Québec Muskellunge : Two centuries of fishing and management history

Gustave Provost, directeur de la station piscicole de Lachine en 1962. Gustave Prévost, director of the Muskellunge hatchery in 1962. Crédit : MFFP.

Anne Carrier ¹ ², Philippe Brodeur³, Daniel Hatin⁴ and Louis Bernatchez¹
¹Département de biologie, Institut de Biologie Intégrative et des Systèmes (IBIS), Université Laval, G1V 0A6, Québec, Canada
²Département de Techniques du milieu naturel, Centre d’études collégiales à Chibougamau, Cégep de Saint-Félicien, Chibougamau, G8P 2E9, Canada
³Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs, Direction de la gestion de la faune de la Mauricie et du Centre-du-Québec, 100, rue Laviolette, bureau 207, Trois-Rivières, G9A 5S9, Canada
⁴Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs, Direction de la gestion de la faune de l’Estrie-Montréal- Montérégie-Laval, 201, Place Charles-LeMoyne, Longueuil, Québec, J4K 2T5, Canada

Muskellunge is one of the most mythical and impressive fish species. Over the past two centuries, biologists and Muskellunge anglers have documented many fascinating aspects of its biology. For example, it’s impressive size (Bernatchez and Giroux 2012), its unusual migration abilities (Kerr and Jones 2017) and even its surprising reproductive behavior (Crossman 1990, Jennings et al. 2011). The history regarding Muskellunge is fascinating, as evidenced by the origin of its name and the history of its management, which reveal the particular importance of Muskellunge in Québec.

This article is a non-exhaustive historical overview of some of the most important aspects of Muskellunge management in Québec. It includes some historical references regarding the nomenclature and taxonomy of Muskellunge, its original and contemporary spatial distribution and the stocking history. This article reports the work done as part of a Master’s thesis, which first aimed at gathering available historical information that would support the interpretation of genetic data on Muskellunge in Québec waters (see article of Rougemont et al. in this issue).

Taxonomy and Québec folklore

As early as the colonization time of New France, documents from the Société Provancher mentions that the first viceroy of France, Sieur Jean-François La Rocque de Roberval, used the basin of the Maskinongé River as his fishing territory. At the time, Muskellunge was a well-known species as evidenced by the multiple presumed Amerindian roots of its name, which meant big pike, ugly pike or spotted pike (Crossman 1986, MacCaughey 1917). Gradually, these appellations have derived to become « long mask » or « elongated mask » in Québec French. Today, the two generally accepted names are « maskinongé » in Canada and « Muskellunge » in the United States, but there are between 40 and 94 common names in French only (see Mellen 1917, Chambers 1923, Weed 1927 and Crossman 1986 for an exhaustive inventory of the different names and their origin). As mentioned by Crossman (1986), probably no other fish has, in a single language, as many forms or spelling of its common name. According to Weed (1927), the number of its common names is a fairly reliable index of the extent to which a fish attracts attention. This partly explains this diverse nomenclature, but as Mongeau (1976) points out, this taxonomic confusion also certainly comes from its great resemblance to the Northern pike (Esox lucius) and the fact that it has been recognized quite lately as a different species from his cousin.

Commercial fishing and natural distribution in the 19th century

Since the nomenclature of the species was highly variable until the beginning of the 20th century, it is very difficult to interpret observations regarding the Muskellunge distribution until the 1900s. In the 19th century, Muskellunge was highly prised by native and non-native anglers and, because of the quality of its flesh and its imposing size, it contributed to a significant commercial fishery in Québec. Although today the opinions are mixed about the taste of the Muskellunge flesh, the naturalist Constantine Rafinesque mentioned in 1818 that « it is one of the best fish (…) its flesh is very delicate and divides easily like salmon, in large white patches like snow » (MacCaughey 1917). According to historical records of the Canadian fisheries management authorities (Crossman 1986), nearly 2.9 million pounds, representing approximately 192 535 Muskellunge, were harvested by the commercial fishery in Québec from 1868 to 1936. Interestingly, commercial catches of Muskellunge in the waters of the Montréal area accounted for 90 % of the landings of this species throughout the province (Fry et al. 1942). Muskellunge commercial fishing ceased in 1936.

The historical texts suggest that native Muskellunge was found only in southern Québec, even if its northern and southern distribution limits are only very slightly defined. Its distribution was likely limited to the waters of the St. Lawrence River watershed and some of its tributaries from the Ottawa River to Québec City (Small 1883, Dymond 1939, Vézina 1977). According to information available at the end of the 19th century, native Muskellunge was found from the southern border of the province (including the Champlain Lake and the Richelieu River watersheds) to Northwest of Outaouais, Laurentides, Lanaudière, and Mauricie regions (Dymond 1939). Specifically, Dymond (1939), Small (1883), Halkett (1906 and 1907), and Montpetit (1897) report that Muskellunge was present (1) in the Rideau River north of Merrickville (Outaouais, Québec), (2) in the Ottawa River south of Rapides des Joachim (MRC de Pontiac, Outaouais, Québec), south of the Petawawa River and up to Travers Lake (Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario), and (3) in several lakes connected to the Gatineau and du Lièvre Rivers, including Gilmour, Donaldson, and Plumbago Lakes (MRC Collines-de-l’Outaouais, Outaouais, Québec). In addition, some isolated populations were discovered in 1968 after the dismantling of private fishing clubs in the Mauricie region, specifically in the des Envies River watershed, which is a tributary of the Batiscan River, where the Traverse Lake (Potvin 1973, Pageau et al. 1978) analyzed in the study of Rougemont et al. (see article in this issue) is located. Finally, according to the interpretation of Fry et al. (1942), quoted by Robitaille and Cotton (1992), the most important native population in Québec would have been in Lake St-Louis, a fluvial lake of the St. Lawrence River.

Active management period

Stocking

Gustave Provost, directeur de la station piscicole de Lachine en 1962. Gustave Prévost, director of the Muskellunge hatchery in 1962. Crédit : MFFP.
Gustave Prévost, director of the Muskellunge hatchery in 1962. Credit : MFFP.

