Tuesday, February 7th, 2023
Tuesday, February 7th, 2023

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Warm spring puts hit on muskie stock

Columbus — The hot weather in April disrupted the normal fishing
patterns for a lot of anglers.

It also threw a monkey wrench into the DNR Division of Wildlife’s
annual muskie stocking program. It didn’t stop the program, but the
final result was that 26 percent fewer muskies were stocked than
had been planned.

Elmer Heyob, hatcheries manager for the Division of Wildlife, said
muskie normally spawn in April when the water reaches 52 degrees or
so. The peak usually occurs around April 20, so that’s when the DOW
collects muskie to harvest the eggs and milt to produce the young
muskie for stocking in September. Some years, they use muskies from
two lakes for the program, but this year they decided to use only
muskie stock from Salt Fork Lake.

Muskies in Ohio go through the motions of spawning, Heyob
explained, but they don’t have the combination of high quality
water and extensive marsh areas where the fish spawn and the fry
can hide from predators in the weeds.

“About once every 10 years we get a successful spawn at Berlin and
we had one in 1996 at Alum Creek, but we can’t count on it,” Heyob

When the eggs were collected at Salt Fork, the spawning fish were
already struggling with the sudden rise in water temperatures that
came with the 85-degree days. A sudden rise in water temperatures
can be hard on fish, especially when it comes at a time of high
stress, like spawning, said Heyob.

“Bacteria and fungus in the water react to the water temperature
faster than the fish can defend and the fish sometimes can’t fight
them off. It’s tough on their systems,” Heyob said.

Heyob said he has seen crappie, and even some bass, die off when a
severe front hit at the peak of the spawn.

Whether it was a bacteria or the stress the fish were going
through, the eggs from Salt Fork produced only 300 to 600 muskie
fry and it was too late to collect more eggs at other lakes. Heyob
said they were able to obtain fertilized eggs from Kentucky, but
unfortunately, they hatched in the truck as they were transported
to Ohio and most died.

But the DOW didn’t give up, and obtained live fry from Kentucky.
Because they were live fish, they had to be quarantined while they
were tested for the VHS virus.

Once they were cleared, everything went smoothly and the fish grew
well, primarily at the Kincaid Fish Hatchery in Pike County. Some
were raised at London. When they were finally stocked, most were
about 10 inches. Some were even in the 11- to 13-inch range.

However, Heyob said he knew they weren’t going to have enough to
reach the 19,600 they had planned to stock in the nine lakes with
muskie programs.

“We decided to spread the shortage across all the lakes,” said
Heyob. They wound up at 74 percent, or 14,504 out of the 19,600

As big as they were, they are still termed “advanced fingerlings,”
but they have a higher survival rate than muskie stocked as fry.
Even so, they face danger from other fish big enough to eat them
and they are most vulnerable just after being released.

“All the handling leaves them disoriented,” Heyob said, “And it
takes a while for them to adjust. They’re vulnerable until they
become acclimated and find cover.”

The fish are all released in the same area to reduce handling, and
Heyob said they will quickly spread out in the lake.

As an example, he noted that one year, young muskies were released
in the upper end of the lake and three days later, crews doing an
electrofishing survey at the dam turned up some of the

The largest number stocked this year was at Salt Fork, 2,616,
followed by Alum Creek at 2,234. Other lakes stocked were Clear
Fork, Caesar Creek, East Fork, Leesville and Piedmont lakes, Lake
Milton and West Branch Reservoir.

“All things considered, I’m happy with how things turned out,”
Heyob said. “It could have been zero.”

It’s also been a pretty good year for muskie fishing, Heyob
reported, noting “it was a great spring season for muskie.”
Although high water temperatures seemed to shut the fish down in
July and August and will keep final numbers down, he expects that
with fishing picking up in September and October it will still wind
up being a good year.

In 2009, a record 1,500 muskies were reported caught in Ohio

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