The Saint John River Muskellunge Tagging Project, 2006 – 2015

January 2016 – Steven Kerr and Brandon Jones

A Saint. John River Muskellunge
A Saint. John River Muskellunge (Muskies Canada photo)

Executive Summary

This document has been prepared to summarize results of a muskellunge tagging project which has been conducted on the Saint John River, New Brunswick, from 2006 to 2015 (inclusive).  During that period of time, 691 muskellunge have been angled, tagged and released by members of the Sait John River chapter of Muskies Cnada Inc.  a total of 64 (9.3%) tagged muskellunge were recaptured by angling.  an additional four tagged fish were captured at the Mactaquac Dam fishway.

Most muskellunge were observed to establish discrete summer home ranges from which there was little, if any, movement.  Transitional movements are believed to occur during the spring and fall associated with spawning and the establishment of summer and winter ranges.  Muskellunge movements which were documented in this study occurred in both upstream and downstream directions in almost equal proportion.  Muskellunge also demonstrated the ability to move long distances both upstream and downstream including passage over/through the Mactaquac dam.

Results regarding muskellunge behavior and movements from this study, to date, are generally consistent with observations (small home ranges, males more sedentary than females, movements seasonal in nature, capable of long distance movements, etc.) reported from similar tagging studies in other North American jurisdictions.

It is proposed that future efforts be directed to obtaining more information on recaptured fish.  With additional recapture information, a more detailed analysis of muskellunge in the Saint John watershed can be completed.

Read the full report by clicking the link below (pdf)

St. John River Tagging Project , 2006-2015 (Final)

 

Muskie Fishing Tips

By Ross Nichols

New to the sport or a seasoned veteran, these tips should help improve your game.

1. LEADERS – Use a 3-5 foot leader for trolling depending on water clarity. 130-150 pound test. A 12 inch in wire or fluorocarbon for casting.

2. NET- One with a sizable basket for the muskie in your fishing area. Put some glow tape around the net and place a flashlight on the yoke.  When netting in the dark the net and fish will show up. If you are alone, once the fish is in the net, place net in Down East rod holder  and attach lanyard

3. RELEASE TOOLS – Have long handle, long nose pliers, vise grips for removing hooks in a fish or for “T” your hooks and a Knipex bolt cutter easily accessible for cutting hooks.  You will also need a hook out tool.   Tools can be expensive – tie a lanyard with clip to each tool and attach it to you net in order to prevent loss.

4. CAMERA- Have your camera ready for that photo of a lifetime, ensure that battery is charged and be sure to protect it during the cold weather from freezing. Take a release shot in the water.

5. When trolling at last light or night trolling, put a little glow tape around tip of your rod, when the light from your headlight or spot light shines on the tip you will be able see your rod action.

Feeding Habits and Diet of the Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy): a Review of Potential Impacts on Resident Biota

January 2016 – Report prepared by Steven J. Kerr for Muskies Canada Inc. and Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry

Executive Summary

The Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) is known as a voracious apex predator.  In instances where muskellunge are extending their range, either through intentional or inadvertent introduction and natural range extension, concerns have been identified about the potential negative impacts on resident fishes and aquatic biota.  This review has been conducted to assemble information on muskellunge predatory habits and diet as well as interspecific competition with other species.

Muskellunge prey on a wide variety of organisms but prefer other fishes.  Predation is based largely on whatever species in available at the preferred size.  There is a considerable amount of evidence to indicate that Muskellunge prefer soft-rayed fishes and the availability of soft-rayed prey cound determine the degree of predation on other species.

Generally, there a few definitive studies to quantify impacts (if any) of Muskellunge on other fish species.  There is very little evidence to indicate that Muskellunge have a significant negative impact on populations of other popular sport fish species including Walleye, Largemouth Bass and Smallmouth Bass.  In fact, there are numerous instances where these fish species successfully co-habit the same waterbody.  Since Muskellunge seldom occupy coldwater habitats, their interactions with coldwater fishes (i.e. salmonids and coregonids) are poorly understood.  This is an area which requires future study.