Muskellunge has been one of the most stocked fish species in Québec (Dumont 1991). Prior to 1950, few Muskellunge stocking in Québec were recorded in the literature (MacCaughey 1917, Dymond 1939, Small 1883, Halkett 1906 and 1907). At the end of the first half of the 20th century, a significant decline of Muskellunge populations in the waters of the St. Lawrence River and of the Montréal Archipelago, associated with overfishing and habitat loss, raised worries and questions. Therefore, the wildlife management authorities undertook a major restoration project which included the construction of the very first Muskellunge hatchery facility in Lachine (borough of Montréal city, Québec) (Pictures 1 to 3), as well as the development of a local expertise on esocids breeding (Vezina 1977). In 1950, these actions led to the beginning of stocking, which were adapted to contemporary knowledge in 1985. Muskellunge stocking continued until 1997. During the same period, the species was also introduced, with or without success, in more than 80 Québec water bodies in order to create new opportunities and enhance existing Muskellunge populations (Vézina 1977, Dumont 1991, Vincent and Legendre 1974, Brodeur et al. 2013, de la Fontaine, Y. unpublished). In a few rare cases, Muskellunge introduction has been used in an attempt to control competing species in brook trout lakes. Introducing a top-predator into the food chain obviously had an impact on the fish communities.

Photo 2 - Muskellunge hatchery facility in Lachine (1950-1964). Credit : MFFP.
Photo 2 – Muskellunge hatchery facility in Lachine (1950-1964). Credit : MFFP.

Muskellunge farming began in Québec at the Lachine hatchery in 1950. Due to water supply problems, breeding was transferred to the Baldwin Mills hatchery in 1964 (now known as the Baldwin-Coaticook provincial hatchery) (Dumont 1991). Following unsuccessful attempts to breed Muskellunge from several local lakes such as Lake des Deux-Montagnes (Montréal area) and the Gilmour, Donaldson, and Plumbago Lakes (Outaouais) (MPC 1961, Vezina 1977, Crossman and Goodchild 1978), embrocated eggs were imported from the Bemus Point hatchery (New York, USA) and, to a lesser extent, from the Deer Lake hatchery (Ontario, Canada) to start production (Kerr 2001, Dufour and Paulhus 1977, Christopher Wilson and Christopher Legard, personal communication). Muskellunge from both hatcheries originated respectively from the Chautauqua Lake (New York, USA) and from Stony Lake, Buckhorn Lake, and from the Crowe River, these three last water bodies being part of the Kawartha Lakes system in Ontario. According to the information we gathered, it appears that all the lakes used by these hatcheries have also been stocked with an unknown Muskellunge source to support their respective fishery (Christopher Wilson and Christopher Legard, personal communication). Both of these hatcheries, as well as the one of Lachine, are no longer in operation.

Photo 3 - Muskellunge transport from the Lachine hatchery. Credit : MFFP
Photo 3 – Muskellunge transport from the Lachine hatchery. Credit : MFFP

From 1965 to 1986, Joseph Lake (Centre-du-Québec, Québec) was used as a broodstock source to supply the Baldwin Mills hatchery (Dumont 1991). Subsequently, from 1986 to 1997, Lake Tremblant (Laurentides, Québec) was used as the source population. Muskellunge was originally introduced in both lakes from the American or Ontarian sources (see Figure 1 – simplified stocking history in Québec). The results of the genetic study confirmed that the American source was the most likely for both lakes.

Stocking, carried out over several decades in the Montréal area, has been effective in improving the stock status and maintaining the Muskellunge sport fishery. In fact, an analysis of Muskellunge recruitment measured from 1962 to 1977 revealed that 55 % of the annual abundance of young Muskellunge could be explained by the number of yearly stocked individuals and the abundance of young Muskellunge stocked the previous year (cannibalism
and/or competition effects) (Dumont 1991). In 1998, the improvement of the Muskellunge population structure, distributed over a long time period, and the presence of natural recruitment justified the end of stocking (Cloutier 1987, Dumont 1991). Since then, no Muskellunge stocking has been done in Québec.

Figure 1 - Simplified representation of stocking in the St. Lawrence River and some inland lakes of Québec. Arrows represent stocking events from the different source populations. Full arrows show clear mentions of stocking, while the dotted arrows reflect anecdotal mentions.
Figure 1 – Simplified representation of stocking in the St. Lawrence River and some inland lakes of Québec. Arrows represent stocking events from the different source populations. Full arrows show clear mentions of stocking, while the dotted arrows reflect anecdotal mentions.

Integrating collaborative science to Muskellunge management

In parallel to the management actions undertaken by the Québec government, a general reflection on fishing practices and a growing interest in the conservation of a high quality fishery focusing on trophy-size specimens emerged, leading to the creation of Muskies Canada (Wachelka 2008a,b,c) and to the beginning of a long collaboration between muskies anglers and the Québec wildlife management authorities. Muskellunge is not vulnerable to capture by the scientific fishing gears used to monitor fish communities in the St. Lawrence River. Monitoring the sport harvest of Muskellunge through angling surveys is therefore an excellent alternative to contribute to its management and to allow evaluation of the effectiveness of the management measures.

To evaluate the status of Muskellunge stocks, a study was conducted in the 1990s in collaboration with the Montréal chapter of Muskies Canada. From 1994 to 1997, five anglers tagged and released 808 Muskellunge, mainly in the Montréal area. The results showed that a few hours of fishing were enough to catch a Muskellunge, whereas in the 1970s, an experienced angler needed approximately 100 hours of fishing to catch a single specimen. After three years of survey, 88 tagged fish were recaptured by anglers, which corresponded to a recapture rate of 11 %, considered relatively low and indicative of a total Muskellunge abundance of several thousands of specimens (Pierre Dumont, personal communication) The gradual increase in the extent of the Muskellunge size structure suggested by the fishing surveys and the presence of a natural production of young Muskellunge justified the cessation of stocking in 1998 (Dumont 1991).

To update the data on the Muskellunge fishery in the St. Lawrence River (from Lake Saint-François to Lake Saint-Pierre) and in Lake des Deux-Montagnes, a second survey was conducted from 2010 to 2013, more than a decade after stocking ended. This second study was conducted with the invaluable collaboration of three professional anglers recognized in Québec, Mr. Marc Thorpe, Mr. Mike Lazarus and Mr. Michael Phillips. A total of 2 569 Muskellunge were captured, of which 2 162 were tagged by three volunteer anglers. Of these tagged fish, 108 were recaptured. The order of magnitude of recapture rates was low in all studied sectors (3.7 % to 4.8 %). Compared to the study carried out in the Montréal area from 1994 to 1997, the recapture rate reported from 2010 to 2013 was twice lower (4.8 % compared to 11 %). Since the recapture rate is generally inversely proportional to the total abundance of a population, this result suggests that the abundance of Muskellunge in the Montréal area has increased since the stocking ended, at least for medium to high size fish, targeted by anglers.

