Tracking Fish in the Rideau Canal Waterway

Figure 2: PhD student Jordanna Bergman surgically implanting an acoustic transmitter into a northern pike in a waterfilled and padded trough. Photo by Dan Rubinstein.

By Jordanna N. Bergman, PhD Student, Carleton University and Steven J. Cooke, Professor, Carleton University

Background

The Rideau Canal Waterway is a 202­ km route of picturesque lakes, rivers, and artificial canals connected by 23 active lockstations and 45 locks. Originally constructed in the mid 1800s to facilitate commercial and military transport between Lake Ontario and the Ottawa River, today the Rideau Canal is almost entirely operated to support recreational, cultural, and economic activities. In fact, the system is so iconic and unique that it received World Heritage Site designation from the United Nations. Managed by Parks Canada, the lock system is used by recreational boaters, canoeists, and kayakers during the navigation season (mid-May to mid­-October) to travel throughout the waterway. With pristine aquatic habitats and one of the most diverse fish communities in Canada, the Rideau Canal is home to first­class fishing and supports an important tourism­based industry for eastern Ontario. Trophy gamefish can be found in the waterway, including Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides and M. dolomieu), Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy), and northern pike (Esox lucius).

Figure 1: A black crappie externally marked with an anchor tag (circled in red). Photo by Jordanna N. Bergman.
Figure 1: A black crappie externally marked with an anchor tag (circled in red). Photo by Jordanna N. Bergman.

Have you ever wondered what else might be passing through locks with you beneath the surface? There’s a chance as you travel through a lockstation, fish are travelling right alongside you. Although lockmasters, anglers, and boaters have reported seeing fish inside locks, little is known about fish movement and behaviour related to lock­-and-­dam infrastructure. Do fish purposefully move through locks, or is it accidental? If they do move through locks, to what extent?

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Are movements species­-specific and/or seasonally driven? Students in the Fish Ecology and Conservation Physiology Lab at Carleton University are using acoustic telemetry equipment and generous help from anglers to investigate fish movements and the ecological connectivity of the Rideau Canal Waterway.

Figure 2: PhD student Jordanna Bergman surgically implanting an acoustic transmitter into a northern pike in a waterfilled and padded trough. Photo by Dan Rubinstein.
Figure 2: PhD student Jordanna Bergman surgically implanting an acoustic transmitter into a northern pike in a waterfilled and padded trough. Photo by Dan Rubinstein.

Biotelemetry, the tracking of animals using electronic tags, provides information on movement patterns of wild fish necessary to conservation and management efforts. Acoustic transmitters (i.e. tags) are surgically implanted into focal fish species and emit an underwater sound signal that sends unique identification information about that specific fish to acoustic receivers. Receivers, which are strategically placed beneath the water surface throughout the waterway prior to tagging, receive the sound signals and convert them to digital data that can be used to determine tag positions.

In the summer of 2019, we acoustically tagged 245 fish; these include two gamefish species, largemouth bass and northern pike, and two invasive species, common carp (Cyprinus carpio) and round goby (Neogobius melanostomus) Additional efforts and experimental projects were focused on northern pike given that they are known to travel relatively long distances (up to 8­km daily). The team deployed 90 acoustic receivers throughout the waterway in the spring and in November they will be braving the cold to retrieve them to download data and analyze fish movement patterns.

Another interesting aspect of our acoustic telemetry research involves the inclusion of invasive species. We acoustically tagged both common carp and the recently discovered round goby this past summer. Round Goby are of special concern as they are a newly introduced invasive species to the Rideau Canal. We are hopeful that we may be able to prevent their further spread by understanding, and exploiting, their spatial ecology (when and where a species distributes themselves over time to reside, avoid predation, forage, and for sexually mature individuals, reproduce). Round Goby were first documented in the canal during a scheduled water drawdown in Edmonds Lockstation in Smiths Falls in 2018. The round goby is a small (25­cm max), highly aggressive, bottomdwellingfish that has been observed to predate on the eggs and young of nesting gamefish, appears to contribute to increased incidences of avian botulism, and as a result of competitive exclusion, often displaces native species to suboptimal habitat. Although our team struggled to capture round goby for weeks (a bittersweet sign, as we interpret this to mean population densities are still low) we finally identified a successful capture method using a backpack electrofishing unit. We implanted acoustic tags into 45 Round Goby. Upon retrieval of our acoustic receivers in November, round goby movements will be at the top of the list for analysis.