Potential negative impacts of Muskellunge on other fish species are probably related to the size of waterbody and the composition of the resident fish community.  Larger waterbodies and those waters having a diverse forage fish community seem to be relatively unaffected by the presence of Muskellunge.  The presence/abundance of soft-rayed fish species likely reduces the predation on other resident fish species.

Other fish species can have negative impacts on the Muskellunge.  Northern Pike are known to have a competitive advantage over Muskellunge where they coexist.  Young Muskellunge are also subject to predation by other fishes including Largemouth Bass, Yellow Perch, Rock Bass and Walleye.

Based on this literature review several recommendations are offered.  These are related to initiating more quantified studies to document impacts (if any) when Muskellunge are introduced or become established in new waters, utilizing  new state-of-the-art techniques to determine diets and predatory-prey relationships amongst a broader range of fish community types (including salmonids and species at risk), and developing efforts to improve the public perception of Muskellunge.

The full report is available by clicking the link below.

Feeding Habits and Diet of Muskellunge (Final)

 

 

The Lake Simcoe Muskellunge Restoration Project

Introduction

Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy; “muskie”) are native to Lake Simcoe and were once quite common.  Lake Simcoe had a commercial fishery for muskie in the 1800s, which closed in 1904.  The muskie population started to decline in the 1930s due to a number of factors, including harvest, habitat loss, and changes to the Lake Simcoe fish communities.  The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and forestry (MNRF) socked the lake with fry and fingerlings during 1936 0 1969.  The brood stock was taken from the Kawartha Lakes and this introduction proved unsuccessful, possibly because this strain was not able to co-exist with northern pike.   The recreational fishery for muskie on Lakes Simcoe and Couchiching closed in 2005.

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Brent Shirley from MNRF Midhurst District (left) and Wil Wegman from MNRF Aurora District with one of the muskie from Gloucester pool used for egg collections in the spring of 2015

By the early 2000s, a feasibility study and a habitat inventory determined that restoring the native muskie fishery to Lake Simcoe was a feasible fisheries management goal.  The study noted that efforts towards habitat restoration include broader benefits for the entire aquatic community.

Why Stock Muskie?

Muskie are a highly prized game fish.  They were once a significant member of the native fish community in Lake Simcoe and the goal is to make that happen once again.  The objective of the Lake Simcoe Muskellunge Restoration Project (LSMRP) is to re-establish a self-sustaining muskie population which does not rely on continuous stocking efforts.   To reach this objective, MNRF is stocking muskie to facilitate natural reproduction, evaluating the muskie population in Lake Simcoe through time, and enhancing muskie spawning and nursery habitats.  The Georgian Bay strain, which utilize similar spawning habitats and co-exist with northern pike, is seen to be a goo fit for Lake Simcoe stocking.  Although other populations around Lake Simcoe were tested for genetics, Gloucester Pool (near Port Severn) was the lake chosen as the most feasible source of Georgian Bay strain muskie for egg collections.

Muskie Stocking

The LSMRP began in 2005 and continues through to 2015 with support of key partners including Muskies Canada, Fleming College, Orillia Fish and Game Club and the Ontario Federation of anglers and Hunters.  During the fall of 2015, approximately 4,000 muskie were stocked; more than in any other year previously.  this brings the total number of young, hatchery-raised muskie fall fingerlings into Lake Simcoe through the LSMRP at 15,673.  Locations for the 2015 stocking included: Barnstable Bay, Talbot River, Talbot River mouth area, south side of Georgina Island, Cook’s Bay east and Cook’s Bay west.

