Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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Michigan seeks input on muskie management plan

Indian River, Mich. — The muskie is a popular game fish here in Michigan. However, there has been a decrease in the harvesting of these fish plus many of those caught and released are not always reported. Thus, the Michigan Management Plan for Muskellunge was developed.

The management plan centers on five goals: to protect, restore, and enhance muskie habitat on Michigan waters; ensure that adequate technical information is available on Michigan’s muskie fisheries; protect maintain, and enhance Michigan’s recreational muskie fisheries and associated aquatic communities; communicate with anglers and promote the recreational value of Michigan’s muskie fisheries; and provide a variety of fishing opportunities for muskies in Michigan.

Strategies to achieve these goals include catch and immediate release; changing dates for the opener; changing minimum size and bag limits.

The DNR is seeking input from the public on the following proposals: catch and release all year; statewide opener on the first Saturday in June; mandatory harvest registry; allowing for a 50-inch minimum size limit for new brood stock waters; and specific minimum size limit changes.

According to Tim Cwalinski, DNR senior fisheries biologist at Gaylord, “years ago, muskie regulations were put on the Northern Lake Huron Citizens Fishing Advisory Committees agenda. They were to consider changing the opening day, size limits and no stocking versus natural selection.”

Last spring the Muskellunge Management Plan was published.

“It seemed the Natural Resources Commission would be more agreeable to changes that made sense,” Cwalinski said.

Researchers agreed that one minimum size limit was not the right approach.

A meeting in Indian River laid out the ground work for the Cheboygan River watershed and eventually a 46-inch size limit was developed, which would be assessed over a 10- to 20-year period to determine growth and distribution.

“With this type of research everything is new. There is a steep learning curve as we continue to tag fish in these waterways,” Cwalinski said.

This and all other researched-based material will be studied from year to year to help maintain a viable muskie population in northern Michigan waters.

The tagging process began last year in Indian River and again this past spring when 24 muskies were captured, tagged and then released. Cwalinski added, however, that they need information from anglers; reporting catches to the DNR.

For instance, this spring a fisherman landed a 51-inch muskie at the mouth of the Cheboygan River. When the angler found a PIT (passive integrated transponder) tag in the fish, he contacted a DNR officer who then contacted Cwalinski. Upon arrival at the river, the biologists ran a wand over the microchip found inside and eventually concluded that this fish had arrived from Wisconsin. It was determined from further conversation that this particular fish had the distinction of being one of the first Green Bay muskies reported caught outside of Green Bay.

The muskie had been stocked as a fall fingerling as noted by a fin clip. It was PIT tagged during a spring spawning survey on the Fox River in May 2013. At the time of tagging, the female muskie was 49.8 inches long and weighed 37.4 pounds. An interesting side note is that in the 1970s and ’80s the Green Bay muskie population had evolved from eggs gathered in Indian River.

“This fish was just following his roots back home” Cwalinski said.

Though the current tagging project is a long-term process, it is vital in determining age, growth, spawning locales, catch-and-release harvest and maturity at age.

To help in the revitalization of the muskie population, if you catch a muskie let the DNR know all the details.

Muskellunge are much less commonly distributed than northern pike in Michigan’s lakes and rivers. The muskie is the larger of the two species, and in some regions of the Midwest, fisheries for large muskies are popular and draw a lot of tourist activity. There are 116 known muskie populations widely distributed throughout Michigan, but that’s relatively few compared to the numerous inland and Great Lakes waters of our state. This may be due to the fact that adults can tolerate a wide range of environmental conditions from warm water to cool water, but they typically enjoy only modest spawning success and are highly vulnerable to exploitation and habitat deterioration.

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