In addition to the aforementioned electronic tagging studies, we are also conducting an extensive external tagging study to investigate broadscale fish movements in the Rideau Canal. We are striving to tag and release 10,000 fish with external identification tags, also known as anchor tags. Besides a unique ID number, the tag also has contact information (email: carleton.tag@gmail.com and phone number: (613) 520-­2600 x4377) for anglers to report their catches. By partnering with anglers who report their catches of tagged fish, we can compare the original location the fish was tagged to the recapture location, and importantly, determine if that fish passed through any barriers (e.g. locks, dams) to adjacent water bodies. To date, we have tagged approximately 4,500 fish and will continue to tag fish until we reach our goal. Tagged fish species include Black Crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus), Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus), Bullhead (Ictalurus spp.), Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass, Northern Pike, Pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus), Rock Bass (Ambloplites rupestris), Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens), Walleye (Stizostedium vitreum), Lake Trout (Salvelinus namaycush), White Sucker (Catastomus commersoni), Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio), and Muskellunge. To date, 171 fish have been recaptured as of October 2019, none of which were recaptured in canal reaches other than where they were initially tagged.

Figure 3: Dr. Cooke's students ready to externally tag incoming bass at a Bass Anglers Association tournament. LR: Auston Chhor, Alexandria Trahan, Brenna Gagliardi.
Figure 3: Dr. Cooke’s students ready to externally tag incoming bass at a Bass Anglers Association tournament. LR: Auston Chhor, Alexandria Trahan, Brenna Gagliardi.

Over the next three years our team will continue working towards meeting the objective of tagging 10,000 fish and acoustically tagging a variety of fish species. By analyzing acoustic telemetry data in conjunction with angler­recapture data, we hope to better understand fish connectivity in the Rideau Canal Waterway and use that information to support economically important gamefish and simultaneously minimize invasive species impacts. If you are curious to learn more about our research, or see a video of how fish are tagged, you can check out our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Cook eFECPL/ or visit our lab website at http://www.fecpl.ca/

Evaluating Whether Carbonated Beverages Reduce Bleeding and Improve Survival of Esocids with Gill Injuries

Image 2. Comparing gill colour of a northern pike against a standardized scale.

By Alexandria Trahan1, John Anderson1, Andy J. Danylchuk3 and Steven J. Cooke1

1 Fish Ecology and Conservation Physiology Laboratory, Department of Biology and Institute of Environmental and Interdisciplinary Science, Carleton University, Ottawa, ON, K1S 5B6, Canada

2 The Ottawa River Musky Factory, John Anderson, The Ottawa River Musky Factory 106 County Road 9, Plantagenet, Ontario, Canada, K0B 1L0, Canada.

3 Department of Environmental Conservation, University of Massachusetts Amherst, 160 Holdsworth Way, Amherst, MA, 01003, USA

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Autumn skies are upon us and musky are in a flurry to fatten up before winter hits. As you enjoy the time on the water with a stick bait trailing behind the boat, SLAM….your heart is now pounding as you fight that prized Muskie and successfully get it to the boat. Upon landing you notice that one of the gills was nicked by a hook, and the water around the fish is stained with blood. All you can think is, now what? Will the fish survive or is there a way to stop the bleeding? You then recall seeing a video online that went viral not long, showing Mountain Dew being poured over the gills of a bass to stop bleeding. As you look to your cooler for something even close to Mountain Dew, you then also remember the discussion and debate online by anglers, writers and scientists, with some arguing that this is indeed an approach that should be embraced, while others urging caution since no scientific study has been done yet evaluating whether carbonated beverages control bleeding and improve the survival of injured fish. With no resolve, you do the best you can with this particular musky, and end your day hoping that this debate would soon be effectively put to rest.

