Minnesota DNR: Increased interest driving proposed expansion of muskie waters

St. Paul — Minnesota is the nation’s premier trophy muskie
fishing destination today based on the abundance of catchable
50-plus inch fish and larger, and anglers are taking the bait. The
growing popularity of the sport has even led the Minnesota DNR to
consider increasing the number of muskie waters around the
state.

The five waters that currently do not contain muskie but could
in the future include Roosevelt Lake in Crow Wing County; Upper
South Long and Lower South Long in Crow Wing County; Tetonka in Le
Sueur County; and the Sauk River Chain in Stearns County. These
lakes were chosen based on their geographic location, their
suitability based on various natural resource criteria, and their
ability to produce trophy-sized muskie (at least 48 inches
long).

Lakes were selected from the south, central and northern
portions of the state in an effort to provide a geographical
balance of nearby muskie fishing opportunities. Currently,
Minnesota is home to 116 muskie waters, 64 of which are the result
of DNR stocking efforts. The tremendous growth of this fishery is
hooked directly to research that occurred 30 years ago this
spring.

In 1980, Minnesota DNR research biologists and citizen
volunteers discovered at long last the locations of Leech Lake’s
muskellunge spawning sites. In doing so, fish managers identified
an annual source of eggs from the largest-growing strain of
muskellunge in Minnesota.

“The 1980 discovery played a pivotal role in Minnesota’s muskie
management,” said Tim Goeman, a DNR regional fisheries manager. “It
was the seed that grew into to an enhanced muskie management
program. The program incorporates science-based criteria on where
and how to stock muskie and research evaluations to ensure our
stocking efforts are not harming other fish communities.”

As the program evolved, the fish grew and so did the number of
waters stocked with muskie. The DNR created the opportunity and
interest followed. Currently, 14 percent of the Minnesota angling
license buyers identify themselves as muskie anglers and another 18
percent say they have an interest in catching a muskie. Ten years
ago only 4 percent of anglers identified themselves as muskie
anglers.

The DNR is well aware that not everyone is enamored with the
muskie. To that end, the agency will be gathering public comments
and is planning input forums in the months ahead. Currently the
department is sharing muskie management information and making it
available to citizens. If the DNR does move forward with any of the
five proposals, the first stocking would begin in 2011 and it would
be 12 to 15 years before the fish would reach the legal minimum
size of 48 inches.

Meanwhile, Goeman said, the agency is being as transparent as
possible as to why these waters were selected and why adding muskie
to them will have no effect on other fish populations.

“Though muskies, northern pike, walleye and panfish have
successfully co-existed for thousands of years in many lakes, it’s
not illogical to believe that introducing a top predator into a
body of water will have some impact,” said Goeman. “Even our own
fisheries managers had questions about this. That’s why we did an
extensive investigation that compared fish communities before and
after muskie stocking in 41 different lakes. In the end, we found
stocking muskies had no consistent negative effect.”

A key explanation for this finding is rooted in the density of
muskies Minnesota stocks per lake the types of lakes it selects for
stocking. Another reason relates to the muskie’s preference to prey
upon non-game soft-rayed fish species, primarily redhorse, suckers
and northern cisco. Muskie prefer these species because of their
torpedo-shaped body and soft dorsal fins, which make them easy to
ingest. Walleye, bluegill, bass and crappie all have spiny dorsal
fins and the later are more elliptical in shape.

Studies in certain other states, including Wisconsin, have
indicated negative fish community impacts as a result of muskie
stocking, it is also true that those studies involved smaller lakes
where stocking rates were dramatically higher. Goeman said
circumstances are different in Minnesota.

Goeman encourages those who have an interest the muskie stocking
proposals to contact their local fisheries manager. To find out
more, including information on the agency’s long-range northern
pike and muskie plan, proposed stocking plans for each of the five
lakes, and the DNR’s study on the muskie’s impact on other fish
communities, go to
(www.dnr.state.mn.us/fish/muskellunge/muskiefaq.html).

“We’ve come a long ways in 30 years,” said Goeman. “In fact, we
are making significant strides toward the goals of our long-range
muskie and northern pike plan. We want people to understand where
we’ve been, where we’re going and how they can make informed
decisions.”

Categories: Rob Drieslein

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