According to archived data from 1918 to 1927, 19 % of Muskellunge caught in Lake Saint-Louis exceeded the legal minimum size of 44 inches (Figure 2). In 1973, this proportion was of 16 % and then increased to almost 50 % in the late 1990s and to 54 % during the 2010-2013 period. This improvement over several decades can be explained by stocking, combined with the enforcement of a minimum legal size of 38 inches in 1986, which has been increased to 44 inches in 1998 (Figure 2). Because of the presence of large specimens, the waters of the St. Lawrence River and of Lake des Deux-Montagnes are now identified as sites of great interest for Muskellunge anglers. In the section of the St. Lawrence River between Montréal and Lake Saint-Pierre, the low abundance of young specimens smaller than 35 inches in the Muskellunge sport harvest suggests a lower recruitment, compared to Lake Saint-Louis and Lake des Deux-Montagnes (Figure 3). This result justified the realization of a study conducted by the ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs (MFFP) and its numerous partners that aims to identify the essential habitats of the species by using telemetry
(see the article of Brodeur et al. in this issue).

Figure 2 - Historical comparisons of the proportion of fish larger than 44 inches caught by sport fishing on Lake St-Louis. The year of introduction of minimum sizes to 38 inches in 1986, increased to 44 inches in 1998, is also represented.
Figure 2 – Historical comparisons of the proportion of fish larger than 44 inches caught by sport fishing on Lake St-Louis. The year of introduction of minimum sizes to 38 inches in 1986, increased to 44 inches in 1998, is also represented.

The most recent fishery survey has generated some preliminary knowledge about Muskellunge migration. Thus, between 2010 and 2013, the majority of marked individuals (95 %) recaptured by the sport fishery within six months after tagging or one to two years after, were in the same body of water where they had been tagged. The distances measured between specimens capture and recapture were generally less than a few kilometers, both on a one year scale and between years (72.7 % and 58.1 % of recaptures within 5 km from the tagging location, respectively). This result suggests that, although Muskellunge can travel long distances, particularly during the breeding season, a large proportion of individuals return to specific areas corresponding generally to large vegetation beds favorable to feeding. This result demonstrates the importance of preserving and restoring the submerged aquatic vegetation beds of the St. Lawrence River. However, large-scale movements between the various sectors of the river have been observed between Lake Saint-Pierre and the Montréal-Sorel section, with distances of up to 58 km. This result was recently corroborated by the preliminary results of the telemetry study, which shows that a certain proportion of the Muskellunge tagged at Lake Saint-Pierre migrate upstream during the feeding season (see article by Brodeur et al. in this issue). These observations of large scale movements also corroborate the connectivity existing throughout the St. Lawrence River system revealed by genetic analyses.

Figure 3 - Size structure of Muskellunge caught by sport fishing during the 2010- 2013 period in the St. Lawrence River watersheds (LDM: Lake des DeuxMontagnes, LSF: Lake Saint-François, LSL: Lake Saint-Louis, MS: stretch between Montréal and Sorel, LSP: Lake Saint-Pierre). The proportion of fish greater than or equal to 44 inches, 36 to 43 inches and 35 inches or less is shown.
Figure 3 – Size structure of Muskellunge caught by sport fishing during the 2010- 2013 period in the St. Lawrence River watersheds (LDM: Lake des Deux-Montagnes, LSF: Lake Saint-François, LSL: Lake Saint-Louis, MS: stretch between Montréal and Sorel, LSP: Lake Saint-Pierre). The proportion of fish greater than or equal to 44 inches, 36 to 43 inches and 35 inches or less is shown.

Future perspectives

To maintain the trophy status of the species, which can maintain and improve the quality of the Muskellunge fishery, a regular review of the stock status and management is required. Since 2010, a study aiming at gathering new knowledge on several aspects of Muskellunge biology has been conducted by the MFFP and its numerous partners. This vast study will contribute to Muskellunge management in Québec. To date, this initiative has led to a retrospective of historical management, reported in this article, to a genetic analysis of Muskellunge populations (see article by Rougemont et al. in this issue), and to a study aiming to identify essential Muskellunge habitats between Montréal and Lake Saint-Pierre. Some anglers report a recent decline in the quality of the Muskellunge fishery in some inland water bodies of Québec, which remains to be measured. Muskellunge studies based on angling surveys have thus been underway for some years in the Maskinongé Lake and the Ottawa River (see Deschesnes in this issue).

Acknowledgements

We thank the following people for their valuable collaboration. We would like to acknowledge the involvement of the Muskellunge anglers who participated to the 2010-2013 angling survey: Marc Thorpe, Mike Lazarus, and Michael Phillips. Special thanks to Peter Levick (Muskies Canada), Chris Wilson (Aquatic Research and Monitoring Section, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry), and John Farrell (Department of Environmental and Forest Biology, State University of New York) who shared with us many information on Muskellunge management. Thanks to Christopher Legard (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation) and Christopher Wilson (Fish Culture Section, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry) for sharing the Chautauqua Lake and Deer Lake hatcheries history. Thanks to Steven Kerr (retired biologist, Fisheries Section, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources) for his invaluable advice and for sharing his knowledge on the history of Muskellunge management in Québec. Thanks to Shawn Good (Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department) and Jeffrey J. Loukmas (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation) for sharing management and stocking history of Champlain Lake. We also thank the Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et des pêcheurs, Ressources Aquatiques Québec and Muskies Inc. for their financial support. Funding was also provided by the ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs du Québec and by the Canada Research Chair in Genomics and Aquatic Resources Conservation.

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Helping Habitat : Bill C-68

I have been invited to write a regular column on conservation issues related to Muskies and their Habitat.  So my territory overlaps well with the range of Muskies in Canada.

A bit about me first, I work for Ducks Unlimited Canada as the Director of Regional Operations for Eastern Canada.  This means I oversee DUC’s conservation work east of Manitoba. So my territory overlaps well with the range of Muskies in Canada.  I have been a member of Muskies Canada for three years and am yet to catch my first Muskie.  I hope the 2018 is my year. 

I worked with Peter Levick, then president of Muskies Canada to develop a Memorandum of Understanding between Muskies and DUC in 2015.  In this MOU we committed to ongoing collaboration to expand mutual habitat conservation projects that benefit Muskellunge and Waterfowl in eastern Canada.  Given our shared focus on habitat this was the quickest MOU that I have ever developed.  You will have seen in Chris Nielson’s Presidents message, that we are seeing good examples of working together.

Implications of proposed amendments to the Fisheries Act

One of the powerful tools supporting habitat conservation at scale is Federal or Provincial legislation or policy.  These government directions can have significant impacts on habitat and uses of habitat.  The federal fisheries act is a critical act that regulates activities related to fisheries and fish habitat.  As such, it is an important tool in conservation of habitat. 