This is where we come in. For the past few months we have been systematically testing whether a bleeding fish should have a carbonated beverage poured over bleeding gills following capture on hook and line. Although we had hoped to work on Muskies, given their rarity and size, we selected its sister species – northern pike – for the research. Given that we test this on live fish, we first needed to demonstrate that our science had valid purpose, and that our proposed procedures were in line with criteria laid out by the Canadian Council on Animal Care. Specific to our study design was experimentally injuring gills of fish by cutting out a standardized portion of gill filaments from a gill arch (see Image 1), and then pouring a selection of carbonated liquids over the gills to see if the bleeding stopped and for how long (details below).

Image 1: Piece of a gill removed from a northern pike.
Image 1: Piece of a gill removed from a northern pike.

What helped us get approval was that our research would resolve the frantic online debate, as well as provide evidence as to whether pouring carbonated beverages over bleeding gills would improve the outcome for an injured fish if it had to be released.

With a scientific collection permit in hand from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, it was time to start with the systematic and controlled evaluation of this longstanding questions. As with any systematic, scientific study, we had to consider and control for as many factors as possible, including water temperature, the size of the fish, and the type, amount, and temperature of carbonated beverage to be poured on the fish’s gills. Given that water temperature has a dramatic effect on the biology of fish, we opted to focus on late spring conditions when water temperature was between 11­-18 C, and late summer when the temperature was 24­-27 C. To then determine what type of carbonated beverage to use, we explored the different social media platforms that revealed the most common beverage being used by anglers on fish – that being Mountain Dew and Coca Cola. We also used plain carbonated lake water as a third liquid to be poured over bleeding gills, allowing us to test whether the additives in the soft drinks made a difference or it was just carbonation. For additional scientific rigor, we included two additional groups ­ one ‘reference’ group where the fish’s gills were cut but nothing was poured on the wound, and the other being a ‘baseline’ group where nothing was done to the fish (it was simply held in a cooler for the same sampling period as the other fish).

For the experiment, fish were angled, landed, and placed into a trough filled with lake water. Fish were then measured and had their gill colour compared to a standardized scale (see Image 2), prior to being selected for one of the five groups mentioned above. Gill colour was recorded because it is relative to the amount of blood loss, with gills full of blood (most common) being bright red, and gills with lower and lower blood flow progressively lighter and lighter, to almost becoming white if fish bleed out.

Image 2. Comparing gill colour of a northern pike against a standardized scale.
Image 2. Comparing gill colour of a northern pike against a standardized scale.

For groups where gill tissue was removed, fish were individually placed in a cooler, and evaluated for relative bleeding intensity and the time it took for bleeding to stop. Relative bleeding intensity was based on the following scale: 0, no bleeding; 1, little bleeding, hard to see; 2, obviously bleeding, easy to see; and 3, intense bleeding, pulsatile blood flow. For the ‘popped’ or carbonated lake water groups, we recorded bleeding intensity immediately before and after a set volume of liquid poured directly onto the wounded gills. This would help us evaluate claims online suggesting that carbonated beverages reduced the amount of the blood loss. For all fish, additional bleeding values were recorded at range of intervals during a 20­-minute holding period. After 20 minutes of holding the vigour and condition of the fish was recorded, and fish that were not moribund were released. To test whether the temperature of the pop makes a difference, we repeated the above series of experiments comparing how bleeding is affected by Mountain Dew at both 4 C (as if the pop just came out of an ice­filled cooler) to 2 C (as if the pop had been sitting in a can in a koozie on the console of the boat for a few hours). We stuck to Mountain Dew for this experiment since it was the most common beverage being used in the videos online.

For both experiments combined we caught and evaluated over 200 northern pike. We are still analyzing the data to determine whether the different carbonated beverage treatments had an effect on bleeding. Stay tuned for more details and whether you are best to keep the carbonated beverages for yourself or to share them with your fish.

