Muskie season tweaked; size limits boosted

Albany — DEC’s semi-annual update of its freshwater fishing regulations is complete, albeit six months late.

Three of the most noteworthy changes, which took effect April 1, involve the state’s largest freshwater game fish, the muskellunge.

The new regulations increase the minimum size limit for muskellunge to 40, inches (up from the previous 30); move the muskie season opener from its previous third Saturday in June to the last Saturday in May; and also boost the minimum size limit for St. Lawrence River muskies to 54 inches (up from 48).

The increased size minimums are designed to offer additional protections for muskie populations, DEC officials said.

The changes capped a two-year process which included biological assessment, discussions with anglers and a formal 45-day public comment period. DEC weighed public input to finalize the changes.

The regulations are published in the 2015-16 Freshwater Fishing Regulations Guide, which recently became available at license-issuing agents across the state.

DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said changes are typically made to sport fishing regulations “to address management needs in specific waters, as well as to accommodate angler and other stakeholder desires. Many of the proposed changes resulted from DEC’s focus on consolidating regulations where possible and eliminating special regulations that are no longer warranted and have become outdated.”

Among the other changes were:

• boosting the minimum size for walleye on Honeoye Lake from 15 to 18 inches. While some anglers  feel that will deter walleye fishermen from visiting the smallish Finger Lake, DEC officials said it was time to make the change.

“The 15-inch minimum size limit was placed on Honeoye Lake walleye in 2000 to increase harvest and allow for better and more rapid growth by removing the overabundant population,” DEC officials said in their assessment of public comment. “Recent survey data suggests that growth rates have not improved despite the lower population density and the harvest may be too great, resulting in a lower population of walleye and lower catch rates.”

Boosting the minimum size, officials hope, will trim the harvest and allow walleyes to grow.

• establishing a closed statewide season for sauger as part of DEC’s strategy to eventually develop a sauger fishery in some waters of the state.
• establishing “no kill” – catch-and-release-only sections for trout on stretches of the Salmon River (Franklin County) and Ninemile Creek (Onondaga County), and extending the catch-and-release season at Fall Creek, a Cayuga Lake tributary. 
• streamlining what devices may be used for ice fishing by modifying the statewide regulation to allow for a total of seven “devices” that may be used to fish through the ice; as well as allowing for a total of 15 devices that many be used to fish through the ice at Lake Champlain. Those include tip-ups, tip-downs, jigging rods and other setups.
• eliminating the daily creel limit special regulations for sunfish and yellow perch in Cumberland Bay (Lake Champlain), as well as eliminating the prohibition on the sale of yellow perch taken from Cumberland Bay.

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