no minimum target numbers for largemouth bass or northern pike. Harvest regulations will remain liberal for both species (5 daily bag limit with no minimum size limit). Anglers will be encouraged to keep and enjoy eating the largemouth bass and northern pike they catch, regardless of size. Contrary to absurd assertions in the angling media and many bar-room biology sessions, both species are excellent year-round table fare if properly handled (iced after harvest in warm weather).
Yellow Perch and Bluegill: These panfish species are popular in many lakes and might have been highly sought-after by anglers on Teal and Lost Land if there was any expectation of catching preferred-size fish. However, the abundance of hiding cover (submersed aquatic plants) and insufficient numbers of open-water predators (walleye) in recent years have allowed yellow perch and bluegill to proliferate and compete strongly for available food (plankton and aquatic insects), resulting in slow panfish growth rates. Yellow perch exceeding 9 inches and bluegill exceeding 7 inches are relatively rare in Teal and Lost Land lakes, and there is not much expectation that any combination of management tactics can improve their size distribution significantly. However, individual anglers can help in a small way by keeping up to 10 delicious bluegills per day (among the overall daily bag limit of 25 panfish), even though the fillets will be small. Anglers are encouraged to voluntarily release the largest of the yellow perch they catch, even though 10 of any size may be kept daily (also among the overall daily bag limit of 25 panfish). Yellow perch that reach 9 inches in length are highly vulnerable to angler harvest and to predation by muskellunge and large northern pike, which selectively prey upon the largest perch available. And yet, we need more large perch (mostly females) in both lakes in order to produce adequate year-classes of young perch. Successful hatches of perch have been strongly associated with high survival of young walleyes in several classic research studies. QLIA’s planned Shoreland Habitat Enhancement Program should help also, because the complex branching of trees felled near shore will produce ideal locations for female perch to drape their long egg-strands where they can remain well-oxygenated and hatch at a much higher rate than eggs deposited on mucky bottom sediments or decomposing plant matter.
Invasive Species: We have no invasive species of fish in Teal or Lost Land lakes, unless one includes common carp, which have existed for decades in insignificantly low numbers because muskellunge are such efficient predators on them. We do, however, have a hybrid form of Eurasian watermilfoil in Lost Land Lake that threatens to overwhelm many areas formerly dominated by more desirable native aquatic plants. Unattended, this problem could significantly disrupt predatory interactions among fish species; and it could adversely affect anglers by making it impossible to retrieve lures through and over the tops of submersed plants. The Quiet Lakes Improvement Association has recently completed an $80,000 fund-raiser which enabled us to order an Eco-Harvester aquatic plant puller that will be placed into operation starting in late spring of 2019. We do not believe we can eliminate the invasive hybrid milfoil altogether, but there is good reason to believe we can control it and thereby prevent it from significantly affecting the quality of fishing in Lost Land and spreading into Teal. Anglers and other recreational users are encouraged (and required by law) to check their boats and trailers for any plants that may be clinging to their transportation equipment before entering or leaving our lakes at numerous points of public and private access.