The fisheries act underwent significant modernization and change in 2012.  Some of these changes reduced the extent of fish habitats protected across Canada.  The Federal government has introduced new amendments to the act (Bill C-68) that will have a significant impact on fish and fish habitat.  Some highlights include:

Before Proposed Amendments

After Proposed Amendments

Not all fish and fish habitat protected; only those related to a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fishery protected

Protection of all fish and fish habitat

Uncertainty as to when authorizations are required for development projects

 

Clarity on which types of projects require authorizations through permitting and codes of practice

 

Lack of transparency regarding authorization decisions for projects; no requirement to publicly release information on these decisions

 

Requirement to publicly release information on project decisions through an online registry

No provisions to restore degraded habitat as part of development project reviews

 

Provisions to consider restoration priorities as part of development project reviews

 

No tools to quickly implement in-season fisheries restrictions to address unforeseen conservation and management issues

 

Ability to put in place targeted short-term measures to quickly and effectively respond to unforeseen threats to the management of fisheries and to the conservation of fish

 

 These proposed amendments are important to Muskies Canada for several reasons.  First, the changes strengthen the protection of habitat for muskellunge throughout their lives.  In addition, the proposed amendments will make is easier to know and understand if future development projects are going to impact muskellunge habitat and how developer will compensate for these impacts.  The amendments are more explicit on compensation for destruction of fish habitat.  Muskies Canada has the opportunity to guide compensation for loss of muskellunge habitat.

The act is currently moving thru the parliamentary process and the government is considering the proposed amendments.   MP and Federal Ministers respond to comments from members of grass roots organizations like Muskies Canada.

So it is time to Take Action.

You can have a positive influence on getting Bill C-68 adopted by sending a letter, email or talking to your MP and/or Dominic LeBlanc the Federal Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.  The message is simple you support the positive changes to increase the protection of fish habitat being proposed in Bill C-68.

Here is the complete Bill-C68 submission.

Jock River Embayment Creation Project (2014 – 2016)

In October 2014, the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority (RCVA) constructed a fish habitat embayment at the Richmond conservation Area, located in Ottawa, Ontario. This project was done in partnership with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Shell Fueling Change, Muskies Canada Ottawa Chaper, National Defence Fish and Game Club, Community Foundation of Ottawa, Fendock and the Ottawa Flyfishers Society.

The project involved converting an existing grassed park area into a small wetland embayment along the shoreline of the Jock River. Raab Construction Ltd. was retained to help construct the new wetland and work couldn’t have been completed without the help of a group of dedicated volunteers.

A Spring Community tree planing day is planned for May 16th to complete the project.

For more information, contact:
Jennifer Lamoureux, Aquatic & Fish Habitat Biologist
Rideau Valley Conservation Authority
613-692-3571 ext. 1108
jennifer.lamoureux@rvca.ca
http://rvca.ca/brewerpark/index.html

2017 Lake Simcoe Muskie Restoration Program

The following weekly updates were sent to Muskies Canada and Orillia Fish and Game Club reps as well as some key MNRF staff, each week during the five week trapnetting program. Periodically additional information was provided (and included in the updates) by hatchery staff after the trapnetting and our egg collections efforts were finished.

Thank you for your support of the Lake Simcoe Muskie Restoration Program – Wil Wegman

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Read/download the full report by clicking the link below (PDF – 4.7 MB)
2017 Lake Simcoe Muskie Restoration Program – Combined Spring Trapnetting, Egg Collection and Hatchery Weekly Updates – Gloucester Pool and Georgian Bay-Port Severn
April 18 – June 30, 2017

Egg Collection – Week 7 Update

Week Seven Update: (June 6-10)

Wil Wegman
<°))))><
Resource Management Technician
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
Aurora District- 905-713-7730

The first full week of no trap netting on Gloucester Pool in search of muskies for an egg collection is now behind us and crews from Midhurst and Aurora went back to their busy routines with other field and office work.  Both Blue Jay Creek and Fleming Hatchery staff remained very busy as well doing their utmost to ensure each precious egg and newly hatched fry was getting the best care possible. Thankfully those big muskie-to-be, have the most dedicated hatchery staff imaginable to ensure their well-being.  In this week’s update we are fortunate to have two good week-ending reports – supplied from Paul Vieira at Blue Jay and Mark Newell, at Fleming.

Blue Jay Creek::

Egg survival was poor maybe due to the late spawning?

All of the Musky have hatched and fish are living off of their yolk sacs, feeding will start soon. They look like Balsam Fir needles.

Presently we have 40 fry from the Pointe Au Baril family

1200 fry from G Pool family

 

Paul M still has feelers out with our lake unit colleges in case they come across any ripe fish, it is pretty late in the game though.

 

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One of the tanks with young muskie fry

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A close up of some great looking muskie fry

Paul V.

Fleming College:

Similar story here… right down to the balsam fir needles! I’ve used that comparison many times over the years!

We are expecting swim up to begin at any time. The battle of feeding strategies is on repeat in my brain as I try to figure out how to maximize success of the few fry we do have. Current count is around 1575 but there are maybe 5% of those that are really borderline… alive but bent, stunted or otherwise challenged. So call it 1500 quality looking fry.

 I wouldn’t wish this scenario on anyone, it is going to be a tough go!

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5% challenged sac fry: some good quality fry with a few of their “challenged” siblings in the bottom right corner

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2016 late stage sac fry: shows a good resolution shot of some of the high quality fry at Fleming

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Bent Muskellunge fry. This pic taken 1st week of June shortly after hatch.  It shows some of the severely challenged fry removed by the hatchery staff.  There was a higher than usual proportion of these in this particular family.

 … warm temp at collection or old donor fish (senescence)? Combination?

 

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Fathead Minnow Fry:

These tiny almost transparent newly hatched Fatheads can be great food for baby muskies!  However once they have a taste of these will they ever accept manufactured diet? Unlikely!

However, Mark Newell from Fleming is preparing for all eventualities saying

“It may come to the point where we may HAVE to feed the young muskie these fatheads so we are scrambling right now to figure out how to optimize our production, harvest and sorting of these young fry”.

Egg Collection – Week 6

Week Six Update: (May 22-May 27)

Wil Wegman
<°))))><
Resource Management Technician
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
Aurora District- 905-713-7730

 

Hi Everyone,

Another whirl-wind week on the wild and wonderful trapnetting circuit for the wily egg collection crew on G Pool.

It began on the beautiful Sunday morning of the Victoria Day Long Wknd as Wil and Brent set out to open the six nets. Once open,  they could fish 48 hours until they would be checked on Tuesday. We don’t normally need to leave our nets working this late into the season so expected to see plenty of boat action on both Little Lake and Gloucester Pool, and this was definitely the case on this busy holiday wknd. Most of the boaters we encountered were cottage based recreational anglers and several struck up conversations with us. All of them seemed fully aware of … and supportive of, our trapnetting program over the last decade. Being able to engage with these important local stakeholders on a busy wknd and have a positive presence was definitely an added bonus to opening our nets on Sunday.

