Fish & Wildlife

Muskellunge management: New lakes selected

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Muskellunge will be released this fall in the Gull Lake chain of lakes near Brainerd and the Fairmont chain of lakes in southern Minnesota as part of an effort to establish new muskie angling opportunities throughout the state.

Information gathered during the muskie stocking public input process and local discussions also prompted DNR to decide not to stock Big Marine Lake in Washington County and to withdraw the proposal to stock Franklin, Lizzie or Loon lakes in Otter Tail County.

Muskie fishing is one of the fastest growing segments of Minnesota sport fishing. Estimates suggest that 16.5 percent of Minnesota's licensed anglers target muskellunge; an additional 60 percent of non-muskie anglers want to try muskie fishing.

Several years ago, DNR prepared a long-range plan designed to balance interest in expanded muskellunge fishing opportunities with those that oppose muskie management and continued stocking. The plan called for eight new waters to be stocked with muskie by 2020. Three of those lakes – Roosevelt, Pokegema and the Sauk River Chain – already have been stocked. The recent decision adds Gull and Fairmont to the list, bringing the total number of new muskie lakes to five.

Fisheries research work in Minnesota on muskie impact and Wisconsin on muskie diets shows that muskellunge successfully coexist with walleye and other game fish.

Stocking these five lakes with low densities of muskellunge provides additional opportunity without crowding too many muskies into waters where they now live.

Lakes selected

Muskellunge questions & answers

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Why is the MN DNR proposing to stock more lakes with muskies?

While the interest in muskellunge angling appears to be growing, the opportunities are limited. The growing interest is creating concerns about long-term sustainability of muskellunge fisheries. The long-range plan for muskies and northern pike was developed with a wide variety of angling interests and significant public comment. It represents a compromise between anglers who want additional muskies fishing opportunities and those who do not. Stocking five new lakes with low densities of muskie is simply following through with our commitment to anglers.

What effect will muskies have on other species of fish?

The MNDNR would not manage for a species if they thought the species would substantially and negatively affect other species. Management of muskellunge in Minnesota has focused on developing trophy fisheries. Muskies are naturally found at low densities and trophy management will mimic those low densities. Muskies are found in lakes throughout the upper Midwest and eastern portions of the U.S. and southern Canada in some of the best fisheries for other species. A recent study of 41 Minnesota lakes that were stocked with muskies compared net catches of northern pike, walleye, yellow perch, bluegill, black crappie, white sucker, and cisco before and after muskies were stocked. The authors concluded that these species have generally coexisted well with muskies in the study lakes at the densities that have resulted from stocking.

What do muskies eat?

Most research has shown that muskies tend to utilize the most abundant prey species available in a body of water. However, other factors that may influence prey selection include critical size and body morphology, habitat, catchability and avoidance behavior, and seasonal behavior or migrations. Soft-rayed species like suckers, ciscoes, whitefish, and various shad species tend to be preferred prey items in lakes where they are found. A Wisconsin DNR study conducted from 1991 to 1994 examined the stomach contents of 1,092 muskellunge ranging from about nine to 46 inches in length. Researchers found 31 different species of fish in the stomachs of muskellunge, primarily perch and white sucker. Despite strong walleye populations in some of the Wisconsin study lakes, walleye were not an important food for muskellunge. Tullibee were not common in many of the study lakes and therefore were relatively unimportant as food items.

Will stocking new lakes result in spearing bans on those lakes?

No. While some waters have been closed in the past to protect muskellunge from inadvertent mortality, spearing bans will not be required as part of new introduction proposals for muskellunge waters. In fact, most lakes that previously had spearing bans are now open to darkhouse spearing.

What data does the MN DNR use to develop muskie stocking proposals?

MN DNR decisions are based on the best available science. MN DNR relies heavily on peer-reviewed published literature on muskie biology and management as well as various MN DNR surveys and initiatives to better understand and adapt fisheries management. Lakes are chosen based on the physical and biological attributes of the lake as well as social and economic considerations. Factors such as game/pan/prey fish populations, lake size, angler interest/need, adequate public access, local economic benefit, geographic location, etc. are all considered.

Will angling pressure increase if muskies are stocked?

Presumably, yes. Creel data have documented increases in angling pressure on introduced muskellunge lakes. This is an interesting dilemma where successful management practices for any species will potentially increase total fishing pressure. Increases in angling pressure can be a positive or negative, depending on perspective. Resorts and other fishing related businesses generally consider it a positive. Fishing pressure is generally a good indicator of fishing quality and pressure directed specifically at muskellunge is largely non-consumptive. Angling pressure is typically highest during the first six weeks of the open water season with some of the highest use among anglers targeting walleye during the months of May and June. Muskie season opens the first Saturday in June and closes on December 1. Angling for muskellunge tends to be highest during the months of July through October.