International study shows muskies on the move

Jan-Michael Hessenauer, Ph.D. Fisheries Research Biologist Lake St. Clair Fisheries Research Station Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Hessenauer is seen with a muskie captured as part of the Michigan DNR trawl survey in Lake St. Clair in August 2016. COURTESY OF JAN-MICHAEL HESSENAUER / WINDSOR STAR

A roaming muskie dubbed James Bond is helping scientists spy on muskies that are so difficult to catch, they’re called the fish of 10,000 casts.

Researchers have tracked a muskie with 007 in its identifying records from the Detroit River to the far end of Lake Erie near Buffalo to Lake St. Clair and back to Lake Erie.

That is the most well-travelled muskellunge in an international study that is tracking 111 muskies with surgically implanted transmitters to understand what these large predator fish with a mouthful of teeth are doing.

Read more in the Windsor Star…

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Behind the Scenes at the Odyssey

The Odyssey, April 13, 2019 was a great success.

The new venue was ideal:

This year we were delighted to have moved to a big new facility in Bowmanville, On. The Garnet B. Rickard Recreational Complex is a spacious facility with auditorium space to handle about 400 plus a whole rink pad for our exhibitors. This was one of the most important changes for the new Odyssey. The event had been poised to grow but our former location in St. Catherine’s On. was not big enough to accommodate our increasing number of exhibitor/vendors, and the larger crowds of muskie enthusiasts that we hoped would come. 

Previous Odysseys attracted 425-450 people, but for 2019 we were hoping for a significant increase in attendees. Our challenge to increase attendance meant that we needed to put together a really strong educational program with some of Canada’s best muskie experts. 

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During the fall and early winter period we promoted the speaker line-up very heavy through the Muskies Canada web site and Facebook page. Our goal was to attract new people in addition to our regular fanatics. IN the New Year we began to promote the absolutely incredible ensemble of industry leaders and bait makers that had signed up to be part of the big show. Hats off to our MCI Web Director, Pierre Masson. During the last month before the show, one-by-one we featured these incredible vendors on our Facebook page. 

On Thursday, April 11 we began the installations to set up the venue. Our electrical contractor and our draping supplier came in and set up the arena area. 

Volunteers made it work:

Friday, April 12, we welcomed our volunteers, who came from Muskies Canada chapters everywhere. Volunteers have always been the heart of the Odyssey. This show is unique in that it is not a commercial, for-profit show. All the other muskie shows throughout the US are held by private interests as moneymakers for private investors. The Odyssey is the only one that is a not-for-profit show. It is the biggest fundraiser for Canada’s muskie fishery. Everyone embraced this idea and volunteered time and effort to contribute to the success of the show. Speakers paid their own travel costs to be part of the program and contribute their expertise. 

Early on in the planning we recognized the important role that volunteers world inevitably play in making it all work. Knowing that we would need a lot of volunteers and that this would prove to be an important contributor to the success of the show, we asked Past-President, Chris Purdy to be volunteer coordinator. We decided to create a high-visibility t-shirt that identified each of our volunteers. These red shirts and the wonderful volunteers that filled them were a big hit at the Odyssey. See the note from Danna Parker, of Handlebarz. 

The industry came together:

The new Odyssey plan was very attractive to our exhibitors and vendors. We drew up a floor plan with over 50% more space than ever before as we had room for 72 booths in the arena. After a lot of personal contact working with industry and baitmakers, this space completely sold out and we began a waiting list. Many of the vendors paid with product, which we were eager to have for the silent auctions and draws to be held during the event. Everyone understood the fundraising objective and chipped in to help. Some went above and beyond what was required to bring additional donations of services or products. Some who couldn’t be there (like DK Muskie Lures), donated baits or other products to help with our fundraising. One DK bait sold on Saturday for a record $550 at auction.  

Friday morning we were ready for our vendors to come in and set up throughout the day. As they came in and discovered the new, attractive location, their spirits were high as they prepared their booths and tables for the good crowds we all hoped would come on Saturday. Load-in was smooth and effective. The buzz was very positive as industry members of our Canadian Muskie community got together and renewed friendships and business arrangements. 