Raising Muskie

Typically, there are two hatcheries where the fish are raised -= Fleming College in Lindsay and MNRF’s Blue Jay Creek on Manitoulin Island.  However, one of the key reasons we were able to stock more muskie in 2015 was the addition of MNRF’s Harwood Fish Culture Station.  Staff here offered to raise 700 surplus muskies (from Fleming College) and they did a great job raising these fish which contributed to the overall total stocked.  All three hatcheries experienced excellent success.  Muskie raised in these hatcheries are marked with Coded-Wire Tags.  If encountered during monitoring efforts, these Lake Simcoe muskie can be scanned with a device by MNRF staff that tells them if the muskie is stocked or or natural origin.  Genetic tests will also confirm their origin.

2015 Egg Collection

The spring eff collection on Gloucester Pool in 2015 was extremely successful.  Staff from MNRG’s Aurora and Midhurst Districts (both are responsible for managing Lake Simcoe) combined efforts once again to set six trap nets to capture muskie for the egg collection.  Staff captured 11 muskies and enough eggs were collected (~60,000 eggs) to fill both hatcheries to capacity.  All muskie captured in the nets are quickly sampled (measured, scales and spine taken for aging) and then tagged before they are carefully live released.

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Of course other species of fish are captured in the trap nets as well and staff record their numbers before they are live released. Below are the results of the bi-catch for both 2014 and 2015

Species 2014 2015
Yellow Perch 71 21
Rock Bass 77 199
Pumpkinseed Sunfish 221 239
Bluegill Sunfish 6 22
Black Crappie 198 210
Northern Pike 150 249
Longnosed Gar 4 57
Common Carp 2 8
Brown Bullhead 1,195 1,106
Channel Catfish 3 14
Smallmouth Bass 83 132
Largemouth Bass 115 216
Walleye 0 216
Round Goby 1 0
White Sucker 1 0
Northern Map Turtle 12 26
Stinkpot (Musk) Turtle 1 3
Bowfin 7 19
Total 2,050 2,509

Total 2,050 2,509

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Muskies Canada began an Adopt A Muskie Program in 2015 that allows donors to pledge $20.00 to help pay for the expenses of raising these your fish.

During the course of the year staff from all three hatcheries network regularly with one another, which helps maximize their efforts to raise healthy young muskie.  This year, Mark Newell, the manager of the Fleming Hatchery even developed a Facebook page set up for stakeholders and the public to follow the process in his hatchery of raising muskie from eggs to 7-12 inch fall fingerlings.  Muskies Canada began an Adopt A Muskie Program in 2015 that allows donors to pledge $20.00 to help pay for the expenses of raising these your fish. To learn how you can adopt your own muskie visit:  Adopt A Muskie

Notables

  • Over the years, lessons learned from the hatcheries help build a strong science-based approach to wild muskie rearing for the Province
  • Muskie eggs, feeder fish, and a small percentage of fingerlings are tested annually for diseases including Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS). Once again, all fish came back disease free in 2015
  • In November, 2011 the Lake Simcoe Muskie Restoration Project was selected as the winner of the Canadian Fishing Hall of Fame, Conservation Award

Lake Simcoe Muskie Monitoring

MNRF has several ongoing monitoring and habitat enhancement programs in place through Aurora District and Lake Simcoe Fisheries Assessment Unit.

Prior to 2014, 1998 was the last year MNRF caught and sampled a muskie on Lake Simcoe.  In the spring of 2014 however, MNRF utilized an electro-fishing boat to target historical known spawning areas and captured, sampled, tagged and released five muskie.  DNA testing afterwards proved these fish were of Kawartha lakes strain – not the stocked Georgian Bay strain.  These individual fish likely came through the Trent System but were obviously thriving in Simcoe.  During the spring of 2015, three additional muskie were caught electro-fishing, but these to were of Kawartha origin.

Over time, MNRF has documented some anecdotal evidence of the occasional muskie catch from anglers who inadvertently caught (and released) muskie when targeting other species.  For example in 2015, a bass angler in Cook’s Bay caught and released a muskie.  This location is on the opposite end of the lake from where the Kawartha Lakes strain muskie were sampled.  Between this sighting and others that have been reported, there is a possibility that this elusive fish of the Lake Simcoe or Georgian Bay strain could be surviving in Lake Simcoe one again.

