The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is looking to redo, update and/or make changes to their nearly 25-year-old walleye management plan for the ceded territory.

They began the process last week by holding a virtual shareholders meeting to discuss their plans and get more direction from interested fishermen, business owners, guides and other residents in Vilas, Oneida and Price County.

The meeting brought together biologists and other DNR walleye team members from across the ceded territory with those who were asked to give feedback and opinions referencing the future of walleye fishing in the area.

“We want to know what walleye management looks like to those people who live and fish there the most,” said Max Wolter, fisheries biologist with the DNR.

Wolter along with Natural Resources Staff Specialist Joe Hennessy moderated the meeting of nearly 100 residents, guides, bait shop owners and interested fishermen who joined the online forum and meeting which lasted nearly two hours. The meeting was nearly four times more well attended than any other meeting the DNR?has held on the walleye management plan.

“This is one of the earliest steps in the process of completing the walleye management plan which will mold the way we look at habitat, regulations, stocking and many other aspects,” Wolter said.

Assisting with Wolter and Hennessy were area fisheries biologists Tim Tobias, John Kubisiak, Lawrence Eslinger, Zack Woiak and Eric Wegleitner.

Those participating took little time to get into topics such as walleye spawning habitat, natural reproduction, stocking numbers, harvest totals, harvest size and daily bag totals along with a number of other hot-bed issues all dealing with walleye.

Nearly all members of the public agreed that there needs to be higher quantities of walleyes in quality walleye fisheries across Vilas, Oneida and Price County where the species once flourished.

“Both walleye and muskie, those are your money fish,” said Minocqua-area fishing guide and business owner Kurt Justice. “We need to try and make an effort to get numbers back to where they used to be.”

Nearly all agreed, though there we different opinions on how.

Many, including Justice,  addressed the topic of natural reproduction which seems to be failing in many water bodies that once had no issues, especially the Minocqua Chain where a current zero-bag limit is in place to try and replenish the once abundant population.

While numbers of walleye continue to rise, DNR studies have shown that it is not due to natural reproduction.

“The high population is entirely due to stocking only,” Justice said. “There has been virtually no natural reproduction. What people need to understand is that those fish need to be left alone. The collaboration with the tribe could be broken if it’s felt one side isn't doing it’s best to protect those fish.

“This will become a put-and-take fishery if we can' t come up with a understanding of what is wrong.”

Mark Luehring of the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission agreed, for the most part.

“Many lakes are experiencing declines in natural reproduction (NR), but not all, and some have had much higher declines than others,” said Luehring. “Many are still reproducing, but at lower levels than in the past. It’s a big challenge going forward.  Probably more of the NR lakes are declining than holding steady at this point based on our fall survey data and juvenile index calculated from these data.”

Kubisiak agreed that sustaining natural reproduction is a priority right now for fisheries team members across the ceded territory, though understanding why it is happening in certain lakes in particular continues to be a question.

The goal, the DNR?said, is to have as many self-sustaining walleye fisheries as possible, and also said they try not to advert the process of natural reproduction with stocking fish in those waters that typically do produce well without help.

“Naturally reproducing lakes support more fish because  Mother Nature pours in way more small fish than can survive,” he said. “It’s not cost-effective to increase the stocked number that high because of diminishing returns.  Some lakes also become walleye-dominated.  A lake can only support so many predators, so super-abundant walleye can come at the expense of suppressing other species.”

Both angler and tribal harvest data was shared, as too was information regarding the number of stocked fish that went into Wisconsin waters; last year that number totalled over 800,000 fingerling walleyes.

Jim Allison, who lives on Little Spider Lake in Arbor Vitae, wanted the DNR to look at the adverse effects of having too much of another species in many lakes, and how that inhibits both walleye population in general and their overall growth rates.

Many agreed that the DNR should be able to make quicker decision regarding bag limits, size limits and implementing closures on lakes when they see problems occurring, instead of waiting to go through the legislative process which could take years.

Water clarity, shoreline development, over-harvesting, fishing pressure and improvements in technology were also discussed at length.

“I understand people want to keep fish to eat but the mindset that people have the right to keep large quantities of fish will destroy the fisheries with improved technology,” said fishing guide Jim Lund. “We need to educate the public that the lakes aren’t their private grocery store.  I have seen so many lakes destroyed  by over harvest it is pitiful.”

Fisherman Jason Brunner agreed, and also said it is becoming easier for people to target the fish with hook and line due to improvements in technology.

“Let’s not forget that pressure and technologies have greatly increased and improved over the years,” he said. “Many lakes I fished in the 80s with no pressure are now flooded with anglers. That together with improved technologies have greatly influence the populations. How do we combat that?”

Wolter said the input hearings held across the state over the course of the next month will be taken into consideration as the DNR?works on the management plan.

“We want to be proposing things that are in line with your sentiments, which is why we asked some fairly specific questions,” he said to the group. “We hope to have a draft of the plan ready later this year, and we’ll be asking all of you to take a look at it to tell us if we got it right.”

For more information on the plan or process, contact Wolter at Max.Wolter@wisconsin.gov or call (715) 634-7429.