One of the new things we did for this year’s Odyssey was to produce nametags for the vendors and their pro-staff teams. It took a while to identify who would be there as part of the exhibitors’ teams but we were able to turn that into over 200 name tags that featured the Muskies Canada logo and identified the person wearing it as part of the expert staff that was available on the floor, ready to welcome attendees. Everyone that wore a nametag was promoting Muskies Canada and what we are doing.  

Expert speakers drew a great audience:

Our speakers were awesome. We had so much positive response that we had more speakers than we could fit into the busy schedule. To organize the sessions, we developed themes that we thought would appeal to our existing clientele while attracting new people interested in muskies. The Women and Muskies panel was new and innovative, addressing this growing part of the muskie community. We also wanted to provide a place for the muskie fly-fishing community. They had 5 great speakers in a full-day program running concurrently with the main program. Of course, basic and advanced muskie fishing were important sessions, especially for the new audiences that are interested in how to get started (the right way with the right tools and techniques). Tech issues are always important as sonar and GPS technology changes and improves. Joslyn Leung is a popular speaker to help in this area. One of Canada’s best documentarians of the muskie experience is Bill Hamblin, author of “120 Days”, his very popular book. Finally we put together an extraordinary panel of experts showcasing the some of the best experts on Canada’s muskies. Jim Saric was brought in by Shimano Canada. Pro guides Mike Lazarus, John Anderson, Bill Barber, Rob Cowan, and Shawn Maher were hosted in a Q&A session by John Cowan, Mississauga member and sometimes co-host of Musky Hunter Television.  

Managing the crowds:

We were hoping to almost double the attendance to 800. Our first sign that it would be popular was our advance ticket sales, which soared to over 600 by midnight the day before the event. Our next sign was the line-up that started at 2.30 am on show day. We had prepared the way for line-ups by offering to let advance-ticket holders to check in beginning at 7.30 am, a full hour before the exhibit area doors opened. When we began this at 7.30 we had over 250 people ready to come in. Fortunately the facility was big enough that we could bring everyone inside in an orderly line-up. When the exhort area doors opened at 8.30 am, we had an orderly inflow of excited people to kick things off. Our red-shirted volunteers were all on hand to help make it work smoothly. Total attendance was over 1,100. 

Our biggest fundraiser:

All of this is to raise funds for Muskie research, education and conservation. The 2019 Odyssey produced a net proceeds of $18,358.02. These funds will go into a special Muskies Canada account to be used for the fishery. 

Teamwork:

The success of the 2019 Odyssey is the result of extraordinary teamwork. The Odyssey Committee included Pete Bostelmann, Bryan Mathes, Angelo DiDomizio, Chris Purdy, Jason Newell and Peter Levick. Meetings were held regularly throughout the year to work out the new plans and we were able to consult regularly with the Board of Directors. The team grew to include our growing number of volunteers so that by Odyssey day we were over 30 on the Odyssey team. Everyone was helpful and did a great job to assist with the exhibitors, attendees, media and contractors that were part of this record-breaking event.   

See you next year:

Based on the success of the 2019 Muskie Odyssey, the Board of Directors has voted to hold the Odyssey annually. 

Thank you to all that helped make the event work so well: 

Our Sponsors: 

  • Shimano
  • Ugly Pike

Our speakers: 

  • John Anderson
  • Jessie Baker
  • Bill Barber
  • Brent Bochek
  • Rob Cadeau
  • Ken Collins
  • John Cowan
  • Bill Hamblin
  • Lauren Kozak
  • Mike Lazarus
  • Joslyn Leung
  • Dan Lougheed
  • Chelsea Lynn
  • Shawn Maher
  • Megan McGregor
  • Michael McNaught
  • Jason Newell
  • Andy Pappas
  • Christopher Pfohl
  • Marlon Prince
  • Ashley Rae

Contributors:

  • DK Musky Lures
  • Baker Baits
  • Supernatural Big Baits
  • Custom Clarkey Baits
  • Headbanger Lures
  • Beaver Lures
  • Musky Boys
  • Ontario Women Anglers
  • Diamond Productions
  • OMNRF
  • Peter Levick Outdoors
  • City of Clarington
  • Trophy Hunter Charters

Women and Muskie Fishing

The Muskie Odyssey, a biennial event that attracts esox enthusiasts from all over the province, as well south of the border, had one of their best ever shows last month in Bowmanville, ON. Organized by volunteers from Muskies Canada, the Odyssey offers one-stop shopping for “everything muskie” – from retailers to guest speakers to the independent lure maker.