In 2016 MNRF staff and partners look forward to another successful year for the Lake Simcoe Muskie Restoration Program. Until then a BIG thank you to all the organizations who have supported this project over the years:

• Muskies Canada

• Fleming College

• Orillia Fish and Game Club

• Twin Lakes Conservation Club

• Lafontaine Fish and Game Club

• North Simcoe Hunters and Anglers

• Georgian Bay Hunters and Anglers

• Georgian Bay Bassmasters

• Gloucester Pool Cottage Association

• The Sexsmith family

• Ontario Streams

• Toronto Region Conservation Authority

• Department of Fisheries and Oceans

• Aurora Bassmasters

• Environment Canada

• Wisconsin DNR

• Midhurst District (MNRF)

• Aurora District (MNRF)

• Upper Great Lakes Management Unit (MNRF)

• MNRF Fish Policy Section

• Blue Jay Creek Fish Hatchery (MNRF)

• Harwood Fish Culture Station (MNRF)

• Lake Simcoe Fisheries Assessment Unit (MNRF)

• …AND OTHERS!

Muskie Fishing Changes Us (For The Better)

As I look back on 2015, it’s been a wonderful experience for me. I am grateful for the opportunity to have visited most of our Muskies Canada chapters and have been to many outings and events. There’s something special about Muskie People. They’re welcoming, generous, sincere and helpful no matter what chapter you go to. Why are Muskie People so special? I think Muskie Fishing teaches us some values that make us better people.

There’s something special about Muskie People.

Patience: You don’t stay with Muskie fishing if you’re not patient. The very act of casting or trolling often for long hours without result demands self-discipline and finally rewards patience with well-earned success.

Persistence: This goes together with patience. If you’re give up too easily, you might leave a productive spot too soon, or end your day early, just as those twilight fish are getting ready. If you stick with it, you’re usually rewarded with something good. Muskie success rewards persistence.

Work Ethic: The unfortunate stereotype of anglers is wiling away a lazy afternoon in a boat, beer in hand, with fish practically jumping in the boat. This is sure not the case with Muskie Fishing. How often do we come home after long hours of hard work, casting until our muscles ache, exhausted. Muskie fishing is very hard work. By the end of the season we’re inevitably in better physical shape thanks to all the exercise we get. Our willingness to work hard is what leads to angling success in the Muskie World. It’s not surprising that the best fishermen are usually the hardest workers.

Trust: We’re a “catch-and release” organization so we trust each other and don’t go to great lengths to require proof of your catch. This is a rewarding application of the honor system that calls out the best in us. Sure we joke around and tease each other, but what makes our club and its activities and outings work is trust.

Humility: if you have a big ego, Muskie fishing will humble you at times. Just when you think you have it all figured out, you’ll lose a big one, or go through a dry spell when nothing is working. It happens to all of us and keeps us all a bit more humble.

Compassion and Caring: It’s hard not to be moved by the sight of a big beautiful fish swimming away for another day. Seeing these big, charismatic mega-fauna inspires awe and appreciation for these special beasts, just like spotting an eagle or seeing a grizzly in the wild. Each is a rare top predator that has an important place in the bigger ecosystem. We like to see them go back after we’ve brought them in. We handle and release our fish because we care. We care because they inspire us with their majesty.

Seeing a big beautiful Canadian Muskie makes us grateful for how fortunate we are to have this wonderful resource around us.

Gratitude: The possibility of catching Muskies is such a privilege it teaches us gratitude. The more often we see and catch Muskies, the more we appreciate how fortunate we are. These great fish are not available everywhere. Our fish are wild fish, not stocked, which is even more special. Seeing a big beautiful Canadian Muskie makes us grateful for how fortunate we are to have this wonderful resource around us.

