Lake Lucerne Fish Stick Project Summary — March 2021

By Jim Zach Chair, LLAA Fishery and Water Quality Committee LLAA Board Member

A total of 41 fish sticks have been created this winter along southern Lucerne shorelines by LLAA volunteers and Ken Mihalko utilizing his skid steer. Two additional fish sticks have been built along the northern Lucerne shoreline.

Red lines indicate areas where fish sticks were built

A couple years of planning culminated with a month of lake and Anthony Island preparatory efforts followed by a couple weekends of tree cutting, skidding and fish stick assembly that was completed on February 27.  Trees were donated by the Novak family and came from Anthony Island.

Steve VanGrinsven, Tim Sprink, Jim Wienser, Kole Olson, Robert Pfeiffer, and Jake Wincapaw packed down slushy snow with snowmobiles and tracked vehicles.  After areas froze solid, they cleared wide roads and tree staging areas on the ice during February.  Some well-timed Arctic temperatures arrived in early February to thicken the ice.  That was followed by a warm up that made for pleasant project working conditions for volunteers later that month.

Tractors, trucks, and UTVs driven by Roy Conrad, Steve VanGrinsven, John E. Novak, Tim Sprink, and Jim Wienser dragged trees off the island and across the ice, where Ken Mihalko picked them up and built the fish sticks.

Jim Wienser cables as the 205th tree is laid in place by Ken Mihalko to complete the 41st fish stick on February 27th.

Ken was very happy to finish the project!  No injuries or equipment lost although we did have a couple close encounters with water.

Using pre-cut cables, the fish stick tree clusters were tied together with 3/16” aircraft cable and crimped. Mike Heim applies the muscle power.

WI DNR staff, Greg Matzke and Katie Renschen, successfully tried innovative anchoring-thru-ice techniques.  Anchoring of the 5 tree fish sticks clusters into lake bottom was completed on March 3.

A celebratory beer tasted great!  

Additional volunteers included Dave Schlitz, Matt Steeno, Rick Hermus, Dave Ebben, Ryan Siggelkow, Joe Heilmann, Ken and John Novak, Jim Zach, Jenny Zach and Mackenzie.

Thanks to DNR Forester Liz Wood and Tim Sprink who connected our fish stick project idea to the Novak Family’s Anthony Island MFL tree harvest.  Steve Kircher, Forest County Land and Water Conservation greatly assisted with the DNR permit application.  The Forest County Potawatomi Community through the Town of Lincoln provided the financial grant to LLAA.  WI DNR staff including Greg Matzke, Scott Van Egeren, Scott Toshner, Greg Sass and UW Extension’s Eric Olson and Lynn Markham all provided education, advice, and encouragement along the way.

What to expect now?

The hardwood tree clusters will take a year or two to become waterlogged and settle into the bottom.  Some of the trees may leaf-out this spring.  The woody material will provide carbon and habitat for the shoreline web-of-life.  There will be critters ranging from the microscopic to the visible that will provide a food chain that includes fish and those who feed upon fish.  This includes bigger fish, loons, eagles, and people.

Our WI DNR fish stick permit is valid till 2025, and we have some cabling/anchoring materials remaining.  If you have a shoreline area to consider for a future fish stick, or a littoral tree fall that you would secured in place, please contact me.

A final thought since we did this project to improve fishing.  There will be lots of opportunity to tangle fish hooks in all these branches.  Please consider using nonleaded tackle — up to 50% of necropsied loons in studies have had lead poisoning from sinkers and jigs. A single small lead split shot sinker can be lethal to a loon after ingestion.


Jim Zach

Chair, LLAA Fishery and Water Quality Committee LLAA Board Member