The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department gave its recently-established Lake Champlain muskellunge restoration effort a boost when it stocked 8,800 five-month old fish in the Missisquoi River and Missisquoi Bay in August.
The muskie is native to this area of Lake Champlain, but the population that last existed upstream of the Swanton Dam was apparently lost in the late 1970s following a chemical spill.
“The muskie has a unique role as Lake Champlain’s apex aquatic predator,” said Fish & Wildlife Commissioner Patrick Berry. “On the lower Missisquoi River muskies were historically important as a large mythical fish that was present but very difficult to catch. Successful anglers are members of a very small and fortunate club.”
The six-inch fish stocked in the river were donated by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which also stocks the Great Chazy River on the New York side of the lake with the same strain of muskie.
The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department has done a genetic assessment of a very small number of muskellunge caught since 2005 in the Lake Champlain Basin.
“In recent years, anglers have reported catching and releasing an occasional muskie in the lower Missisquoi River and Missisquoi Bay,” said Shawn Good, Chair of the department’s Muskie Team and the fisheries biologist leading the restoration efforts. “Through a very successful outreach effort, we were able to work with anglers in the Swanton area to obtain tissue samples from a number of these muskie that were released. Genetic analysis of these tissue samples reveals the muskellunge anglers have been catching in the area are not from the original native strain.”
“The muskie that anglers have been catching in the Missisquoi came from the Great Chazy River in New York, as their genetic makeup is identical to the Lake Chautauqua-strain muskie the New York DEC have stocked there for many years,” said Good.
Good says they now know some of those fish make their way down the Chazy and out into Lake Champlain to the Missisquoi Bay and River.
The department’s genetic work also showed that the state record muskellunge, a 38.22 lb. fish caught in the Missisquoi River in September of 2005 by Chris Beebe, came from fish stocked by the State of New York in the Chazy River.
Vermont regulations allow fishing for muskie with artificial lures or flies, and any muskie caught must be immediately released where it was caught.
Vermont has stocked nearly 25,000 muskie into the Missisquoi River and Missisquoi Bay in the last four years.
“I have high hopes for these little guys,” said Good. “With pretty much unlimited habitat and food resources, I expect these fish to grow fast and get pretty big. It’s not unreasonable to think that in the next few years, anglers could be frequently catching muskie in the 50-inch range from Lake Champlain.”