Stewardship: As Muskie People, because we care about Muskies, we are inspired to look after them. We know that they are rare and that their future totally depends on their ability to reproduce, naturally. Beyond minimizing our own angling impact on these fish, we worry about water quality, invasive species, loss of breeding and nursery habitat, dangers to young-of-the-year, water-level fluctuations, poaching and a host of other issues that might undermine the conditions needed for natural reproduction and re-population. These threats call on us to become more active as stewards, not only of individual fish that we may be fortunate enough to catch, but also of the lakes and rivers that are the aquatic ecosystems that these great fish depend upon. We only see an apex predator like Muskie at the top of the food chain if the whole system is healthy at every level. We work as best we can as stewards.

As a Muskie fisherman I have learned many things. These values may be the best part of what I’ve learned.

Peter Levick

President, Muskies Canada

Did You Know

Muskies Canada Release Journal – March April 2006

Sunny Afternoon: Many times during the summer, you find yourself fishing between the hours of 11 am and 3 pm in prime afternoon sunshine and boating traffic.  On busy water these can be less than prime times.  Even though this is summer, your energy and a muskie’s energy is rather high, you’d think fast presentations.  Under these circumstances, contrary to some views, this is time to slow down.  Focus on heavy cover type spots (heavy weeds, docks, shady rock areas).  The key is to work the selected spot with lots of casts.  It’s also wise to throw 2 or 3 different lure presentations at the spot.  Trollers can also apply this advice by slowing down and thoroughly reworking high percentage break lines etc…

Short line trolling

By John Anderson

Catching a fish trolling at 5.8 mph with 4 feet of line out off the corner of your boat is one of those things that you just have to see before you can believe it. I didn’t start trolling short lines seriously until the early 90’s. Last year, it became a game of seeing how short I could go. 12 inches of line off the end of the rod to a 12 inch leader was the answer.

If you don’t short line troll, you’re missing out on what is one of the most powerful learned behaviours in modern musky fishing.

It has taken many years and many varied experiences to understand why this technique is so effective for catching big fish in most conditions, and at almost any time of the year. If you don’t short line troll, you’re missing out on what is one of the most powerful learned behaviours in modern musky fishing. Man has taught the muskellunge to feed off of boat motors and boats.

How Muskies Learn About Boats

Consider the learning curve of a musky as it progressively relates to a boat and motor in its’ environment. Increasingly there are more and more boats on the musky waters we love and in many cases there is high boat traffic already. Muskies see a lot of boats and they adjust to them as simply a natural part of their environment. Initially, a boat is something to fear. It’s big, loud, aggressive, and often random in its movements. This is the perception of a baby goliath in her formative years.

The second benchmark in this learning curve is when the musky comes to the realization that a boat and motor never comes to attack it and thus it is not something to fear, merely something to avoid.

The author (left) and a guest with his first ever musky
The author (left) and a guest with his first ever musky

The third realization of a juvenile musky is that when a boat comes, most other fish scatter. Schools of baitfish break up and every fish’s attention is drawn to the boat. They are now distracted, even separated from the herd and vulnerable to attack. Meals can be had when a boat goes by.

 

It fears nothing and nothing attacks it.

The fourth and final step in this learning cycle is that a boat represents an opportunity to feed. When a musky reaches 34 to 36 inches in length, or about 6 years in age, it is ready to spawn for the first time. I believe that this is a point in the muskies development where it begins to grow its ego and attitude. It is now the queen or king of its domain. It fears nothing and nothing attacks it. The understanding of its position in the hierarchy of fish is clear; I am the biggest, baddest, fastest creature in the water and I rule it. A passing boat is now an opportunity to hunt.

The first time I perched high on the bow of a boat and searched for muskies was an amazing learning experience. It was on Pigeon Lake at a Can/Am event. Pigeon Lake has a lot of eager muskies and clear water and in the early morning hours, on a glass surface that shadowed beautiful thick weed flats, I began to search. To do this successfully you should have a set of great polarized lenses, your MCI hat, and a hood to dampen as much light as possible around your eyes. You should also talk with your driver and cover the safety issues in the event you fall in.