For a number of years now, women in fishing has been the fastest growing demographic, even more so than children, and more and more of them are stepping up to the challenge of catching the “fish of 10,000 casts”. New this year, the seminar agenda featured an all-women panel in which the speakers fielded questions from the audience and shared their muskie fishing experiences.  Megan McGregor, Jessie Baker, Lauren Kozak, Chelsea Lynn and Ashley Rae provided seminar participants with tips and expertise to help anglers have a more successful day on the water. The seminar was one of the more popular presentations of the event and these young women are evidence that we are breaking away from the old stereotype that muskie fishing is for men only. Given its success, I expect this panel will be featured at Odysseys to come.

A few years ago, I decided to add muskie to my repertoire of species fished and, after an invitation to be a guest speaker at the Kawartha Lakes Chapter, I became a member of Muskies Canada to receive an education in this new frontier. From the start, the members were not only very welcoming, but generous in answering my many questions and enthusiastic in sharing their knowledge with me. As with many Muskies Canada members I have met over the last couple of years, the message of conservation and education is paramount to everyone involved in this organization and vital to the sustainability of the fishery.

In spring 2017, I approached the KLC chapter and asked for their assistance in helping run the first ever “Introduction to Muskie Fishing for Women” event with Ontario Women Anglers, a non-profit organization I started in late 2012. The response was incredibly supportive and, through the collaboration of a small committee, we held the event in September of the same year with 10 boaters and two shifts of 20 women each. Held on Cameron Lake in Fenelon Falls, 40 women received a hands-on education on everything related to muskie fishing. The KLC members mentored the ladies on the water and instructed them on proper fish care and handling, the necessary equipment needed to manage these fish safely, the various baits, rods, reels, line and terminal tackle used in this typing of fishing as well as demonstrating both trolling and casting techniques. The women arrived armed with a myriad of questions in efforts to learn as much as they could about this new facet of fishing. As the outing was meant more to focus on education, I think we were all surprised at the number of muskie the women caught at the event.

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Building on the success of our 2017 event, “Introduction to Muskie Fishing for Women” will run again on October 5, 2019 on Cameron Lake in partnership with the Kawartha Lakes Chapter. As with our last outing, a BBQ lunch will be provided and we will have another great draw table which will include a Shimano Tranx 301AHG. Registration will open in August and anyone interested in the event can get more information by contacting me at my e-mail below.

As the number of women involved in muskie fishing continues to grow, partnerships between organizations like Muskies Canada and Ontario Women Anglers become increasingly more important and it is through these combined efforts that the “Introduction to Muskie Fishing for Women” program can be brought to other chapters.

Yvonne Brown
Muskies Canada KLC and Ontario Women Anglers

Conservation Lottery Results

The final draw for the 2019 Conservation Lottery was held on May 5th at the Discover Georgina show at the Keswick Ice Palace. The reason for this location is simple, it was the Municipality of Georgina license office which granted us the lottery permits and the draw had to take place in their municipality. On hand to assist with the draw were Mr. Dan Fellini Ward 2 Councillor for Georgina, Mr. Scot Davidson MP (Conservative) for York Simcoe riding.

The winners of the early bird prizes Shimano Compre rod, Tranx 400 HG reel a300 yds. Of Power Pro were:

  • 1st early bird winner was Mark MacFarland of the Mississauga Chapter.
  • 2nd early Bird winner was Angelo Didomizio of the Kawartha Chapter.

Winner of the 15 HP Mercury ProKicker motor was a gentleman from St. Catherines, Mr. Dave Robitaille.

