Wild Things: Is a Record Smallmouth Bass Swimming in Door County Waters?

A Lake Erie 10-plus-pounder has anglers wondering and talking

by KEVIN NAZE, [email protected], Peninsula Pulse contributor

Many die-hard bass anglers believe the waters of Green Bay offer the best chance at breaking Wisconsin’s 73-year-old state smallmouth record: a 9-pound, 1-ounce giant caught in Oneida County’s Indian Lake on June 21, 1950.

The closest anyone has come since is very likely an 8.78-pounder landed during the 2018 Sturgeon Bay Open Bass Tournament. The 22-incher had a 17-inch girth.

Five years earlier, during the 2013 Open, an 8.45-pound bass was hooked. The winning team that year scaled more than 67 pounds in two days, shattering the previous record. Multiple six-plus-pound bass were weighed, along with three seven-plus-pounders and the 8.45-pound fish. 

What followed was an all-out media blitz, including the Sturgeon Bay area – from Little Sturgeon Bay to Fish Creek – being named the top bass-fishing “lake” in the nation by Bassmaster magazine in 2014.

In 2019, the Sturgeon Bay Bass Tournament saw a five-fish catch of 32.76 pounds brought in by Door County guide Bret Alexander and southern Wisconsin guide Eric Haataja. The average of 6.55 pounds per bass was thought to be a North American record for a five-fish tournament limit on smallmouths.

Although the fishing is still very good here, the Door peninsula is no longer considered tops in the Great Lakes, let alone in the nation. Last year, for example, the greater Sturgeon Bay area was 10th in Bassmaster’s list of the top lakes in the Central region, which is one of four regions ranked. 

Could more restrictive regulations improve Door County’s bass fishery? So far, only Washington Island and the Mink River area have more protections during the spawning season. 

In Lake Erie, there’s a daily harvest limit of one bass May 1 – June 23, with an 18-inch minimum size. After that, it’s a five-fish, 14-inch minimum. Other than the two aforementioned spots in Door County, the rest of the waters are a five-fish, 14-inch minimum daily bag starting on opening day in early May.

Last November, Lake Erie produced the heaviest smallmouth ever hooked in the Great Lakes: a 10.15-pounder on the Ontario, Canada, side. The female was 23.75 inches long, with a 19.38-inch girth.

The lucky angler, from Ohio, beat the previous Ontario record of 9.84 pounds. The fish was weighed at Port Clinton, where the Ohio Department of Natural Resources determined it was 16 years old. The bass was aged by analyzing its otoliths: inner-ear structures that develop annuli, much like the rings on a tree. The agency said smallmouths rarely exceed 14 years of age. 

In 1993, in Lake Superior’s Chequamegon Bay, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) enacted a closed season from March 31 until the third Saturday in May. After that, there’s a one-fish, 22-inch minimum size limit, essentially creating a trophy fishery by making that area almost entirely catch-and-release during the open season.

Meanwhile, a multiyear study on smallmouth bass nest fishing and bass recruitment along the Door peninsula is expected to shed some light on bass fishing during the spawning season. Check out the early results shared during a recent Fish Tales presentation – sponsored by Crossroads at Big Creek in conjunction with the Door County Library – at

Neu Is Fishing Rep

Forestville’s Pat Neu has been appointed the fishing representative to the Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council. A longtime marketing rep and fishing-tournament angler, he will represent the interests of the recreational, sport and commercial fishing industries.

The advisory council has 15 voting members who represent a wide variety of interests, from recreation and tourism to education and research. Meetings are open to the public. The group provides advice to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and helps guide sanctuary management. Members also act as liaisons to their communities, helping to build connections between the sanctuary and stakeholders.

Sanctuary Superintendent Russ Green said Tuesday that though there’s been some public conversation about expanding the Shipwreck Coast sanctuary to include all of Kewaunee and Door County, there’s been no internal talk thus far. 

“But as we get the sanctuary up and running, and fulfill expectations in the existing communities over the next several years, that’s something that communities up that way could eventually advocate for,” Green said.

The next council meeting will be held in May. To learn more, visit and click on “Advisory Council.”

Deer Data Updated

Wisconsin’s County Deer Advisory Councils (CDAC) use a deer metrics system to help them make recommendations for antlerless permit levels and whether they want to participate in any additional seasons that may be offered. See the latest data, updated by county, at

Door County’s reported deer harvest of 3,846 this past season was the smallest since 2013, and Kewaunee County’s reported kill of 2,912 was the smallest since 2014. 

DNR Deer Program specialist Jeff Pritzl said there will be an opportunity for the public to comment on deer management through an online questionnaire April 8-16. Details are being finalized, but it could be linked from the CDAC website at

Bonus Turkey Tags

If you didn’t purchase a bonus spring wild turkey hunting permit this week, leftovers for all zones will go on sale Saturday, March 25, beginning at 10 am. The limit is one per day. Tags cost $10 for residents and $15 for nonresidents.

All 7,394 fifth-period tags in Zone 2 sold out within two hours on Tuesday, along with more than 2,000 sixth-period leftovers. By 1 pm, not many more than 5,000 remained.

Check out what’s left in Zones 1-4 at (No leftovers were available in Zones 6 and 7, and Zone 5 – with fewer than 3,000 bonus tags – was expected to sell out quickly Friday.) 

Wolf Bill Gets Hearing

Rep. Tom Tiffany’s Trust the Science Act bill, which seeks to remove wolves from the Endangered Species List and allow management by individual states, was slated to get its first hearing this week.