Minnesota muskie hunting: Do we need to protect 55-inchers?

Rob DriesleinA fun muskie debate might just unfold in Minnesota this year. Per a discussion at the Fisheries Roundtable in St. Paul last Friday, some folks are suggesting that perhaps the state needs to increase the muskie minimum size from 48 inches to 56 inches.

Just for a baseline (more of my comments below), here is what Javier Serna reported in this week’s print edition of Outdoor News.

St. Paul — The Internet has changed the way people fish and has broadcast secret spots to the world. That was the impetus that John Underhill gave for suggesting Minnesota raise the minimum size limit on muskies.

Underhill’s suggestion was just one of several topics that came up during the DNR Fisheries Roundtable last Friday, when representatives from four committees, each centered around a different fish species, gave short presentations.

Underhill, who along with being a member of the committee that looks at pike and muskie issues is a co-chair of the Minnesota Muskie Alliance, suggested that the state’s 48-inch minimum on muskellunge is not enough to protect the state’s trophy fishery.

“There’s big fish coming out of the lakes being harvested,” Underhill said.

He said pictures of trophy fish appear online, along with locations, and it’s drawing anglers from far and wide.

“Those fish are vulnerable,” said Underhill, who suggested the DNR expand the minimum size to 56 inches.

That would turn muskies into an almost complete catch-and-release fishery, though a state record fish likely would exceed 56 inches.

Let’s reiterate that last point. For practical purposes, this would create an entirely catch-and-release muskellunge fishery in Minnesota. One could even make the case that a super-thick 551/2-inch state record might end up being released. (OK, maybe a stretch, but work with me here.)

Did a little comparison shopping, and I can’t find another 56-inch minimum size limit for muskies anywhere. Wisconsin’s minimum size for muskellunge is a remarkably small 40 inches. It’s 42 inches in Michigan and 36 inches in Indiana. Illinois, which is relatively new to the muskie-managing game, stocks 40 of its lakes with muskies and has gradually increased its minimum length limits over the past two decades. The limits vary from lake-to-lake. The largest minimum length limit in the state is 48 inches.

New York’s general statewide reg is a mere 30 inches. On the St. Lawrence, known as a water that could hold a new world record fish, the minimum size is 48 inches. Ditto for the Upper Niagara River and Lower Niagara and Lake Ontario. On the New York waters of Lake Erie, New York Outdoor News Editor Steve Piatt tells me, it is 54 inches. Mike Moore, Ohio Outdoor News editor, says his state has no minimum muskie size.

Ontario varies by zone, with the extreme western portion of the province at 40 inches, 36 through most of the central portion of the province, with some 40- and 44-inch zones along the eastern Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.

I’ve generally supported trophy regulations that demand catch and release. I wish Minnesota had more stringent rules for northern pike, but folks who argue this with me have said that muskies provide the esox trophy-fishing opportunities in Minnesota, while pike are the common man’s fish. If you buy that, then there’s probably a case – if we are indeed killing a lot of big muskies – for a 56-inch minimum size.

On the other hand, a 48-inch muskie probably has spawned multiple times. Though I would personally release bigger fish, and hope others would too, I can’t imagine harvesting 50-inchers hurts the resource. It does, however, hurt the ability of someone else to enjoy catching and releasing that monster fish.

Watch Outdoor News this spring as our writers try to put some biological data meat on the bones of this discussion. In the meantime, I hope readers will comment below and in the letters to editor section of the print version of Outdoor News. Email me your letters.

Categories: Rob Drieslein

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