Winner of the 1 week stay in a deluxe 3 bedroom cottage at Scotsmen Point Resort was Mr. Dave Sullivan. Dave is the owner of City Marine the supplier of the grand prize Mercury package, and he purchased several tickets for the lottery.

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Winner of the Lakewoods Monster Musky tackle box and the family of 4 custom painted Hose baits was Paul Baltovich. Paul purchased his ticket through Russell Hendrix. I am sure Russell has already tried to talk Paul out of his winnings.

Congratulations to all the winners. We also wish to thank our sponsors who generously donated or supplied items at great savings to MCI.

Dave Sullivan of City Marine for the Mercury outboard. Scotsman Point Resort for the 3 bedroom deluxe cottage 1 week stay. Bob Mahoney and Shimano Canada for the 2 early bird packages. Stacy Ash and Pro Tackle for the Lakewoods Tackle Box. Shawn (Hoser) Maher for the unique and one of a kind custom painted family of Hose Baits.

Lake Frontière Muskies

A lake Frontière Muskie
A lake Frontière Muskie

Originally published in the Fall 2018 edition of the Release Journal.

Lac-Frontière is a small municipality of 175 inhabitants located in the Appalachians on the border of Quebec and the state of Maine, just south of Montmagny. The municipality is of course located on the shores of the lake that has the same name. Between 1842 and 1849 the place was known as the English Lake due to the presence of Americans and British who were staying there during the surveying of the Canada-US border. It is in 1919 that the municipality is officially founded; this means that next year will be Lac-Frontière 100th birthday. Back in the days, the BC Howard company erected up to 4 sawmills around the lake. The railroad was used to supply the mills, the population of this small village will reach up to 3000 inhabitants at its highest point. Today there is not much left of this prosperous period except the remains of the railway bridge and many 100-year-old timber logs that lay on the bottom of the lake.

An error in fisheries management

Unlike most water bodies in Quebec that flow into the St. Lawrence, Lake Frontière is located at the head of the Saint John River watershed.
Unlike most water bodies in Quebec that flow into the St. Lawrence, Lake Frontière is located at the head of the Saint John River watershed.

The lake itself is small. Its area is 1.1 km2, but the Great North West Black River which feeds it winds from Talon Lake for more than 20 kilometers. Unlike most water bodies in Quebec, Lake Frontière is not included in the St. Lawrence River watershed but rather in the Saint John River watershed. This geographical feature had important repercussions that had been underestimated by the authorities of the Ministry of Tourism, Recreation, Hunting and Fishing in the 1970s when they determined that Lake Frontière would be one of the sites of their muskellunge stocking program.

Between 1970 and 1979, the Quebec Ministry of Tourism, Recreation, Hunting and Fishing stocked a total of 6250 muskellunge from 7 to 20 cm in the lake. The goal was to offer a species for sport fishing to the population and to reduce the presence of white sucker. They believed that the muskellunge would remain confined to the lake and the river, but after a few years they learned that the muskellunge was way more adventurous.

Today, Lake Frontière muskellunge is found everywhere in the Saint John River watershed. Muskies stocked in Lake Frontière has colonized the waters of the Saint John River in New Brunswick, and because of that we have the Muskies Canada St. John River chapter today. Muskellunge is now caught in East Lake near La Pocatière and Beau Lake in Témiscouata, Qc.

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Chaque année un tournoi de pêche au maskinongé se tient à Fort Kent dans le Maine avec des bourses totalisant 35 000$ USD.
Each year a Muskellunge Fishing Event is held in Fort Kent, Maine with awards totaling $ 35,000 USD.

Each year a Muskie Fishing tournament is held in Fort Kent, Maine with awards totaling $ 35,000 USD. Although Muskies are considered by the state of Maine to be an invasive species (no size limit or number of capture) and to record a catch at the Fort Kent tournament Muskies has to be killed, the tournament organizers request recommend that muskies under 38″ should be released. In New Brunswick, the Muskies are still considered has an invasive species, but in recent years some progress has been made thanks to the involvement of our members in St. John River.

