Eric Olson of Mora looked out over the crowd of about 80 who attended the muskie input meeting Wednesday night at the Crow Wing County Land Services Building and certain demographics were clear.
"I feel like I'm the next generation of fishermen," Olson said. "We treat it as a leisure activity. We don't do it for food, we don't do it for consumption."
He was one of many muskie anglers in the crowd who saw a need for more muskie fishing in the area. He says that many in his generation agree with that.
"I really feel like this area is a desert when it comes to muskie lakes," Olson said.
Olson fishes Mille Lacs Lake and Cedar Lake a lot. He says that those lakes have become more challenging in recent years. He is a proponent of the Brainerd lakes area getting muskie fishing opportunities.
Another member of the audience, Marvin Meyer, was on the other end of the spectrum. He enjoyed Gull Lake for what it has been, a world-class walleye lake. He has also been a lakeshore owner for several decades.
"I don't see why you would want another invasive species in the lake," Meyer said. "Why not manage the problems (lack of walleye) you have already."
Members of the Minnesota DNR, who put on the input meeting, were also on hand to answer questions from the audience. Marc Bacigalupi, Brainerd Fisheries area supervisor, handled many of the questions and shared information on past comments and data on why the Gull Chain was chosen as the best place to stock muskies in the area. Those included the good forage base of cisco needed to support a low-density population.
Olson and members of the local Brainerd Chapter of Muskies Inc. agreed that another muskie location would be a boon for the anglers and economy.
Breezy Point resident Tom Dietz was in favor of stocking muskies and said the arguments against stocking in Gull Lake had no scientific data to back them up. He pointed to the DNR data which was said over and over again that muskies showed no impact on other fish populations. He added that the state's world-class fisheries have world-class fishing of all species, not just one.
Members of the Gull Chain of Lakes Association and lake property owners came out in force as well. Many of those in opposition to the stocking proposal have been property owners for several decades. Several lake property owners were not necessarily opposed to muskies in general, but they feared losing their walleye.
Gull Chain of Lakes Association President Uldis Birznieks said the GCOLA board asked for input on the proposal from the public in October. They shared the DNR data on the proposal to give respondents details to make an informed choice. Of 468 responses, 70 percent were opposed, 22 percent were in favor and 8 percent were neutral. An even higher amount of Gull Lake property owners showed opposition through a mail survey.
Birznieks said lakeshore owners, over 900, have spoken.
"We really have to be very cautious if this is done," Birznieks said. "We are major stakeholders in the Chain. Whenever there is an issue with the lake, we pay for it."
He urged that "users" of the lake, none property owners, don't have to deal with the aftermath of introducing a change. He compared it to the zebra mussel issue.
"We've got zebra mussels, a low walleye count and an overabundance of perch. We feel the DNR should be placing their focus on other areas of importance," Birznieks said.
Chuck Pickar, who lives on Gull Dam Road, feels fishing pressure on the lake is already high enough. To add another species that could add more fishing tournaments to the lake would make for a less enjoyable experience and fewer chances of catching other fish species, he said.
"I don't think it would be any plus," Pickar said. "I think it would be a detriment to the lake. I think the lake ought to be left alone."
He compared adding muskies to a lake to netting in a lake.
Pickar's other opposition to the stocking effort was that muskies would not only hurt Gull Lake, but all lakes in the chain, Margaret, Nisswa, Roy, Bass, Spider, Upper Gull, Love and Round.
The GCOLA board planned to present the following points to the DNR as part of their comment. "As a result of the overwhelming majority vote against muskie stocking, GCOLA and the lakeshore property owners of the Gull Chain strongly oppose the proposal to stock muskies in Gull Lake for a number of reasons:
-- Introducing an unknown variable and a major predator in the complex equation of a very delicate ecosystem is not a scientifically sound decision. The DNR has not provided sufficient, up-to-date, scientific data to assure that fishing will not be negatively impacted short or long term. If muskies are stocked, that decision can't be reversed.
-- The DNR Long-Range 2020 Plan objective for muskie angling opportunities within 20-30 miles of major population areas is clearly met for the Brainerd area without stocking muskies in Gull Lake.
The current local muskie locations include three lakes (Mille Lacs, Alexander, Shamineau) and one river (Mississippi) within 30 miles; 30 lakes within 60 miles totaling over 258,500 water acres.
-- The Gull Chain is a major recreational lake versus a major destination fishing lake like Mille Lacs.
-- The potential for additional AIS threats and more fishing tournaments (official or unofficial) is not acceptable for the Gull Chain lakeshore property owners.
The Gull Chain ecological and fisheries systems are stressed with zebra mussels, low walleye count, overabundance of perch and the high potential for other AIS such as starry stonewort, Eurasian milfoil, etc. The DNR should be placing its efforts on solving those problems rather than adding an unknown variable, a potential new problem and a new invasive species to the Gull Chain.
The Gull Chain property owners are not only "users" of the Gull Chain (like fisherman), but are major "stakeholders" of the Gull Chain. Unlike tournament/trophy fisherman, property owners have been willing to make financial sacrifices to protect the Gull Chain from AIS and other factors that affect the water quality of the Gull Chain."
Other comments shared at the meeting were concerns that muskies may lower the loon population by eating more baby loons and that swimmers may be at risk of being bitten by a muskie.
Bacigalupi explained that there are risks with any changes, but some changes, like adding a fishing opportunity for a new generation of anglers, may show more positives than negatives.
Not a new idea
Bacigalupi shared that the stocking proposal was not a new one. A survey in 2013 from anglers who fish the Gull Chain showed a majority of respondents were in favor of the low-density stocking. He explained how the musky is a good replacement for the lack of trophy northern pike the area lakes were once known for.
But, comments taken on the proposal have been mixed, he said.
Those comments will continue to be accepted and a decision will be made in January whether to stock the lake. You can still comment by mail, phone or email. Visit www.dnr.state.mn.us/muskie/index.html for more information on how you can comment on each of the proposed muskie stocking lakes.