MADISON — Dedicated catch and release anglers know there’s little that equals the joy of releasing a healthy musky, northern pike or a walleye with the hope that it will spawn again and perhaps provide excitement for another angler.

But what if the fish is really big? Possibly one for the record books?

A new live release record fish program being rolled out by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources aims to end the dilemma and provide anglers with the win-win satisfaction of achieving a state record and a successful live release. The new program is part of a larger effort to promote quality fishing and encourage the careful release of trophy-size popular sport species. Similar efforts have found success in other states and among some national record-keeping organizations.

“As anglers, part of what we enjoy is the thrill of the unknown — the thought that the fish on the end of our lines could be a trophy catch or even a new record,” said Justine Hasz, DNR fisheries bureau director. “What we’ve seen with musky populations in areas where there is a strong catch and release ethic is that the fish are reaching larger sizes and providing more anglers with the experience of a lifetime. Since it can take 10 years or more for walleye to reach trophy size and 15 years or more for musky, our new catch and release record option means Wisconsin’s legendary fish will create even more memories.”

Hasz said the program also is expected to increase public awareness and encourage protection of fisheries habitat. Efforts to market the new program are expected to draw more non-resident anglers into the state and improve retention among anglers who participate only sporadically.

It’s also hoped that the new format will attract younger anglers, who may be quick on the draw with cell phone cameras and able to quickly land, measure and photograph their fish, said Karl Scheidegger, DNR fisheries biologist and state record fish coordinator. When it’s officially rolled out on May 6, here’s how the program will work:

After landing the fish, take clear, color, side view photographs. Take several photos from different angles.

One photo must clearly show the fish lying on its side with a ruler or other measuring device placed beside the fish with the length number clearly visible. Get close enough so that the image fills the frame. Another photo must show the angler with the fish.

DNR fisheries biologists will identify the species from the photographs submitted with the application. If the biologists are unable to make a conclusive identification from the photographs, the record claim will not be considered.

While it’s desirable to have witnesses to the capture of live release fish entries, the program is honor-based and witnesses are not mandatory. Fish survival is the highest priority.

Fish must be caught by legal angling methods and released in good condition back into the same water.

Anglers are encouraged to keep the fish in the water as much as possible prior to the release. Do not hang the fish on a stringer. Gently place it back in the water and revive it by holding it upright in the water and moving it back and forth to forcing water through its gills.

Applications will be available in time for the Wisconsin fishing opener on May 5 by visiting DNR.wi.gov and searching “Live Release.”

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