Au fil des ans, le maskinongé est même parvenu a franchir la chute à Dupuis de la Grande Rivière Noire Nord-Ouest.
Over the years, muskies has even managed to cross the Dupuis waterfall on the Great North West Black River.

We know today and probably at that time too that the arrival of a non-native species in an environment can have serious consequences. But after 40 years, we must face the fact that it will be impossible to go back and that we should rather embrace the benefits of this past error.

The habitat

La Grande Rivière Noire Nord-Ouest.
The Great North-West Black River.

The lake itself is very shallow. In the middle of the lake there is only 9 feet of water. There are many weed beds all around the lake. At the northeast end of the lake there is a large marshy and very shallow area that is full of wildlife. On a canoe trip in the small pond you can see ducks, herons, bitterns, beavers, muskrats, frogs, and of course furrows in the water of muskies fleeing in front of the boat. On the other hand, some pool in the river are more than 20 feet deep.

Mon père Georges et un maskinongé de 42" du lac Frontière.
My father Georges with a 42 incher from lake Frontière.

I spent the summers of my youth on the shore of Lake Frontière. My parents built a cottage there in 1981. At the time, there were very few cottages around the lake and it was not uncommon to see moose come to cool down in the marshes in the summer. The state of Maine has a phenomenal moose population and the border is less than one kilometer from the lake, so moose often cross it. By the way, every October during moose hunting season, the border becomes like Vimy Ridge in 1917 with watchtowers and hunters on the lookout every 300 meters. Today there are many more cottages around the lake which represents an environmental challenge to avoid the increase of eutrophication of the lake.

L’auteur qui donne un peu d’amour à un petit muskie.
The autor giving some love to a small muskie.

Muskies in the lake are well established, but we can say that the better days are behind us. In the 1980s Lake Frontière delivered its largest muskies. It was the growth peak of the stocked muskie, they had abundant food and relatively low fishing pressure. In the 1980s, my father captured two specimens over 40 inches (41″ and 42″).

Membre du chapitre de Québec, Jimmy Lachance connais bien les maskinongés du lac Frontière.
Québec City Chapter member, Jimmy Lachance knows really well the lake Frontière Muskies.

Catches of 44″ and 47″ have also been reported. At that time, you could fish for perch from the shore and catch an impressive number of yellow perch in good sizes. This is not scientific, but it seems that the quantity and size of yellow perch has greatly decreased since then as has the size of the muskellunge too. Today a big Muskie of Lake Frontière is 35-37 inches. Average catches are between 26 and 30 inches.

Release and regulation

The daily catch limit and possession limit of muskellunge on Lake Frontière is 2 per person. There is no size limit.

At the beginning of my engagement with Muskies Canada, I thought that if the fishermen on Lake Frontière were all practicing catch and release, the quality of the fishery would only improve in the next few years. But since then I’ve learned more about it and I understand that the lake’s muskies population is healthy but has likely reached a ceiling in the balance between the amount of food available and the number of predators competing for this food. If a size limit required anglers to release all catches greater than 32 inches and take a good amount of smaller muskellunge (say, larger than 26 “), perhaps after some years we could hope to capture specimens over 40 ” again. But know that I have no degree in biology and my knowledge of fisheries management are very limited so what I think is worth what it is worth.

However, the Quebec Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks will do nothing to regulate the muskie fishery on Lake Frontière because it would go against the muskellunge management done by the Department of Inland Fisheries. and Wildlife of Maine – Division of Fisheries and Hatcherie. As explained above, since the Lake Frontière watershed is not completely contained in Quebec, they can not control what is happening in Maine or New Brunswick. Quebec neighbours would not take well a regulation that will go against their own regulations.

Conclusion

Fishing the muskellunge on this lake on a good day can be a lot of fun. It is not uncommon to take several muskellunge in one day. This small lake in southeastern Quebec is still being talked about today as the source of the muskie invasion of the Saint John River, but it is also the source of my passion for muskie fishing. It’s my lake. I know all the bays, the depth of each meander of the river and I go back there every summer.

Coucher de soleil sur le lac Frontière.
Sunset on lake Frontière.
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