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DNR, resort partner to get Gordon Lake some walleyes

Lawson

Storch

Taylor Storch goes about his duties as co-owner of Northern Lure Resort and Campground at Gordon Lake near Glidden with great optimism for the operation he and his wife Tiffany have run for the past five years.

That hasn't always been the case.

A few years ago he examined the Department of Natural Resources fisheries summaries for Ashland County lakes. What he saw in those surveys alarmed him.

The 2012 survey, the most recent available online, said the 132-acre lake had a density of 1.8 adult walleyes per acre, an estimated total of 258 adult fish in the lake. The report said that density of adult fish was "just below" the northern Wisconsin average for naturally reproducing lake walleye populations, which the DNR says typically average between two and five fish per acre. In 2013, that total grew slightly to an estimated 343 fish, or 2.6 per acre.

But a survey done in 2017 showed a severe downturn in the walleye fishery, with fewer than one fish per acre. DNR estimates were that as few as 66 adult fish remained in the lake. In addition, the sex ratio was badly skewed, said DNR fisheries biologist Zach Lawson.

"You like to see a lot more males than females, but we were down to one-to-one male per female," he said.

Without help, Gordon Lake could soon find itself without any walleyes whatsoever — and the Storches without customers. That's when Taylor Storch picked up the phone to see how the DNR could help save the lake and his business.

The decline

Lawson blamed the downturn on both fishing pressure and reduced natural reproduction. There had been no Native American spear fishing harvest in the lake since 1990, so that wasn't a factor.

The walleye decline is a recent phenomenon; DNR

records indicate that walleyes had not been stocked in the lake since 1964 because of the lake's natural reproduction.

What the figures didn't show, Storch said, was the declining catch of the fishermen who stayed at his resort.

"If they don't catch fish, you don't have customers," he said. "I can't really sell my place as a fishing resort if there are no fish in here."

While success for panfish like bluegills and crappies remained good, the prime fish for visiting anglers is the walleye.

"Fishermen who come up from the south are not looking to catch panfish," he said.

Storch got in touch with Lawson to ask for help and he said he was gratified with the results.

"Without any hesitation or argument he took my concerns to heart," Storch said.

He also took action. In 2018, the DNR planted 4,630 four-inch walleye fingerlings into Gordon Lake, and another is scheduled for 2020. The DNR also changed regulations on the lake so that anglers can keep walleyes only 15 inches or longer, and they can keep none that are 20 to 24 inches long — to protect the most productive female spawners.

Those changes, Lawson said, should help to jump start the walleye population of Gordon Lake.

Rebounding

For Storch, it's still a waiting game. Those planted fish won't be catchable until at least next year — those that survive the hazards of early life in a lake surrounded b eagles, ospreys, otters and bigger fish.

Storch said it's possible that the lake was overfished and that it might be necessary for it to be placed on a stocking schedule to keep it productive. But until he got desperate, he — like many anglers and people whose businesses depend on having fish available — didn't know how the DNR decided where to stock precious fingerlings.

Many anglers assume that the fish planting is always better in the next county over.

"The reality is that's not anywhere near the truth," Lawton said. "We stock whatever lakes need to be stocked based on the survey work that we do."

Lawson said that while it's true that Sawyer County, for example, consistently gets more fish stocking than Ashland County, there is a lot more water over there.

Ashland County has 217 named lakes, while Sawyer County has 691. The lakes also tend to be larger in Sawyer County. The Chippewa Flowage at 14,593 acres dwarfs Ashland County's largest lake, Butternut Lake, at 983 acres. The larger number of lakes naturally means a larger sports fishing industry, more anglers and more fishing pressure.

But regardless of where a lake is located, stocking is controlled by the same assessment process that determines where and how many fish will be planted, Lawton said.

Some of the factors that fisheries biologists use include the makeup of the fish community in a given body of water, and what type of habitat is available.

Lawson said it does no good to stock fish in a body of water where they won't thrive — a tanker truck full of trout won't do well an a warm, shallow bass and bluegill pond, for example.

