Lake Delton, Wis. Minnows and money teamed up this week to give Lake Delton a much-needed shot in the arm.
A hatchery truck from Gollon Bait & Fish Farm in Dodgeville, Wis. delivered 1,600 pounds of fathead minnows and golden shiners, the first installment of fish to restock this man-made lake in the heart of Wisconsin’s tourist Mecca. John Leinenkugel presented a $5,000 check to the village of Lake Delton on behalf of the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company to help pay for fish stocking and other restoration work under way since last summer.
Lake Delton drained into the Wisconsin River last June 9, 2008 when heavy rains caused the lake to overflow, washing out a 400-foot section of a county highway and the embankment that separated the lake from the nearby river. Five homes were destroyed in the flood, and debris was scattered for 23 miles downriver.
The flood, which came at the height of the summer tourist season, also wiped out much of a year’s income potential for several dozen resorts and other businesses that surround the lake.
Repair work began almost immediately. By mid-November, the embankment and highway were rebuilt with the aid of federal, state and county funds totaling nearly $5 million. The village of Lake Delton spent more than $1 million to refurbish and update the dam at the lake’s outlet. Engineers say it will now withstand flooding twice as severe as what the region experienced last year.
A roadbed built to allow trucks to reach the highway reconstruction project and a cofferdam built to divert Dell Creek back to its original channel were graded and left in the lakebed to form reefs. Crews placed eight smaller rock reefs and several dozen wooden fish cribs around the lake to provide additional structure for fish. Rock riprap installed along the highway embankment also serves as fish structure. A new Adams Street boat ramp was built and 2 public boat landings were rebuilt, with new concrete pads, toilets and parking.
The dam was closed in December, carp remaining in Dell Creek were eliminated, and the lake refilled slowly over the winter. Fish stocking began with fathead minnows and golden shiners to allow these species to get established before the reintroduction of panfish and game fish, which will begin in early June.
Several more truckloads of shiners and fatheads, along with white suckers, will be dumped into the lake over the next few weeks, according to Dave Gollon, Jr., of Gollon Bait & Fish Farm.
‘’These fish should spawn soon’’, Gollon said, creating a return on the initial investment that any financier would jump at in these hard economic times. They and their offspring will become forage for the walleyes, bass and panfish that will be stocked later this spring.
“It’s important to have a good forage base before we restock the lake with sport fish,” said Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist Scot Stewart, who will oversee the restocking operation over the next several years. “That will help the newly stocked fish grow fast.”
There were no funds in federal, state or county budgets for restocking the lake and building the reefs. Stewart pegs the cost of the fish alone at around $200,000. The village of Lake Delton contributed some money, but the rest must be raised through corporate and individual donations.
The Leinenkugel Breweries donation is the latest in a stream of contributions that began to flow almost as soon as the lake was empty. Leinenkugel’s $5,000 was matched Monday by its local distributor, C&H, Inc., of Reedsburg, Wis. The two companies hope to raise $40,000 through a “buy-a-canoe” promotion, where patrons of area taverns and retailers can purchase a paper canoe for $5, write their name on it and post it on a display.
“Most of our customers are outdoors people who love fishing and boating,” said John Leinenkugel, who saluted the refilling of the lake by paddling a trademark “Leinenkugel Canoe’’ to the Adams Street boat landing where the minnows were stocked. “We wanted to give something back to them and show our support for the Dells area, which is such an important tourist destination.”
Ben Hobbins, CEO of Lake-Resources Group, and outdoor writer/broadcaster Dan Small teamed up to found the Lake Delton Fisheries Restoration Project shortly after last June’s disaster. Hobbins, Small and Lake Delton village trustee Gordon Priegel have secured donations and pledges of cash and material totaling approximately $200,000.
“We’re well on our way to meeting our three-year goal of $300,000 in perhaps half that time,” said Hobbins. “As the project’s lead consultant, Gordie Priegel directed the reef and fish crib placement and raised the lion’s share of donations to date.”
In addition to Leinenkugel and C&H, major contributors include Moose Jaw, Inc.; Delton Sportsmen’s Club; Walleyes for Tomorrow; Rhapsody Hotels; Propex Geosynthetics; Horn Plastics; Walleye North America; Madison Fishing Expo; Gollon Bait & Fish Farm; and Taste of the Dells.
Small and Hobbins have spoken about the project to several clubs and organizations, including the Madison, Wisconsin Rotary Club April 15th, and at the Southwest Wisconsin Rotary District 6250 Assembly of 3,350 Rotarian-business leaders April 18th, where interest was strong.
The Founders also say that much of the project’s success it due to intensive media interest in the project and the constant drumbeat they have kept up since the disaster occurred. “Without the Media, this project would not have gone anywhere and we thank them for their active contributions in creating public awareness for this project,’’ said Hobbins.
This summer, Lake Delton will again feature the well-known Tommy Bartlett Water Ski Show, which morphed into a land-base show last summer and played to audiences ninety percent smaller than usual. The lake’s resorts will again welcome guests to their beaches and boat rentals.
Already this spring, anglers have been seen fishing the lake, if only to celebrate its rebirth.
“They won’t catch much just yet,” said Stewart.
Rebuilding the fishery will take several years. Some adult fish will be transferred in June from Mirror Lake, immediately upstream on Dell Creek. However, most of the thousands of walleyes, bass and panfish it will take to make this a great fishing hole once again must be purchased and stocked as fingerlings.
Donation canisters will be placed in area businesses in time for the start of the tourist season. Corporations, organizations and individuals may contribute online at http://www.restorelakedeltonfisheries.com.
Ben Hobbins is a Rotarian who sits on the American Sportsfishing Association’s FishAmerica Foundation Conservation Board. Ben is also an award winning inventor and CEO of award winning and world’s toughest, environmentally friendly IronClads™ Soft Bait Brands. http://www.ironcladlures.com
Dan Small is host/producer of Outdoor Wisconsin, a production of Milwaukee Public Television. He is also an award-winning outdoor writer and host of Outdoors Radio, which airs weekly on 11 broadcast stations and on http://www.Lake-Link.com/radio.