Then came Tuesday.  We were anxiously expecting fuller than normal nets … based on the water temperature spiking to 16 degrees and a 48 hour set, but unfortunately this was not the case… With the exception  of one net that had over two dozen long nosed gar for us to deal with.  Gar typically move inshore as the weather warms and the water temps reach 15C. They love swimming near the surface on bright sunny days so we could see some cruising along before we even checked our nets. These prehistoric fish are extremely cool looking and we enjoy seeing them, however they can be a bit of a challenge when many of them have their long bills sticking thru the nets.  While we were hauling out gar from our nets we encountered what may be a first for this program… A few VERY ripe females that were very happy to see Brent so they spewed their small white, very sticky eggs all over him and the boat. If only we could find muskie that were so ripe and free flowing … but that’s typically not the case at all.

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Longnose Gar eggs sticking to our paddle

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Kate Gee with a small G Pool Gar

Kate Gee who was with us that day let us know that these gar eggs are unlike most other fish eggs in every respect in that they should never be eaten as caviar . They are quite toxic and can cause fairly severe illness—such as vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, etc.  Some other interesting factoids about Longnose gar include:

Longnose Gar Facts

  • The Longnose Gar can survive in low oxygenated waters because of a highly vascularized swim bladder.  This swim bladder allows the Longnose to breathe air.  It usually uses both its swim bladder and its gills to breathe.  It surfaces and releases an air bubble to take in another before returning underwater.
  • Shy’s away from the surface when water gets colder.  But, when oxygen is low it cover its gills and uses the bladder only.  This allows for the organism to live outside the water for awhile if it is kept wet.
  • The Longnose Gar’s eggs are poisonous to humans, other mammals, and birds.
  • Longnose Gar scales were used by native Americans as arrow heads, ornaments, and tools.
  • Longnose Gar have been around since the time of dinosaurs.
  • Longnose gar have a year round open season and no limit in most parts of Ontario, but most anglers find them extremely difficult to catch so overall angler effort targeted at this species is very low. Their long, very hard snouts do not have conventional teeth like other fish – so most hooks don’t penetrate well to land these fish. Some fly fishers do have success, occasionally they can be caught on 3-4 inch jerkbaits if the lure is engulfed sideways … and some anglers have even had success using a strip of Velcro instead of a lure – as their small jagged teeth seem to clasp on.

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As water temps warmed up more bowfin were caught in the nets … including several males like this one held by Wil … It’s in full spawning colors with characteristic spot on tail

The next day (May 25)  the crew set out again … and the overwhelming sensation of another “Groundhog Day” (from the movie) was upon them. Low net catches were dominant from one set to the other … and no muskie were showing up. To add insult to injury the 2nd last net had one very big aggressive snapping turtle in it, that decided not to vacate the premises despite tearing several big holes in the net.  As we were repairing those … a call came in from Paul Methner of Blue Jay Creek Hatchery.  Despite Georgian Bay  originally being recognized earlier this spring as an unlikely back-up source for muskie eggs, more recent discussions between hatchery and other managers, field crews and MC, recognized that time was running out for Gloucester Pool to produce. One of the  trapnetting crews that was doing telemetry research in partnership with McMaster University up on Georgian Bay near Point Au Baril had a ripe male and two ripe female muskie in their nets. The crew did not have any egg sampling gear, and were not trained to take eggs, but the offer was made to hold those muskie, should Brent and Wil be able to drive up, meet the crew and go out on their boat to get the job done.  Special arrangements were made with the health lab and the two hatcheries … some evening family plans were quickly altered and off the they went to fish their last net on G Pool, before hitting the road north to hopefully …. finally get some eggs! As many Muskie Canada veterans may recall, the first couple of years of the Lake Simcoe Muskie Restoration Program, we relied on Georgian Bay families and it was only a few years in that the switch was made to relying more on G Pool, so using these eggs would be nothing new.

A couple hours later, Wil and Brent met up with fellow MNRF staffers and master trapnetters Lawrence and Stephen from MNRF’s Lake Huron Fisheries Management Unit. On their big beautiful steel boat we travelled out to the nets and quickly picked up one male, deposited him into a big tub with fresh water and  then headed to the other net where a smaller male and two females were anxiously awaiting to donate their contributions to the cause . Although the females were both quite small, the crew still hoped plenty of eggs could be collected … but unfortunately only one small family from each – one for Blue Jay Creek and the other for Fleming was all they had in them.  The male did his job for both … the eggs were hardened with hatchery water, transferred from bowl to jars, disinfected with ovadine, rinsed and rinsed again and again and again until it was time to deliver them to shore and the hatcheries.

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Lawrence of the Lake Huron Management Unit (LHMU), Wil and Brent with one of the egg donors

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Lawrence and Stephen of LHMU and Brent with the male donor

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Wil with the first egg collection of 2016- two very small families

 So … although the families were small the hatchery managers were thankful the skunk factor was now behind all involved. Paul Methner had already travelled down from Manitoulin Island’s Blue Jay Creek where his eggs were handed over and the trip back down to Coldwater was made to hand off the Fleming eggs to their hatchery manager Mark Newell who drove up from Lindsay.   “The family was small (est 2500-3000 eggs) but looked good with very few dead eggs to be picked once they were deposited in the incubation trays at the hatchery,” said Mark.

On Thursday May 26 the crew tried to beat out the impending weather and partially succeeded at all but one of their six net sites. By the time they got to it,  a stiff on-shore breeze was developing and just as they were about to check for fish a large rogue gust of wind blew them further onto the rest of the net …  tangled things up … and bringing them quickly within site of two very large muskie within the house portion of their net! They quickly regrouped, opened the zipper, assessed the condition of each fish … and amazingly one was a ripe male and the other a ripe female! With even heavier on shore winds threatening – the decision was made to leave the two fish for the next day when a safer and more effective egg collection could be made! Meanwhile, the first small family remained in good condition at Fleming with a relatively normal level of dead eggs to pick.

Friday May 27th.  Normally this is an office day for the crew.  However both hatcheries were anxious to collect eggs ‘whenever possible’ and the manager of Health Lab at Guelph University – Steven Lord was willing to wait around that Friday to collect fluids for disease testing. In order to expedite runs to the two hatcheries and to Guelph, two MNRF crews in two separate boats were deployed to Coldwater to get the job done. One of those crews was happy to report another female had been captured … so after all the nets were checked … she was put in the large tub and travelled from Port Severn in Little Lake with Brent, Kate and Wil down to G Pool to meet up with Stephen, Carolyn and Gabby.  The other two muskie were taken from their overnight accommodations and both were in exceptional condition. Neither had ever been captured during the trap netting program before … as tags were absent. Incredibly this was the biggest male on record … coming in at 49 inches; just a touch shorter than the Double Nickels (55+) female.  Unfortunately … the smaller female was now hard (not uncommon for smaller fish) but both big male and big female were ripe. The crew collected enough eggs for each hatchery and split them into two separate jars for each.

