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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


August 9, 2003 - Issue 93


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Tribe Takes Pride in its Waters

by Jim Lee Gannett Wisconsin Newspapers
credits: art Golden Opportunity by Al Agnew

Golden Opportunity by Al AgnewLAC DU FLAMBEAU — With a moss-filled bucket cooling a couple of dozen nightcrawlers and an insulated container chilling a pound of leeches, Lyle Chapman is well-prepared to tackle the famed Lac du Flambeau chain of lakes on any given summer day.

But even more important than bait to the 42-year-old fishing guide is his well-earned knowledge of the underwater haunts favored by finicky walleyes and broad-shouldered bass.

"We have a long tradition (of producing fishing guides on the Lac du Flambeau Reservation), and I learned from the best," said Chapman, whose great-uncle was legendary guide 'Big Louis'St. Germain.

It"s not easy to entice walleyes in the heat of a late July day, but Chapman ends a five-hour morning excursion with two anglers after a dozen walleyes up to 17½ inches, a mixed bag of a dozen largemouth and smallmouth bass up to 17 inches and an assortment of panfish are landed and released.

Chapman is disappointed.

"I"ll give you a call when they're really biting," he says.

It's hard to imagine the dog days of summer producing much better fishing action, but reservation officials have committed considerable resources trying to make that happen, said Larry Wawronowicz, deputy administrator of natural resources for the tribe.

Wawronowicz, 50, holds a master's degree in fisheries from Southern Illinois University and has been overseeing the Lac du Flambeau fisheries program since 1984.

The fisheries resource has always been important to the tribe, whose reservation spans 86,000 acres in Oneida, Vilas and Iron counties. Spring walleye spearing at night is a tradition reflected in the tribal name which translates from French as "Lake of the Torches."

Thus, it's no surprise the tribe has emphasized a fisheries program on the reservation, which encompasses 50 named lakes (17,000 acres), 64 miles of streams and 24,000 acres of wetland.

"Our overall objective is to make certain we have a balanced fishery that allows us to support a subsistence and a sport fishery," Wawronowicz said.

The tribal hatchery produces 250,000 to 400,000 fingerling walleyes and 1,000 to 2,000 large muskie fingerlings annually for stocking that concentrates on 10 major lakes. It takes five to seven years for a walleye to reach a length of 18 inches, which is the legal size for taking by nontribal sport anglers.

About 60 percent of the property surrounding the larger lakes is owned by nontribal members, Wawronowicz said, adding that shoreline development is the biggest threat facing the reservation's fishery resources.

"The second major problem is the invasion of exotic species," he said.

Deep, clear Fence Lake, at 3,555 acres the largest lake in the Flambeau Chain, was one of the first inland waters in the state found to have smelt, an ocean species that entered Wisconsin through the Great Lakes. Brown trout were introduced into Fence to control the smelt population, but trout stocking has been discontinued.

"We stopped stocking brook trout in reservation waters four years ago and brown trout two years ago," Wawronowicz said. "I don't think we'll get back into it."

At the same time, the smelt population declined noticeably on the lake while the walleye population re-emerged.

"I think the 18-inch minimum size and three-fish daily bag limit on walleye has had a big impact on smelt," Wawronowicz said. "Our studies have shown that from mid-July into August, big walleyes feed heavily on smelt."

Bass fishing continues to improve on reservation waters, benefiting from recent statewide rules setting the minimum size limit for sport angling at 14 inches.

Muskies attract anglers on many of the larger lakes, with fish in the 50-inch range taken annually.

Reservation waters offer tempting angling opportunities, but rewards still have to be earned.

"I fished with a guy the other day who brought this electronic device on board," Chapman related.

"It looked like a global positioning system. I told him, "That better be a camera, because I"m not about to let somebody punch numbers into a GPS to mark spots that have taken me years to learn."

Wawronowicz understands such passion.

"If I had my druthers, I wouldn"t fish anywhere else but on the reservation," he said.

Lac Du Flambeau, WI Map

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.  

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