To my amazement, it did not take long to spot the first of many shiny emerald green beauties. This fish and a number of others turned off the side of the boat and moved out of the way at varying speeds and angles. Some moved quickly, others slowly and only a short distance. After about 20 minutes, I came across the first 4 foot class fish to enter my field of vision. Instead of peeling off into the weeds, this experienced warrior princess slowly descended to the bottom in 8 feet of water. She had seen this routine a thousand times and knew exactly what was going to happen. She rested comfortably as the motor passed directly over her head. I saw this process repeated many times over the next couple of days. Left: the author (left) and a guest with his first ever musky. 6 RELEASE JOURNAL

Jim McGlaughlin’s Just Fishing magazine had a great behavioural article written by a musky addict who has chased fish for a lifetime in Northern Ontario, Minnesota, and Wisconsin among other places, and has done so with a camera mounted underwater and off the side of his boat. One of his stories I remember was how daily he would have muskies come right up to his kicker motor to investigate. By now most of you have heard of a musky attacking an electric motor prop in the water as well. Stories like these tell you that muskies are curious by nature and are clearly not wary of your boat or your presence at least some of the time.

Have you ever trolled a bait off the corner of your boat and kept a vigilant eye on it for a long time? As I guide I have had a number of guests watch a prop wash lure short lined off the side of the boat for hours. I can recall one day where we did not catch a fish for several hours on an afternoon session of trolling but my guest got very excited 6 times over a musky coming right up to the visible bait but not eating it. Feedback like this tells you that you indeed have active fish in the zone you are hunting and you have a presentation problem. Adjust your speed, your lure colour, or your lure until you find what they actually will hit. In this case a colour change made all the difference for us.

Why it Works

Here is the answer to why short line trolling is such an effective technique for catching big muskies. Aside from disturbing the fish the boat comes in contact with and creating a ruckus of bubbles and wake with a big motor, I believe it comes down to the decision time you give a musky to eat your presentation eat it now, yes or no. Reaction strikes work well when you are casting and is evidenced when your lure hits the water and is immediately eaten. You startled the fish and instead of running away like most fish the queen of the water kills what startled her or at least gives it enough of a warning nip to find hooks. You don’t give the fish a chance to hone in on a presentation like it has when you long line. There is no ‘good look’ for the fish and limited chance to follow and inspect the potential meal or to use their keen sense of smell to decide if this is real. Yes or no – right now!

In the 70s and 80s nearly all the muskies I boated trolling were on long lines. It wasn’t until I started fishing Rob Dey and River Rat spinnerbaits in the early 90s that I had regular success on what I considered to be short lines at that time. We’re talking about 15′ to 20′. There were a number of people in Eastern Ontario who were pioneers in the technique and these distances still work great today.

Season opener muskie caught in eight feet of water
Season opener muskie caught in eight feet of water

This was considered a great early season and summer pattern around here, especially when the temperature climbed to 60 degrees (yup, I’m old and I still use Fahrenheit to talk musky temperatures), which was  somewhere around July 1st .

Learning to take advantage of shorter and shorter lines was a natural progression with this trolling technique. I can remember fishing with one partner back in the day who always made sure his line was the shortest distance from the boat, especially when we trolled spinnerbaits. If I let out 15 feet of line he would let out 12 and if I went to 11 he would go to 9. The thought here is that aggressive muskies would hit the first bait they saw and there is definitely some truth to this. A common short line distance now for me is 5 or 6 feet trolled right off the corner of the boat.

The How

Here are some tips for short lining: Ideally this works best for me in shallower water around cover. This is not cut in stone as I have caught fish in open water at 30 or 40 feet on short lines as well but since muskies are by nature sight feeders and an ambush predator they tend to sit in spots with cover where they can burst out at prey wondering into their vantage point. If you know of ‘spots on spots’, or very small areas that often hold a musky this would be a perfect location to short line.

When you see fish while casting an area or you otherwise know there are fish in an area but you cannot seal the deal. Remember, don’t tell the fish how you want to catch them.