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Carolyn Hann (foreground) holds bowl for egg collecting while Brent  extracts eggs and Wilmaintains control of this 40 pound super strong female

 

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Brent (foreground),  Wil (background) and Carolyn (middle) caring for eggs before they are transferred to jars- below

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A quick group photo after a successful egg collection and sampling with the 55.5 inch female. From left to right: Brent, Wil, Steve, Kate and Carolyn. Photo taken by Gabby

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Wil is taking scale samples here for ageing and genetics, while Brent steadies the muskie and Carolyn is ready with the scale envelope

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Brent (left), Wil and Kate with the largest males ever used in an egg collection = 49” long, 19.5” girth & 26.7lbs. It was the warmest egg collection ever- with air temps pushing 28C and water temps well over 18C

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The icing on the cake is always a healthy live release after the muskie have been sampled and contributed to future stocking efforts on Lake Simcoe

 

After the egg collection was made, the team went into action to deliver the goods to the respective locations as quickly as possible. Gabby made the long trip down from Coldwater to Guelph and battled crazy traffic but got the fluid samples to the lab in time.  Carolyn drove south to Lindsay … stopping every half hour to check eggs and ensure no clumping was taking place. Then she would rinse and add fresh hatchery water before she left the eggs with Mark at Fleming.  Mark reported that, “ There was a somewhat larger than normal number of dead eggs to pick on the day of receiving (670) but not a number of significant concern.”

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Carolyn checking eggs en route to Fleming before rinsing and adding fresh water. “It’s kind of like our own little tailgate party,” she said

Wil drove north to Parry Sound following the same egg-care protocol to drop the eggs with Michaela from Blue Jay Creek who drove down from Manitoulin Island. Here Wil and Michaela also met up with Ryan … who had driven from Pearson International Airport in a truck fully loaded with fish food for the muskie and other species raised at the Blue Jay Creek Hatchery. Here the three staff quickly transferred all the contents from one truck to the other … and then each was off to go their own separate ways from there.

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Michaela and Ryan unloading feed for fish at Blue Jay Creek

 

Update 7: Saturday May 28-Thursday June 2nd

Although the weekend of May 28th and 29th would be the first one the crew had completely off in six weeks, there was certainly no rest for the devoted hatchery staff at Blue Jay Creek and at Fleming. Critical, almost around the clock care of the precious muskie eggs is compulsory to ensure success down the road.  Even with the most experienced and dedicated staff however, Mother Nature can throw unexpected obstacles into the best laid plans – something the trapnetting crew was all too familiar with. The first text from Mark Newell to Wil came in late Saturday  afternoon letting him know things did not look good with the eggs and that he had already picked out 8,000 dead ones over the last 8 hours.

Below are further details provided by Mark Newell:

“On Saturday May 28  is when the rollercoaster went into its steepest dive. The first family of eggs showed significant (over 50%) dead eggs. The die off continued the full while that the picking was happening with eggs dying off almost as fast as we could pick them. By the end of the day we were down to fewer than 5% eggs remaining. We examined a few of the remaining eggs under a microscope and there was no sign of an embryo. This pattern of complete loss all within the 36-72 hours after spawn window is a very strong indicator of unsuccessful fertilization. Couple that with the lack of embryo in the few remaining “live” eggs at the end of the period the presumptive determination at the hatchery is that fertilization did not happen in this batch.

 Also on May 28 we saw an enormous die off of eggs from the larger, Gloucester Pool batch. As many as 8200 eggs were picked. This is an unusual, but not unprecedented loss for this stage of development. Given our already low numbers and the loss of the first small family it was pretty devastating. We had hoped this one batch was going to save the year.

 On May 29 we saw further loss, of ~4700 eggs from the second family… it seemed by the time the picking was done in the early afternoon on Sunday that the egg loss had tapered off quite a bit and examination of the remaining eggs showed signs of embryo presence.

 On May 30 we continued to lose eggs (at a much lower rate) and by day end we had picked ~600. The remaining eggs still looked good and embryos were clearly visible

 On May 31 lower mortalities gave us a break from the bad news and only 185 eggs were picked.

 On June 1 fungus had made its expected appearance, the egg shells are softening and embryos have developed a tiny bit of pigmentation. We picked just over 400 eggs today.

 The initial estimate of numbers received (~25,000) now seems to have been a bit high, so doing the math we may have as many as 3000-3500 viable eggs left as of June 1st. It is hard to estimate numbers when they are spread out over several incubator trays.”

From Paul Methner at Blue Jay Creek on the morning of June 2nd … a very promising update was provided. Similar to Mark’s issues with the first batch … they too experienced serious failure with their Georgian Bay eggs.  Paul expects about 60 of those eggs that have now hatched remain … which still would provide some genetic diversity. Additionally and even more encouraging … after a very trying Saturday May 28th with eggs dying …the situation appeared to stabilize by the next day- Sunday. “Today, we have plenty of healthy eggs left, which should provide us with more than our target of 500 muskie come fall. If all goes well, thanks to all the improvements we’ve made here at the hatchery, this number could increase,” Paul told Wil over the phone. Some of the improvements made include better lighting system, a better feeding system, a visit by several staff to Mark Newell’s successful muskie hatchery and even hiring a former Fleming student who worked for Mark in the hatchery.

On Monday May 30, two crews of Midhurst and Aurora MNRF staff figured the decision to collect trap nets that day was the right one, when the water temperature at their boats that morning was already 21 C.  One theory for the poor fertilization of eggs could possibly lie with the rapid increase in water temperatures that may have reduced the effectiveness of the male’s sperm. The two crews split up and collected all six trap nets, and then transferred them back to Midhurst district..

The first eggs from the G Pool collection began hatching the morning of June 2nd …. And both hatcheries reported that this continued on to June 3rd.  There were several of these eggs that were duds but at time of writing this an accurate number was not possible.

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Back on shore Friday May 27 at the Sexsmith’s Lakeside residence after the successful egg collection.  Here for almost ten years,  MNRF Midhurst and Aurora District crews have been able to store their boats and all their gear for the duration of the spring program.  Both crews are extremely grateful to Michelle and Malcolm Sexsmith for their major contribution to this program Above, from left to right: Steve, Carolyn, Malcolm, Gabby, Kate and Brent.

