FONTANA, Wis. — Quinn Henaghan hefted the net of advanced growth fingerling muskies Rob Jost handed him, then emptied it in Geneva Lake Thursday at the Abbey Springs Yacht Club.
“You going to catch one of those some day?” asked Kevin Butts, fisheries director and club representative for the Chicagoland Muskies Hunters chapter of Muskies, Inc.
There was much to renew hope as CMH returned, after a year hiatus, to stocking the Leech Lake strain of muskies into Geneva Lake in an ongoing experiment. The Rosset Program is named for the legendary muskie-fishing couple of the late Dean Rosset and his wife, Leah, who were active in CMH.
Jost, an owner of Minnesota Muskie farm, delivered the 1,200 roughly foot-long muskies. CMH has been averaging 620 a year since 2018 with a total stocked of nearly 2,500.
This year was the stocking was so large because they couldn’t get fish last year and a growing number of organizations and clubs are giving grants, according to Butts. The fingerlings cost $16 each.
CMH also launched the Lady of the Lake tournament a year ago to help with fundraising. All tournament proceeds go to the stocking program. This year’s tournament is next Saturday. To enter, open the FishDonkey app, tap “Fish in a Tournament,” then join “Lady of the Lake.”
Jim Cejna, CMH vice-president and tournament director, said they have 31 boats already registered, including two from Ohio and one from Georgia; last year in the inaugural year there were 29 boats.
“I’m hoping for 40,” he said.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will not experiment with different strains in natural muskie waters. The state will experiment with different strains in new muskie lakes, such as Geneva where the DNR began its stocking in 2010.
If you’re not a muskie person, you might wonder what’s the big deal.
Butts gave an explanation.
“[The Leech Lake strain] unquestionably grow bigger than the Chippewa or Wisconsin River strains,” he said. “They are also uniquely suited to the biology of Geneva Lake. It is a deep and clear lake with a cisco population [southern most in Wisconsin]. The water temperatures stay cold and it has a thermocline. Leech Lake strain do not do well in warm water.”
Part of the stocking effort includes funding a full genetic study by the Wisconsin DNR in 2023 to compare growth rates of the Leech Lake strain vs the others. Annually, $500 from the stocking effort go to funding the coming study, which will include such things as genetic testing and PIT tag placement.
CMH President Frank Loye said there’s a chance the genetic study may be moved up to next year.
The coming study is the part I find the coolest and can’t wait to follow.
“It is going to be a lot of fun, the different strains have different behaviors,” Butts said. “The Leech Lake will chase and follow a figure 8 and have an affinity for bucktails. They will be showing up in different spots, so there will be differences.
“The most fun will be down the road when we are looking at trophy muskies and talking about whether it is a Wisconsin fish or a Leech Lake strain.”
Considering that muskie anglers could be grouped as Type A personalities with strong opinions, it will be fun.
Two 48-inch fish of the Wisconsin strains were recently caught on Geneva.
“We will pass the 50-inch mark soon,” Butts said.
Before the mid-day release, Butts and Loye fished and Butts had a follow on a tube jig.