In the end, however, fisheries managers must balance what is biologically possible against what the public wants out of their lakes.

"We have to take what is best for the system and mesh that with what people want," he said.

Meanwhile Storch awaits the 2020 fishing season when the first of the stocked walleyes should reach legal size, and when the second load if fish is due to be planted. Lawson also will be on Gordon Lake in October to do electro-shocking surveys to track success.

"I'll be really interested to see what he comes up with numbers and size, and to see how fast the fish are growing, the number of fish in an acre, the whole bit," said Storch, who was impressed by how responsive the DNR was to his concerns about Gordon Lake.

"He didn't just take my name and say 'we'll get to you when we get to you,'" he said.


Longtime highway commissioner to retire

Ashland Highway Commissioner Emmer Shields has spend the last 34 years battling flooded roads, potholes, washed-out bridges and culverts, inadequate budgets and irate residents wondering when the snowplow was going to come by.

Through it all Shields has maintained his dedication to public service, ensuring a safe driving experience for Ashland County residents.

"I was put in a position where I could accomplish things, make people's lives better," he said.

Shields, who is the longest-serving highway commissioner in the state, will retire in January. He has twice served as president of the Wisconsin County Highway Association, and has seen huge changes in how the work of building and maintaining the county's highway infrastructure is accomplished.

"When I first started, you would design a project and go out and do it in less than a year," he said. "Now a project won't get done in less than two or three years. The work is still the same, but there are an awful lot of administrative hoops you have to jump through."

Shields came to the county after working for Wilhelm Engineering in Ashland, then working for the city as assistant city engineer and then city engineer. He obtained his degree in engineering from Southern Illinois University

He said when he was first given the county job, he never dreamed he would make a career out of it.

"I thought I would be here until I made someone really mad and they got rid of me," he said.

But there was a need to get things done. He said when he took the job in 1985, up to 80 percent of the county highways were in poor to failed condition. One of the first things he asked for was a $750,000 budget for new equipment, although he wondered if that might be his last official act.

However, the county board supported his efforts.

"That was when we turned the corner," he said.

Perhaps his biggest crisis came in 2016 when the county was inundated with unprecedented flooding after torrential storms dumped over a foot of water in some areas.

"It was a disaster of biblical proportions," he said. "But in a way, it really brought out the best in a lot of people. We put in hundreds of culverts and repaired who knows how many miles of roads. I was tremendously proud of our crew, how hard they worked and the number of hours they put in. It was unbelievable what they accomplished."

Shields said the future would need to include higher design standards for roads, more robust construction techniques to deal with a changing climate.

For his part, Shields said his future holds a more relaxed pace.

"I have a 'honey-do' list a mile long," he said.


CheqYes to host brunch for professionals new to area

Bolka

Martinez

Professionals who have moved to the area within the past year are welcome to learn more about their new Chequamegon Bay home at a brunch Thursday at Harbor View Event Center in Washburn.

CheqYes, Chequamegon Bay's young professionals group, is hosting the inaugural event open to professionals of all ages so they can discover more about what the area has to offer.

"We hope for it to become an annual event," said Mary Lois Bolka, a member of CheqYes' leadership team.

The brunch is free thanks to sponsorships and vendors who will be showcasing their services. CheqYes has lined up several businesses and organizations, including health care providers, financial and educational institutions, and social groups to provide an overview of life in the bay area.

Not only can professionals learn more about services, volunteer opportunities and recreation, they can net with others who now call the shores of Lake Superior home, said Melissa Martinez, director of the Washburn Area Chamber of Commerce.

The brunch runs from 10 a.m. to noon, with CheqYes and directors of local chambers of commerce offering words of welcome.

Although RSVPs are appreciated to bit. ly/2019welcomebrunch, walk-ins are welcome, Martinez said.

For more information email Martinez at director@washburnchamber.com.

If You Go

What: New Professionals Welcome Brunch.

When: 10 a.m. to noon Thursday.

Where: Harbor View Event Center, Washburn.

Host: CheqYes.

For More Information: Facebook.com/cheqyes.


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