Pittsburgh — The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission will soon learn whether an approach to rearing trout also will grow bigger muskies.
Three circular tanks are being shipped to the Union City hatchery to replace some of the rectangular raceways traditionally used to raise muskellunge. The tanks are being funded by a grant from the Three Rivers Chapter of Muskies Inc., which is partnering with the commission on several projects aimed at growing larger and more robust fish.
“Circular tanks have been used in salmonid culture for a long time,” said Larry Hines, a member of the chapter who retired in recent years as head of northern hatcheries for the Fish & Boat Commission. Hines spent 30 years with the commission cultivating various species and ultimately managed seven hatcheries.
“Circular tanks allow for raising bigger fish and more fish,” he said. “The circular design makes for a little more flow than with a rectangular raceway. The current forces the fish to swim, which makes them hungry. It gets them up to size really quick.”
Hatchery workers eventually will be able to compare the tank-raised muskies with those from the rectangular raceways, said Hines.
Three Rivers also is paying for the installation of automatic feeders designed to better prepare muskies for survival in the wild, Hines said.
“Instead of waiting for human beings to toss pellets on the water, the fish can feed when they like. It’s less disruptive to their environment. Except for when the tanks get cleaned, the fish will be alone the rest of the time.”
In their final week of hatchery life, muskies are fed live minnows, which have been cultivated at the hatchery with yet another Three Rivers’ grant.
The chapter is getting its funding from its Wisconsin-based parent organization, Muskies Inc. The money comes from the Hugh C. Becker Foundation, which was established in memory of a Minneapolis angler who bequeathed his $3 million estate to Muskies Inc.
The foundation’s earnings are distributed to chapters across the United States for a variety of programs aimed at enhancing muskie fisheries, according to Three Rivers’ vice president Joe Houck.
“We applied for and were lucky enough to be awarded three grants in the past three years. We’ve received $6,500 so far.”
Houck said he and other chapter members will meet with the commission in coming weeks to discuss future projects. The chapter’s goal in working with the commission is to improve fishing for its members and other muskie anglers in western Pennsylvania, Houck said.
“Pennsylvania raises as many muskies as any other state, but the fishing is some of the worst. Our guys are going to Ohio, New York and Canada to fish. We’re working with the commission to change that.”
The commission has sought input from anglers on how it can improve muskie fisheries. “We’re trying to deliver fish to anglers in the most efficient manner possible,” said the commission’s warmwater unit leader Bob Lorantas after a meeting with muskie fishermen last fall.
“And we’re trying to deliver to anglers who have the greatest appreciation for trophy-size muskies.”
The agency began altering its muskie program in 2007, when it raised the minimum creel size from 30 inches to 40 inches, but allowed for year-round harvest on all fisheries except brood-stock lakes. That move was met with criticism by some anglers, including Howard Wagner, one of the best-known muskie fishermen in the state, who said year-round harvest “killed any benefit of raising the size limit.”
In more recent years, the commission focused on hatchery production, with improved feed and disease prevention measures, Lorantas said.
He indicated that the commission also is in the process of eliminating a number of fisheries it once stocked with muskies. Currently, 103 lakes and river sections are stocked, which is 60 fewer than in 2007, Lorantas said.
Houck supports that approach. “Our club is trying to get the commission to stop stocking areas that are a waste of muskies and put the fish in Lake Arthur, the Kinzua Dam, and Pymatuning (Reservoir),” he said.
“Those 100-acre, electric-motor-only lakes don’t produce many fish, and muskie fishermen can’t utilize them because we have big boats. We want the commission to be more selective, and put muskies where they historically were.
“This past year, when we stocked Pymatuning, the fish were 10 inches and they were beautiful,” he said. “It was a big improvement.”