The same sampling sites are used each year. All sampling occurs between the 3rd week of July and Labor Day. Sampling sites were chosen by random process in 1981 for the Northern lakes (Trout, Allequash, Sparkling, Crystal, and Big Muskellunge). Sites for Lake Mendota were chosen in 1981, and for the other Madison lakes (Monona, Fish, and Wingra) in 1995. All sites are identified with GPS coordinates, except on the bog lakes (Trout Bog and Crystal Bog) where nets are placed equal distances apart around the entire circumference of the lake in approximately the same locations each year.
Night seining is conducted on 6 seine sites per lake, each consisting of 100 meters of shoreline. Prior to 1997 this was subdivided into 3 seine hauls, each covering 33 meters. In 1997, seine hauls were reduced to 2 hauls of 33m each. The final section of the site is used as an alternate seine site in the event of difficulty in one of the first two hauls.
The seine used is 12.2 m long by 1.2 m deep, consisting of two 5.5 x 1.2 m wings surrounding a 1.2 x 1.2 x 1.2 m central bag. The wings are made of 6.4 mm stretch measure knitted delta-strength nylon mesh, and the bag is of 3.2 mm delta strength nylon mesh. The entire net is tarred. The two wings and the opening to the bag have weighted foot ropes and buoyed head ropes. An 8m length of rope is tied between the seine poles as a guide for the maximum spread of the seine.
A trammel net is set at two sites in each lake, and fished for approximately 24 hours at each site. The net is set on the bottom, along a line perpendicular to the shoreline and crossing the thermocline, with the shallow end at about 3m depth,. The trammel net used is 30.5 m long and 1.1 m deep. It consists of two outer nets of 170 mm square 32 kg test mesh multifilament nylon with an inner panel of 51 mm stretch mesh 9 kg test multifilament nylon. The three nets are connected at the leaded foot line and the buoyed head rope.
Fyke nets are deployed at six littoral sampling sites in each lake, and fished for approximately 24 hours. In Crystal Bog and Trout Bog lakes the fyke nets are suspended by placing floats on the hoops and frames to prevent the nets from sinking into the sediments. For the northern lakes, each fyke net is approximately 12 m long and consists of two rectangular steel frames 90 cm wide by 75 cm high and 4 steel hoops, all covered by 7 mm delta stretch mesh nylon netting. An 8 m long by 1.25 m deep leader net made of 7 mm delta stretch mesh nylon netting is attached to a center bar of the first rectangular frame (net mouth). The second rectangular frame has two 10 cm wide by 70 cm high openings, one on each side of the frame center bar. The four hoops follow the second frame. Throats 10 cm in diameter are located between the second and third hoops. The net ends in a bag with a 20.4 cm opening at the end, which is tied shut while the net is fishing. New nets of the same dimensions were purchased for the Northern Highland lakes in 2000. Fyke nets for the Madison lakes are 10 m long (including lead) with 1 rectangular aluminum frame followed by 2 aluminum hoops. The aluminum frame is 98 cm wide x 82 cm tall, and is constructed of 2.5 cm tubing, with an additional center vertical bar. The hoops are 60 cm in diameter and constructed of 5 mm diameter aluminum rod. The single net funnel is between the first and second hoops and is 20 cm in diameter. The lead is 8 m long and 1.25m deep, constructed from 7mm delta stretch mesh.
Crayfish traps are set on all lakes except the bog lakes (Crystal Bog and Trout Bog). Minnow traps are set only on the bog lakes. Prior to 1998, five traps were set at each fyke net site. Beginning 1998, three traps are set per site. Minnow traps and crayfish traps are set in shallow water (approx 1 m), 2 traps on one side, and 1 trap on the other side of the fyke net lead. Minnow traps are baited with 1 slice of bread, and crayfish traps with 120 g of beef liver. Traps are fished for approximately 24 hours. Crayfish are identified to species. Minnows caught in either crayfish or minnow traps are identified to species, and measured for total length. Minnow traps are galvanized steel two piece traps, 44.5 cm long by 30.5 cm maximum diameter with 2.5 cm diameter openings at the ends. The mesh size is 6.4 mm on a side. Crayfish traps are identical, but the opening hole of both sides of the trap has been forced to 5 to 7 cm. Crayfish sampling was terminated for the southern lakes circa 2004 after it was determined that the catch per unit effort was too low (2 crayfish caught in 500+ traps).
Gill nets are set at the deepest point of all LTER lakes except Crystal Bog, Trout Bog, and Fish Lake. The nets are set for two consecutive 24 hour sets. The gill nets are a set of 7 nets, each in a different mesh size, hung vertically on foam rollers from the surface to the bottom of the lake, and chained together in a line. Each net is 4 m wide and 33 m long. From 1981 through 1990 the nets were multifilament mesh, in stretched mesh sizes of 19, 25, 32, 38, 51, 64, and 89 mm. In 1991, the multifilament nets were replaced with monofilament nets of the same sizes. Stretcher bars are installed at 10 meter intervals from the bottom to keep the net as rectangular as possible when deployed.
A boom style electrofishing system is used to sample the littoral zone fish community. Prior to 1997, four electrofishing transects were done on each lake. In 1997, the number of transects was reduced to 3. The same transects are used each year. Each transect consists of 30 minutes of current output, with the boat moving parallel to shore in 1-2 meters of water at a slow steady speed. We use the DC pulse system, with 240 volts at 3-5 amps. Transect lengths vary depending upon the size of the lake. If the end of a transect is reached before 30 minutes has elapsed, time is paused while the electrofisher loops back to the start of the transect. The transect is then repeated for the remaining time.
For all collecting methods, the fish are processed as follows. Each individual fish is identified to species. The total length of the fish is measured in mm, from nose to pinched tail. Prior to 1997, the weight of the first five fish of each species in each 10 mm size category was also measured, using Pesola spring balances. Starting in 1997, two fish are weighed for each species in each 5mm size category. A scale sample is collected from each yellow perch, rock bass, and cisco that is weighed. For gill net catches, the depth at which each individual is caught is also recorded.
Protocol Log. 1983: Discontinued fyke nets and trammel nets on Lake Mendota until 1995. 1984: Discontinued crayfish on Lake Mendota until 1995. Only gillnet and seines on Lake Mendota.1995: Resumed sampling Lake Mendota with the full suite of sampling gear. 1995: Began sampling Lakes Wingra, Monona, and Fish. 1997: Two fish are weighed for each fish species in each 5mm size category. Previously, five fish were weighed for each fish species in each 10mm size category. 1997: Data recording switched from manual field sheets to an electronic system. 1997: Changed from 4 to 3 electro-fishing runs per lake. 1997: Changed from 18 to 12 seine hauls per lake. 1998: Changed from 30 to 18 crayfish or minnow traps per lake. 2004: Discontinued crayfish or minnow traps on southern lakes. 2020: Fish sampling very limited due to pandemic. 2021: All night seining was discontinued.