Okauchee ranks high for musky fishing

By BOB RIEPENHOFF

briepenhoff@journalsentinel.com

Last Updated: Dec. 29, 2002

For years, Pewaukee Lake has earned a reputation as the top musky producing lake in southeastern Wisconsin.

But a new Department of Natural Resources study shows that Okauchee Lake may be giving Pewaukee a serious run for its

money in the big musky department.

"If you want to have a chance at catching a musky, you'll probably be better off on Pewaukee Lake," said Sue Beyler, DNR

senior fisheries biologist for Waukesha County. "But if you want to catch a big one - a trophy fish - I'd say try Okauchee."

Beyler confessed to being a bit surprised by the study results.

"Sometimes it's the lakes you don't hear about as much that can produce the big ones," she said.

Last spring, DNR crews conducted the organization's first comprehensive fish survey of Okauchee Lake since 1985. From

March through May, workers captured fish in fyke nets or through electric shocking, then weighed, measured and released

the fish, some of which were fin-clipped for future identification.

Well-fed muskies

The DNR began stocking muskies in Okauchee Lake in the 1980s, and this was the first study of the lake's musky population.

According to Beyler's recently completed analysis, Okauchee Lake has an estimated 220 adult muskies, or one musky per

five acres, compared to about one musky every two acres on Pewaukee Lake.

"Even though we had two and a half times as many muskies on Pewaukee Lake, the average size of the Okauchee Lake

muskies was bigger," Beyler said.

DNR crews captured and measured 120 muskies - 80 males and 40 females - for the Okauchee Lake study. The average male

musky was 37 inches long and weighed 16 pounds, and the average female musky was 42 inches and 20 pounds.

"The muskies we caught, in my opinion, seemed to be more robust than the ones we caught on Pewaukee," she said. "They

were all fat and well fed. None of them looked like they were having any trouble finding food."

The biggest musky netted during the study was an impressive 52-inch, 41-pounder.

"We had a number of muskies in the mid and upper 40s as well," Beyler said. "But that was the only one over 50 inches."

Stocking effort succeeds

Yet Beyler believes Okauchee Lake has the potential to consistently produce such trophy fish.

Okauchee Lake has good panfish and cisco populations for forage.

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"It has a couple nice shallow bays - Stumpy Bay on the northwest and Crane's Nest Bay on the north - where the muskies

feed on panfish early in the spring," she said. "And I'm sure the muskies target those cisco in deep water during the summer

months when the water warms up."

Okauchee Lake's musky population is the result of stocking efforts by the DNR and the Muskies Inc. club. On average, the

state stocks about 1,200 8- to 10-inch muskies a year and the club stocks about 200 to 300 12- to 15-inch muskies.

Not all of those fish stay in Okauchee Lake.

"Muskies migrate downstream through the Oconomowoc River into Oconomowoc, Fowler and LaBelle lakes, and they go

upstream into North Lake," Beyler said. "When we stock one lake, we're really stocking five lakes."

Beyler believes that the musky migrations may help improve musky growth rates on Okauchee Lake.

"I think the fact that they're spreading out into other lakes, and their density is lower, may help," she said.

Fishing pressure may also be lighter on Okauchee Lake than Pewaukee.

"They're not being caught and released as much," she said. "I saw almost no hooking injury on any of these fish."

During the study, the crews caught almost no muskies shorter than 30 inches, except for some recently stocked yearlings.

"Because we didn't see any medium-sized muskies, I assumed that those were the fish that migrated out of the lake," she said.

In August, however, an angler on Lac LaBelle caught a 40-inch musky that had been fin-clipped on Okauchee Lake as part of

the study the previous spring.

A version of this story appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Dec. 29, 2002.

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