Doug's short lined November monster muskie.
Doug’s short lined November monster muskie.

Change your presentation until you find what works when you are sure there are fish there. I have often cast a spot for as long as an hour and then scored on the first pass of the same areas with a short line troll.

Adjusting the tilt of your motor changes the sound, the bubble trail behind you, and the waves your boat sends out in its’ wake. Subtle changes like this can be a key to turning finicky muskies into picture fish.

As noted earlier, watching your baits can give you big feedback on whether the fish are interested in your short line presentations or not and whether you need to tinker with bait size, colour, or speed. Jake Satonica, the creator of both the Jake and the Grandma lures never trolls anywhere without a 13-inch musky coloured bait in the propwash. Personally I tend to short line with very bright colours that wouldn’t be described as ‘natural patterns’. Rod positioning in the rod holder can be a key and offers different lure depth presentation options right close to your boat. Keeping a rod tip high off the side of the boat can let you run your bait just slightly sub surface with makes it easy to see. Putting your rod tip 2 feet under the water can let you run a crank bait or diving bait down 5 feet with a very short line and close to the bottom or heavy cover in shallow water.

Drag setting is critical here. I am a believer in tight drags to get a solid hookset on the take immediately. With short lines however one must account for the weight and strength of a monster fish and ensure it is able to peel 30 feet of line away easily. Too tight of a drag setting can rip a slice in the fishes upper jaw which is bad for both you and the musky.

When your short line goes off you now have a very green fish close to the boat and no doubt you have other lines in  the water too. Ensure that there is a path for your short line fish to run straight back from the boat as it will initially do that won’t catch on another line in the water.

To sum up this trolling technique, I would say that if you are not short line trolling then you are truly missing out on a pattern that fools the big girls as much or more than any other way that you could drag a bait. Try it out because seeing is believing and many days the short line pattern will outfish all the other lines off your boat combined.

John Anderson

www.ottawarivermuskyfactory.com 

Know The Difference

Know The Difference (KTD) is part of Muskies Canadas educational outreach program – designed to help inform fishermen of the difference between Pike and Muskie.  Size limits and season open and close dates vary depending on the species so it is important to be able to distinguish between the two.
Check provincial regulations for size limits and open seasons for your fishing zone:
Ontario    Quebec

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Habitat Restoration – Jock River

Jock River Fish Habitat Embayment Creation Project

The Jock River is the largest tributary of the Rideau system and is habitat for Muskies. The challenge for rivers and streams in urban areas is that they become built-up, straightened out and the shorelines are degraded through development pressure. Our partner, the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority owns land on the Jock in the Village of Richmond which is used as a conservation area and access to the river. There is a natural ditch on the site which floods in the spring and then dries up when the water levels go back to normal. This is a problem for spawning Muskies in the river.

RVCA together with a group of partners has created a new fish embayment on their site which will greatly enhance spawning and nursery habitat for our favourite fish. The Ottawa chapter, investing and working through our new Muskies Canada Foundation, has put $5000 into this important project. Two other fishing organizations also contributed and we were successful in leveraging that and received a major federal grant under the Recreational Fisheries Conservation Partnership Program.

Digging out the Embayment
Digging out the Embayment

This project has created 1000 square meters of new spawning habitat and 100 meters of new re-naturalized shoreline. 102 truckloads of fill were removed to dig out the embayment to the appropriate depth to support year-round use. Trees and stumps were added to create more complex underwater structure, shelter for small fish and fry. The wood is also important for Muskies to spawn effectively. The embayment has been designed and built to help support a diversity of insects and fish which are part of what’s necessary for truly good habitat for young Muskies.

Rolling out the matting to stabilize the new shoreline
Rolling out the matting to stabilize the new shoreline
Planting native plants and shrubs on the future shore
Planting native plants and shrubs on the future shore
Putting in structure (trees and stumps) to enhance the habitat for small fry
Putting in structure (trees and stumps) to enhance the habitat for small fry

Part of our contribution was in volunteer support. It was very rewarding to go to the site when the work was underway and assist with preparing and replanting the new shoreline(see photos). It was a great feeling after our work to watch the dyke being breached to let the river flow into the new embayment. It was like the feeling you get when you release a Muskie, knowing that you’ve done something good that will support future sustainability for those fish we care so much about.