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Friday June 3rd … all six trapnets were spread out and allowed to bake in the sun to dry out.  Nets were cleaned with stiff brooms to remove filamentous algae, several holes were repaired, and then all were repacked for next time.

 

Egg Collection – Week 5

Wil Wegman
<°))))><
Resource Management Technician
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
Aurora District- 905-713-7730

May 20, 2016

Week Five Update:

Hi Everyone,

A very rainy day one began early Saturday May 14, when MNRF staff Kate, Brent and Wil checked the nets to fish the by-catch. Not wanting to lose the opportunity to catch muskie during the unsettled weather of the weekend when muskie often roam, the decision was made to maintain 48 hour net sets, so nets were not closed off Thursday as is usually the case.

As the day went on the winds picked up, the water temperatures dropped and it turned out to be a cold and nasty day on the water. However the hopes of the crew rose quickly at their 2nd net set when they encountered their 2nd muskie of 2016. This one came from G Pool itself instead of adjoining Little Lake where last week’s muskie came from. Unlike that ripe, previously tagged male however, this 48 inch female was still hard (green) and was a newbie- never having been sampled or tagged before by the crew. It was therefore sampled, tagged with her own uniquely numbered Floy tag, and live released in great shape.

If a ripe female was captured, the crew was prepared to carefully asses her condition in order to possibly hold her over until Monday when an egg collection could be carried out – as the hatcheries and Health Lab are not prepared to accept eggs on Fridays or weekends.

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Kate Gee and Brent Shirley with the first female muskie of 2016

As they were preparing their gear for the day, on Monday May 16, the crew pictured below had guardedly high hopes that the rotten weather over the weekend would have spurred some muskie activity – and encouraged a couple (in every sense of the word) to enter their nets. However, water temperature at the dock (where their boat is moored) however read just under 11 C. Although muskie spawn (and G Pool egg collections have been made)in water temps ranging from 9.4-15C, optimum temps for spawning appear to be just under 13 C. So that first morning of week 5 saw  high hopes somewhat dashed. The snowfall and cold temps of Sunday had lasting undesirable affects possibly holding muskie out in deeper water away from the nets.

Not unlike hard core muskie anglers who may have ½ a dozen ‘hot-spots’ they like to visit and fish during the day … the MNRF muskie crew traveled from one trap net to another and every time they approached one of their 6 nets (all of which have caught plenty of muskie before), their excitement levels would rise in the hopes that a muskie or two would be waiting. As has been the case however for the duration of the 2016 program to date – disappointment was replicated with more disappointment … not just at the beginning of Week 5, but also mid-week and end-of week. No additional muskie were captured and overall with cool temperatures still dominating until Thursday when they hit a high of 13.7, overall catches of all species continued to be way down from previous years.

The following photos of Week 5 demonstrate however that despite not capturing their target species, the crew still managed to catch some remarkable fish, that contributed well to their ongoing data-set for G Pool and Little Lake.

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Brent in background with our 3rd and largest walleye this season, with Wil (left) and Jason Cologna (MNRF Peterborough office) each with nice smallmouth on Day 1/Week 5

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Over the years, the trapnetting crew has caught many large bragging sized channel cats but thousands of brown bullheads (right) of the size shown above.  However, to the best of their recollection, this  real small channel catfish (left) may be the first they have captured. Note the key identifying characteristic in the forked caudal (tail) fin of the channel catfish and the square tail of the brown bullhead catfish.

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Here one of Canada’s longest serving and most dedicated Muskies Canada members Jim Kelly holds a nice, but not overly large channel cat along with Kate Gee from MNRF.  Jim is former MC president, is a member of the Muskies Canada Hall of Fame (inducted 2003)and represents the organization on the Lake Simcoe Fisheries Stakeholder Committee.

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Here Wil Wegman (left) and Kate Gee proudly display 5 remarkable stinkpot turtles captured from one net set. This Species of Special Concern was highlighted in last week’s update

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Kate and Wil with one very fat egg-laden female largemouth bass on a wet, cold day on the water.

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Here, during a warmer Wednesday on the Pool, MNRF’s Melanie Shapiera  holds another good Largemouth – with Wil and Brent look on.

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A male bowfin approaching full spawning color’s … indicated by the iridescent green of the underbelly

 

 

 

 

After dismal catches Monday, nets were left open and fished for 48 hours until Wednesday; then fished Thursday with some encouraging signs of warming temps bringing in more fish as the day went on. Another eagle flew overhead and was recognized as a good omen for things to come.
With the long weekend approaching, the muskie egg collection program would have typically long been completed by now, but as these weekly reports have clearly indicated, this has certainly not been a typical spring. Therefore after joint discussions among field crews, MNRF supervisors, Muskies Canada reps, hatchery staff and the health lab … a joint decision has been made to continue on to an unprecedented 6th week of trap netting in order to hopefully capture enough ripe muskie to reach our target goal of 3 families for the hatcheries.

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So … nets were closed off on Thursday May 19 (a zip tie is fastened around the funnel of the trap net, prohibiting any fish from swimming thru and being captured) and will be reopened during the long weekend on Sunday May 22nd by Brent and Wil. This allows for another 48 hour net set during an anticipated heat wave until nets will be fished again on Tuesday May 24th. From there 24 hour sets will prevail until at least Thursday … and then we’ll have to re-evaluate our options.

Stay tuned … and hope everyone has a wonderful long weekend with plenty of tight lines for all who will wet one.

Egg Collection – Week 4

Wil Wegman
<°))))><
Resource Management Technician
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
Aurora District- 905-713-7730

May 13, 2016

Slowly but surely the 2016 trapnetting crews on Gloucester Pool are gaining confidence that they will  reach their goals of capturing muskie and collecting 3 families worth of eggs for the hatcheries.  This confidence however has not come easily, as crews have experienced a very trying season on the Pool thus far.  As ardent muskie anglers love to say This is the fish of a thousand casts’ … and so too are the crews on Gloucester now saying “this is the fish of a thousand net sets’…

To date we have maximized our efforts since Monday April 18 when we deployed 6 trap nets during a 23C heat wave, only to fish those same nets a week later when temps had fallen 23 degrees during a significant snow storm.  We then experienced crazy formations of green filamentous algae that covered some of our nets, and made our jobs doubly difficult and messy.

This net above was our worst case scenario situated in a proven muskie spot we like to call ol stumpy. It and others have since been cleaned-up. trapnetting_023

Most filamentous algae prefer stagnant, nutrient rich, warm waters. Spirogyra however, is one species that flourishes more in cooler spring and fall months. They are found to dominate the littoral zones where we put our nets (the shallow, near-shore area where sunlight can penetrate to the bottom allowing aquatic plants to grow). During other years, we seldom have more than a few days when water temps remained in the single digits but this year, we had almost two weeks’ worth … optimizing the conditions for this algae to flourish.  Thankfully, during week four, as water temperatures finally began to rise – pushing 14 C, much of the algae began to die off, and crews spent extra time cleaning off the nets.

