Another year of the Dean Rosset Stocking Program: Tracking the muskie experiment on Geneva Lake
The experiment with the Leech Lake strain of muskies goes on in the Dean Rosset Stocking Program on Geneva Lake.
ONTANA, Wis. — The science of the five-year Dean Rosset Stocking Program fascinates me. It’s a real-time experiment stocking various strains of muskies into Geneva Lake.
But I’ll be honest, part of the reason I’ve trekked north to see the stocking each October of the first two years has nothing to do with muskies.
I just savagely enjoy the back-way, early-morning drive from I-90 via Route 47 north, then Route 14 west, then a mix of country roads to arrive at Abbey Springs Yacht Club on the south side of Geneva Lake.
This year, a tom turkey eyed me stoically roadside south of Alden, a pair of sandhill cranes stood rigidly erect in a field north of Alden and a deer wandered a lawn in Fontana. On the way home, I stopped and wandered the headwaters of the Kishwaukee River near Woodstock, something I’ve meant to do for years.
But, on to the main point, the stocking of various strains of muskies in Geneva Lake.
Muskie stocking in Geneva Lake started in 2010 with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources using its Upper Chippewa and Upper Wisconsin River strains.
Last year, Luke Roffler, then a WDNR fisheries biologist, said, “Right now, it is an experimentation, so far now we know our strains do well.’’
He had that right.
Yacht-club harbor master Jason Zamora, who boated a 48-inch muskie last year, had another good big-muskie story as we waited for the truck to arrive Tuesday morning. He pulled out his phone and showed a 46½-inch muskie.
“We were trout fishing in the spring in the middle of the lake, straight out in 90 feet,’’ he said, waving north. “Reeling up, we caught it, and my buddy [Charlie Goes] brought it in.’’
Zamora thought it came on a No. 8 Shad Rap.
“I don’t use big baits in the spring,’’ he said.
There have been rumors/reports of 50-inch-plus muskie on Geneva, but so far, the evidence is slim.
Zamora only has six muskies this year, but he only begins intensely fishing as late fall comes and work eases.
Roffler, rather stunningly, has since switched careers to school teaching, but the Rosset Program continues. It is named for the late Dean Rosset. He and his wife, Leah, were the legendary muskie-fishing couple, Team Rosset, from the Chicagoland Muskie Hunters chapter of Muskies Inc.
Funding comes from CMH, the Fox River Valley chapter of Muskies Inc., the Blackhawk Musky Club (Wisconsin) and private donations.
The centerpiece of the Rosset Program is the stocking of the Leech Lake strain of muskies, prized for growing large. Significantly, Geneva is not only a deep lake, it is the southernmost home to cisco, a top muskie forage, in Wisconsin. The culmination of the Rosset Program will come in 2022 with a genetic study of the success of the various strains. I’m really looking forward to seeing that.
Last year, only 319 of the Leech Lake strain (10-12 inches) were available to be stocked. This year, there were 950.
“I hand-counted them myself,’’ said Debbie Jost, one of the owners of Minnesota Muskie Farm, Inc.
She left Minnesota at 1 a.m. with the hatchery truck to arrive by 9 a.m. at Fontana.
Jost backed up to the launch at the yacht club, then began dipping out nets full of the muskies from the oxygenated tanks. A couple of small boys, Jackson Benesch and Quinn Hanaghan, took first honors and emptied nets.
The water on Geneva was again startlingly clear. That made it easy and fascinating to watch the muskies to see what they did when released. The two dozen or so of us who were there mainly eyed and/or photographed the muskies. Some muskies stayed on top of the water, while others immediately went to the bottom. None seemed at all interested when a big school of minnows swam in.
“They are resting after the journey,’’ said Josh Krall, fisheries technician for the WDNR in Kenosha and Walworth counties.
I stood next to him and chatted. He looked around the skies, then said, “Good we are getting a little break. No seagulls yet.’’
No, just lots of us people watching the muskies, the water and the wonder.
“They will gradually filter out from here,’’ Krall said. “Once they get their bearings, they will key in more on the food.’’