Brewer Pond Rehabilitation Project

Enhancing Muskie Habitat in Ottawa:

This fall, we’ve been preparing better breeding sites for our Muskies. The Ottawa Chapter of Muskies Canada has partnered with the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority (RVCA) to create two new breeding and nursery areas. The shovels and dump trucks have been busy re-working the landscape of the Rideau and Jock Rivers. This will offset lost habitat and enhance the shoreline to be better for Muskellunge.

Brewer Park Pond Restoration Project: 

Brewer Pond
Brewer Pond before restoration project

Back in the ‘60s, a swimming pond was created on the shores of the Rideau River in downtown Ottawa. This pond never worked very well for swimming and became an algae pit and fish trap. It would flood in the spring and gradually de-oxygenate over the summer. It had no natural connection with the river.

The federal Fisheries Act required that developers damaging fish habitat in their projects must offset that damage with a “make-good” initiative of equivalent size in the same region. Two developers, Richcraft and Minto are required to install storm water retention ponds in proposed development sites elsewhere in Ottawa, which will affect a creek. Their “ make-good”  is to fund this project, which will ultimately cost about $1 million. RVCA is the authority for the Rideau River and administered this “make-good” consideration to allow the Brewer Park Pond to be re-connected with the river. While this seems very logical, it was a complex and challenging project that took almost two decades to make happen.

Ottawa Chapter member Hedrik Wachelka was tireless in his work on this initiative. Slowly, after many years, countless meetings and a few near successes and setbacks, Hedrik was able to see his project get underway this fall.

Once the project is completed, monitoring will be very important to see if the fish will use this new feature. Every spring this is a fast-flowing part of the Rideau River with high water levels. The site constraints required a deep-water connection between river and the new pond, which will be achieved with a big culvert. This approach is very innovative but there are no real precedents to help us know how fish will use this new structure. There is a concern among several of the partners, including Muskies Canada and Carleton that this connection may inhibit Muskies from using the culvert to move in and out.

Calvert that will re-connect the pond to the main river
Culvert that will re-connect the pond to the main river

The Ottawa Chapter, with help from the Becker Foundation, is working with Carleton University to monitor Esox movement in the general area of the project. We need to see if Muskies will use this new wetland feature. The chapter has purchased the tags and has helped with the electrofishing and tagging process, as well as the ongoing monitoring. 20 Pike and 20 Muskies have been tagged and are being monitored. The work on this began last year and will need to be ongoing for the next two years. Due to project delays there may be a need to re-tag fish to ensure that the research can be completed post construction.

Heavy equipment
Heavy equipment digging out the pond

Heavy equipment has been working to dig out the new pond. This is an enormous task because the old pond was 1.5 meters higher than the mean river level. The excavation work is removing hundreds of truckloads of earth to dig the pond down deep enough to allow a connection that will not only re-connect with the river but that won’t freeze in the winter. The top layer of mud that was rich in aquatic plant seeds is being replaced when the pond is fully excavated to help aquatic vegetation regenerate quickly next spring.

Sub-surface structure (tree stumps and log piles) will enhance this nursery habitat for small fish. To make it work for Muskies, we need to also ensure there is a full range of aquatic insects and other small fish which hatchling Muskies will be able to feed on as they start to grow.

Sub-surface structure used to enhance the habitat
Sub-surface structure used to enhance the habitat
Brewer Pond Site Plan
Brewer Pond Site Plan

This is an innovative and exciting project. The Ottawa chapter is grateful for the support of partners RVCA, Richcraft, Minto, Carleton U., Ministry of Natural Resources, DFO, City of Ottawa, and the Ottawa South Community Association.

Together we have finally done it!