So a musky goes into a bar …
In northern Wisconsin, that’s not necessarily unusual. No punchline here.
Just a mammoth musky.
The two largest muskies on record were caught in northern Wisconsin, and the slightly smaller of the two is on display at the Moccasin Bar (along with numerous other fish mounts) in Hayward, Wis., not far from where both those big fish were landed back in 1949.
Cal Johnson’s 67-and-a-half-pound, 60-and-a-quarter-inch musky helped make the Moccasin a popular stop through the years, and the legendary catch also led to the creation of Musky Festival — the 67th annual celebration is scheduled June 16-19 in and around Hayward. That’s in the shadow of a musky that dwarfs even those two 1949 behemoths: A manmade likeness of a musky, more than 100 feet long and 45 feet tall, towers over the grounds of the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum in Hayward. (A related story appears in the summer issue of Northland Outdoors magazine, which can be found at www.northlandoutdoors.com/2016/05/26/summer-has-come-early-in-the-northland/. Subscribe for free for future magazines at www.northlandoutdoors.com/subscribe/.)
Yes, big muskies abound in the northern part of Wisconsin — reportedly more so every year — and beginning this past Saturday, anglers were able to start targeting the ultimate fish species in that neck of the woods.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, musky size is on the rise in the state, and that means the potential for big fish (dare we say 1949 size?) is strong as the northern musky season got under way May 28.
The musky season is divided into northern and southern zones in recognition of differences in water temperatures and spawning dates. In the northern zone, north of U.S. Highway 10 and excluding Wisconsin-Michigan boundary waters, the season runs from May 28 to Nov. 30. In waters south of Highway 10, musky season opened May 7 and runs until Dec. 31.
Statewide, the minimum length to keep a fish remains unchanged at 40 inches. And with muskies continually getting bigger, according to the DNR, the chances of finding trophy-sized fish are good.
“The average length of all muskies captured as well as the top 10 percent of those captured has been increasing since at least 1985,” Tim Simonson, DNR fisheries biologist and musky management team leader, said in a release announcing the start of the northern musky season. “Currently, the top 10 percent of fish collected during our spring netting surveys are running above 46 inches in size.”
The average length of all adult muskies in Wisconsin waters also has been trending upward, the DNR added, and is at 37 to 38 inches.
“It’s no coincidence that more record muskies have been caught in Wisconsin than any other state,” Simonson said.
Also in that release, DNR fisheries biologist John Kubisiak of Rhinelander said he handled muskies measuring 48.9 inches and 49.1 inches during survey work in his region’s lakes this spring.
“A healthy population will have a large number of younger, smaller fish coming up to provide tomorrow’s trophy fishery,” Kubisiak said. “Many good musky waters rely on stocking, but the last 10 years or so have been good for natural muskellunge reproduction. In many of the waters I manage, we are seeing naturally reproduced muskies more frequently and sometimes in waters where I wouldn’t have predicted it.”
Weather conditions also were favorable leading up to the opening of the northern musky season, with more summer-like weather in the region as of late.
“This should finally get water temperatures where they need to be for this time of year,” said Mike Vogelsang, a DNR north district fisheries supervisor. “Musky will be taking advantage of this, which will translate into active fishing.”
Yes, 2016 is shaping up to be another banner musky-fishing year in northern Wisconsin.
Another 1949? Maybe not. But that’s OK — probably not enough room in the Moccasin anyway.