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Jun 17 2021

Conservation Corner

Conservation Corner is a weekly article produced by the Forest County Land &Water Conservation Department. For more information contact Steve Kircher, County Conservationist-Land Information/GIS Director at 715-478-1387 or by e-mail at lcc@co.forest.wi.us.

As a musky fisherman, I consistently hear walleye fishermen stating that they’d catch more walleyes if it weren’t for the muskies eating them all.  They’ll say, “if we’re not catching walleye, then something else must be.”  But, people’s beliefs about who’s eating who often venture into the “myth” level of misunderstanding.

Let’s start with the big bad muskellunge. As our largest predatory freshwater fish in Wisconsin, it’s easy to picture a “musky” gobbling up all the little walleye in a lake. But, research has shown something very different. While walleye do show up in musky diets on occasion, great musky lakes in Wisconsin are often some of the best walleye lakes as well. This doesn’t mean that the two species are best buddies or that they have a symbiotic relationship. More likely, it is evidence that both species do well in the same general habitats. In most big, deep, cool lakes you’ll find both species doing pretty well. It is certainly not a “one or the other” scenario.

There is a somewhat different story with largemouth bass, but even this interaction is more complicated than it may seem on the surface. Largemouth bass abundance has been increasing in many Wisconsin lakes, while at the same time walleye have decreased. There are a number of likely factors driving this relationship. Climate change is making lakes warmer, sometimes weedier, and often clearer.  

Largemouth bass, on the other hand, thrive in warm, weedy lakes. While the two species may have some direct interactions, we are really seeing entire lakes shifting towards more of a home field advantage for largemouth bass. This is especially true on lakes that were already on the smaller/clearer/shallower end of the spectrum for walleye lakes. f you are a little disheartened after reading these myths, I wouldn’t blame you. But, managing expectations and setting a baseline level of understanding about the species is an important first step before the real work can begin.

The DNR will be working hard this year to update Wisconsin’s Walleye Management Plan to provide the best strategies to meet these and other challenges walleye face. They will also be identifying key areas where partner groups, like lake associations, can help with maintaining great walleye fishing opportunities across the state.