Living on the Lake: Northwoods Muskies Inc.
It’s the official state fish of Wisconsin: the muskellunge. To catch a big one is the dream of many anglers and the focus of a new club formed in the Minocqua area, Northwoods Muskies Inc., a chapter of the international organization working to promote quality fisheries.
“We started with a core group of eight guys,” says Pete Stoltman, one of the founding members. “We set a goal of 100 members, went out and started talking to our buddies, and by our first official meeting last April, we had our one hundredth member show up.”
When they began researching the idea of a club last winter, Pete and his friends decided to go with Muskies Inc. for a number of reasons. “They are a well established education and conservation organization active throughout the U.S.,” he explains. “With an infrastructure all in place, we realized that would make it easier for us to get going.”
They have been established as Chapter 61, covering a territory that reaches west to Park Falls and south to Tomahawk. “There’s been a group in Eagle River for quite a while now,” says Pete. “They cover eastern Vilas County to the state line. These are both big districts with a lot of lakes.”
From the start, one of the top priorities has been to aid the fishery, according to Pete, and his group has already started by helping to finance stocking of area lakes, networking with lake associations and hosting speakers to educate members on protecting and enhancing musky habitat.
“Fund raising is a big part of our program,” Pete says. “We have a constant dialogue going with the DNR about stocking and how we can help. We’ve toured the hatchery in Woodruff, and we’ve helped with the funding to put electronic PIT tags into the fish to help with research.”
“From the beginning, we’ve had a good response from the community,” he explains. “Fundraising is going very well; this sport has a lot of items that work great for auctions and raffle prizes. From baits to rods and reels, there’s a lot of stuff. Many of our members have great connections and the ability to draw on local resources.”
Some of the group’s meetings include a Lake Learn session, during which experienced anglers talk about specific area lakes, features of the lake that affect musky and what lures have worked well.
“With catch-and-release so popular now, it’s easier to share,” says Pete. “People aren’t quite so guarded with their information, when they know any fish caught aren’t going to be clubbed over the head, but put back into the lake.”
Knowing that the busy summer season would be a tough time to schedule meetings, they now hold “Meetings on the Water.”
“We pick a lake and set a few hours to fish and then meet back up for prizes and a social hour,” Pete says. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Part of the social aspects of fishing for musky is that it’s not really a one-man sport. “Partner fishing is important,” Pete explains. “These are big fish, hard to handle; you usually need some help. They’re quite fragile, too. I always say, when you pull the fish up, hold your breath. As long as you can hold your breath is about how long they can.”
With education a big part of the group’s goals, plans are already in place for a youth outing this fall. “We want to get kids out there on the water,” says Pete. “We’ll get the boats and guides, have a cook-out and some prizes. It should be a lot of fun.”
Members come from all over. “I was talking to somebody about the group, and was overheard by a guy with a couple of kids,” Pete recalls. “He asked about joining, and I told him there was a meeting that night. He showed up with the whole family, bought a family membership and one of his daughters won a big raffle prize.”
Hats, T-shirts and coffee mugs are already out there sporting the colorful logo of Northwoods Muskies Inc., Chapter 61. A nice website, northwoodsmuskies.com, includes just about all one needs to know about the group, and their Facebook page already has more than 400 “Likes.”
To get in on all the action, those interested are urged to download a membership form on the website or pick up a brochure at an area fishing shop.
Sue Schneider is a freelance writer who lives in Rhinelander. Her articles also appear in Northwoods ‘boomers and Beyond™ and Northwoods Commerce™ magazines.