BLACK RIVER FALLS, Wis. | There’s a monster that lurks in the depths of Lake Wazee. And Daniel Hatleli has a photo that proves it.
Hatleli, a fisheries biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, was netting fish Dec. 16 in Wazee when he noticed a large fish rolling around in the net. With the help of fish technician Brad Betthauser, Hatleli landed the walleye.
How big was it? Using an uncertified spring scale the fish weighed 17½ pounds and was 32.3 inches long, Hatleli said. That’s only one-half pound less than the official state record walleye of 18 pounds, which was caught Sept. 16, 1933, in Vilas County.
The fish was returned safely into the lake. It’s possible it may continue to grow and could be the new record by spring — if someone can catch it.
That’s the challenge of Wazee, a 146-acre former iron pit mine which at 350 feet is the deepest manmade lake in the state. It also has different temperature layers and is devoid of most plant life.
“Because of its uniqueness, a lot of your typical fishing techniques you would use in most lakes around here and in Wisconsin aren’t going to apply,” Hatleli said.
The DNR is working on a fish management plan for the lake. In 2011 about 250 ciscos — a forage fish common in northern Wisconsin — were transplanted in the lake. Hatleli said the fish were introduced for forage to support larger populations of game fish.
It is not known if the whopper was male or female — since it’s not spawning time — but Hatleli suspects it was female. A scale and spine was taken from the big walleye to help determine its age, Hatleli said. It’s not a young fish, as the growth rate in a low-nutrient — or oligotrophic — lake like Wazee is very slow. A large fish like the walleye can live 10 to 13 years or longer.
Now that we know there is at least one trophy fish in Lake Wazee, the challenge to catch it may lure more fishermen to try their hand.
“They are hard to get ahold of,” Hatleli said, equating the task to those who pursue the trophy whitetail bucks. “You can try. For some, it’s the pursuit and challenge.”