Fish Habitat Committee

Lake Lucerne Fish Stick Project Update
Jim Zach MD
Chair, Fish Habitat Committee
November 29, 2019

The LLAA Board approved moving forward with the proposal developed by the Fish Habitat Committee for creating multiple fish sticks along the shore of Lake Lucerne at our September 21 meeting.   This project utilizes a grant provided by the Town of Lincoln and the Forest County Potawatomi Community, the assistance of our local DNR Fishery Team, and the generosity of Lake Lucerne property owners.  

The goal is to promote our lake’s fishery by restoring an element fishery researchers are finding to be important for a healthy fishery — the woody carbon of submerged trees in the near shore environment.  This is where life begins for some fish species, as well as providing food sources and habitat within the littoral zone’s cycle of life.  The fish sticks will primarily be located in the shallower southern end of Lake Lucerne, but some can be established elsewhere along the shoreline.

This photo is a fish stick built a few years ago by the DNR’s Fishery Biologist’s Team in Keyes Lake, Florence County.  A fish stick consists of  2-4 trees cabled to the shoreline and secured to the lake bottom with anchors and steel cables.

If you would like more information about this project, please refer to the LLAA website (http://www.lakelucernewi.com), and click on “Fish Habitat Committee” tabs on the lower left side of the LLAA webpage.

At this point, I have two requests of LLAA members:

  1. Are you are interested in hosting a fish stick along your shoreline?.
  2. Are you are interested in volunteering to personally help with this project?

Possible volunteer labor may be to help attach and detach tree dragging cables and temporarily attaching butt end of trees to the shore. The final cabling and anchoring of trees to create a fish stick would be done by the DNR’s Fishery Team.

If you are interested in one or both options, please let me know soon.  Fishery Biologist Greg Matzke will be starting the design phase of this project soon.  We will then need to submit a permit to the DNR.   If the weather and lake ice conditions cooperate, we could begin placing trees later this winter.  What doesn’t get done this winter can be continued next winter.

I can be contacted at: jzach@wi-net.com, or 715-572-4646.


The LLAA Board appointed a Fish Habitat Committee fall of 2018 to study options for creating additional habitat to promote the Lake Lucerne fishery.  The Lake Association received a $10,000 grant from the Forest County Potawatomi through the Town of Lincoln for the purpose of improving fish habitat.  

Members appointed include Mary Heilmann, Ed Mullaney, Jim Wienser, Tim Sprink, Dave Shlitz, Jack Kloss, Tim Turiff, Verne Kamenick, Jeff Turiff, and Jim Zach as chair.

We met on Feb 21, 2019, and participants included 3 local fish biologists with knowledge of Lake Lucerne: Greg Matzke (DNR), Mike Preul (Mole Lake Sokaogon), and Ben Koski (Forest County Potawatomi).

A very interesting and detailed discussion of Lake Lucerne’s past and present status regarding the fishery occurred, and there have been additional discussions with the biologists and a Rhinelander DNR Water Resource Management Biologist who wasn’t able to be at the meeting, Scott Van Egeren. Rick Hermus has also had additional discussions with Mike Preul

Lake Lucerne has some significant fishery ecosystem challenges.

The long term management goal of a self-sustaining walleye population has not been achieved over several decades of stocking walleye.  The main obstacles seem to include lack of forage fish and the possible persistence of a rainbow smelt population in the deeper waters of the lake.  The recent cisco stocking is an effort build up a forage fish population, but the success of that also remains to be determined.  This is the primary current DNR management plan.  In addition, there have been lake trout and whitefish stocking efforts.   Brown trout stocking, last done in 2003, has been discontinued due to cost.  

There seems to be adequate habitat for walleye to spawn on the shores of Lucerne.  However, that hasn’t resulted in significant natural reproduction. Suspected factors include a lack of forage and possibly due to the presence of smelt which will eat walleye fry when the fry migrate from spawning grounds to deeper waters. 

There is an abundance of smallmouth bass in Lucerne which are also contending with a lack of adequate forage. This is resulting in stunting of their growth potential and depletion of crayfish forage.  Bass are not the cause of the fishery problems leading to an abundance of bass, but by their numbers in Lucerne, they do create ecosystem problems.   As Greg Matzke says, “All fish eat all fish.”  As a response to try reducing the bass population, the DNR in 2018 eliminated the size limits on harvesting bass. An advantage for persons to consume smaller and younger bass and other predator fish, is a less mercury load which is a persisting an accumulating contaminant as fish age in Wisconsin waters.  Another approach the LLAA will be discussing is whether there are there ways to encourage catching more bass without attracting tournaments which will increase our risk of bringing more invasive species into Lucerne.

In the late 1980s/early 1990s, LLAA members constructed 128 fish cribs on the ice which dropped into 15-20 feet of water.  Many were stuffed with brush which has since deteriorated.  While it was a well-intentioned project with DNR approval at the time, it has since been realized that those structures in deeper water tended to function more as fish concentrators and angler attractors, rather than promoting fish reproduction.  It is now understood that coarse woody debris from falling trees in the shallow shoreline environment (littoral zone) is where much of non-walleye fish reproduction, forage, and early growth occurs. While walleye can benefit from feeding upon some of those fish, their life cycle involves more rocky/gravel shoreline and deeper waters.  However, some of those fish promoted by littoral zone woody debris can also compete with young walleye when in walleye habitat areas.

Two other options have come out of subsequent discussions:
1) Scott Van Egeren has offered to work with LLAA to have the DNR fully fund a habitat survey of the entire lake. This would be a complete survey of the lake’s current habitat — rocky/gravel areas, woody debris, and vegetation; so that we have a more science-based perspective to make decisions regarding habitat in the future.  This information could also become part of a revised comprehensive lake management plan.  Our last one was done in 2005, and those of us who have been around awhile, have seen how our lake is changing since then.

2) The DNR is also offering to assist in possibly making use of our FCP grant by doing a few tree drops or fish sticks in the shallower south end where there is warmer summer water and isn’t deeper water walleye habitat.  The presence of coarse woody vegetation has been demonstrated to improve populations of invertebrates, which provides food and shelter for smaller fish, which provides forage for bigger fish including perch, bluegills, large/smallmouth bass, and northern.  In a less developed shoreline than Lucerne, aging of trees and storms would be contributing more woody vegetation into the shallow littoral zone than is occurring now, and hasn’t for 50-100 years.  Another alternative could be to wait on that until after the complete habitat survey is finished.

It would be useful to know what the predator fish of Lake Lucerne are eating.  It could provide evidence if smelt are still present in Lucerne.  To that end, I’m asking fisherpeople to take cellphone photos of stomach contents of harvested walleye, bass, and northerns and send them to: jimzach50@gmail.com   I will forward them to Greg Matzke.

Submitted by Jim Zach MD, 3/27/2019
Chair, LLAA Fish Habitat Committee 
LLAA Board Member