Catching your first muskie is an experience most people never forget. That certainly was the case for lifelong fisherman Dave Dawson, who remembers the day fondly.
“I was about 13 years old fishing in Canada with my mom, my dad and my brother,” he recalls. “Back then people didn’t take pictures of those kinds of things, but I remember it was about 13 inches long and I was so proud.”
There was no turning back after that for Dawson, an avid muskie fisherman who is serving his fourth year as secretary for the Muskellunge Club of Wisconsin.
Founded in 1953, the club is in many ways responsible for making sure the fishermen and women of tomorrow have just as memorable of a time catching their first muskie in local lakes.
The club’s historical stocking efforts date back many years and have occurred on several lakes in Wisconsin, including Lac La Belle and Pewaukee lakes.
In 2016, the club partnered with the Milwaukee Chapter of Muskies Inc. (MCM) and Waukesha County to stock three lakes with 1,490 muskies. Of the $18,370 cost, MCW was responsible for $12,075.
Stockings in 2016 happened in both April and August, a somewhat rare occurrence Dawson says he hopes to be the way of the future.
“Historically, stocking is done primarily in fall despite that not necessarily being the most advantageous time to do so,” says Dawson, who has been helping with the club’s annual stocking efforts for more than 20 years. “Spring is more effective and ultimately better for the fish because the predators aren’t chasing them and the water is a good temperature to for them to get acclimated.”
Without the efforts of the club, musky fishing in the area wouldn’t be what it is for long.
“Muskies go through the spawning motions, but there isn’t any natural reproduction in southern Wisconsin, so even though catch and release is nearly 100 percent, there is still mortality involved and if we don’t stock, fisheries will die off,” Dawson explained. “These are low-density fish, so it’s very important that we stock to sustain our fishery.”
Funds to pay for the stocking fees, which cost an average of $13 per fish, are mostly raised through events through the year and the membership dues paid to the club.
In April, when the club receives the fish (estimated to be about another 1,000 or so this year) a group will head out onto Okauchee Lake in a fleet to disperse them throughout the water.
“It’s honestly one of my favorite things to participate in every year,” Dawson says. “Seeing those hundreds of fish be released into the lakes is really something.”