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The beginning of week 4, began with Muskies Canada volunteer Terry Barrett who witnessed some tremendous channel cat catches like the one he holds here.

Week 4 began with Mel and Wil opening the nets on a chilly Sunday, followed by a day of low catches the following Monday.  Muskies Canada volunteer Terry Barrett however sill enjoyed himself and witnessed some great channel cat catches in a couple of our nets.  On Tuesday, we saw another (or the same individual as last week) bald eagle which we figured had to be a good omen and was, as the very next day we captured our very first muskie of the season – a ripe male.

This individual muskie was getting on in years and was one we had used for a muskie egg collection in 2006 when it was also sampled, tagged and released. Interestingly enough, it was originally caught at the site # 3 and was also recaptured at site # 3. In 2006 it measured 1050mm  and weighed 11kg … but on Tuesday, 10 years later it measured 1090mm and weighed about 8.2kg (based on length girth formula).  The fish was in good shape so he was held overnight in the hopes that on Thursday, our last day to collect eggs for the hatcheries this week, would supply a ripe female from one of our six nets.  Alas … this was not to be, so the tagged muskie was set free to possibly contribute another day to our worthy cause.

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This old male muskie was our first lunge of the 2016 trapnetting season. Pictured, Brent Shirley (Midhurst MNRF)  left, Adam Chalice (Aurora MNRF) and Kate Gee (Midhurst)

This week we also saw our very first Musk … or ‘Stinkpot’ Turtle. We definitely don’t see as many of these “Species of Special Concern’ turtles as we do of the more common Northern Maps, so they are always cool to see … and even smell – as their musky odor does have a certain, shall we say ‘ Je ne sais quoi’ odor to them. It was only fitting that Aurora District biologist Carolyn Hann was on the muskie trapnetting boat the day the stinkpot was captured.

She has acquired a wealth of turtle knowledge in her career spending many years volunteering for Turtle S.H.E.L.L Tortue helping to rehabilitate injured turtles, install turtle crossing signs, and providing education and outreach on our native turtle populations and habitat. She has continued by working on various Species At Risk  projects including Wood Turtle Research in Nova Scotia, and helping Biologist in Kejimkujik National Park with their Blanding’s Turtle Research.

Biologist Carolyn Hann with her special catch … A Stinkpot Turtle

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So … to learn even more about this fascinating turtle, turtle aficionado Carolyn Hann provided us with the following:

Stinkpot Fun Facts

  • Unlike many turtles the musk turtle rarely leaves the water except to lay eggs. This turtle is fairly secretive and spends a lot of its time resting on the soft lake bottom, foraging for food and basking in the sun under floating aquatic vegetation in shallow water.
  • This species is generally a poor swimmer and will walk along the Lake Bottom rather than swim.
  • This turtle has a great little defensive tactic in that when it is disturbed it will quickly emit a foul smelling odour from its musk glands giving it the famous name ‘stinkpot’. These little guys are also fairly aggressive and won’t hesitate to bite!
  • Nest close to water and therefore are very vulnerable to changes in water levels.
  • Lay 2 to 7 eggs that are elliptical in shape and vary in size. A little bigger than a quarter. Eggs are laid between May and early July with hatches anywhere from 60 to 90 days later.
  • Diet: molluscs, plants, small fish, insects, and  carrion
  • The barbels on this turtle’s chin and throat are sensory organs which allow the turtle to feel for prey resting on the bottom of the water body.

Threats to the species:

  • Habitat destruction
  • Changes in water levels
  • Heavy recreational boating
  • Fisheries bycatch
  • Depredation

 

 

The champion turtle crew, each with their own stinkpot- left to right: Kate, Mel Shapiera and Brent

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Eva Bobak (MNRF Aurora) with one of her favorite species … the longnose gar. Brent in background collecting data.

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Brent Armstrong (Midhurst) with a nice healthy pike

 

Moving on To Week Five:

Getting back to our piscatorial pursuits and all that is muskie, both Midhurst and Aurora District staff are confident that this coming week before the Victoria long weekend will more than make up for the cool waters and cool reception G Pool’s muskie have provided so far. We have however enacted extra measures not normally within scope of this program in order to maximize our chances for a successful egg collection next week.

First, as of yesterday (Thursday May 12)we left the nets open and will fish them for by-catch (not muskie) on Saturday. Come Monday, we will be out in full force, expecting to collect eggs. With the warm latter part of this week leading up to a stormy and cooler weekend, followed by warmer temps again next week … we finally believe all the stars are aligning perfectly to help guarantee success.

Stay tuned for  next week’s report … and have a good pike opener for those of you chasing these toothy critters this weekend.

Egg Collection – Week 3

Wil Wegman
<°))))><
Resource Management Technician
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
Aurora District- 905-713-7730

May 6 2016

Ok … Sometimes Mother Nature throws us a curve and I swear wants to test our fortitude … and that’s exactly what continued week 3 of our muskie trapnetting/egg collection program on G Pool! As outlined last week, in order to maximize our staffing resources and net-fishing time, we conducted only 2 net check days this week instead of 4. Although this was unorthodox – the extremely poor catches of most other species, the low water temps and with the lack of any muskie, we felt the move was warranted.

With all this in mind, our report this week is rather short – so you’ll see more photos than text.

On Tuesday we were encouraged by the water temps as they had finally risen to above the single digit range and were now into the high 10’s and low 11’s, but unfortunately no muskie were found. A couple nets had real good catches while others were still well below par. The highlight of the day was seeing a beautiful mature bald eagle take off from a big pine near  one of our net sights … as if watching over it while we weren’t there.

That same day, we did catch some outstanding channel catfish at one net in G Pool – including this one with the unusual white markings.

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Aaron Law of the Aurora District Office above and Melanie Shapiera of Aurora below, each with their own channel cats

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We ended the week on Thursday with temps warming slightly but still not in the low –mid teens.  With today’s Friday) air temp already at 22 and sunny – and even warmer weather forecast for the weekend, we are very optimistic about our chances at seeing muskie in week 4. Mark Newell … the ace hatchery manager at Fleming College who has been so instrumental in the success and growth of the muskie stocking program, reminds us that, “In 2014, it was a late start and we got eggs May 12, 13 and 15 … and that all ended up good.”

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MNRF Conservation Officer Intern Michael Evers of Aurora District was able to gain some valuable hands on experience with the crew on Thursday and holds one of several nice largemouth bass caught and released from the trap nets. Below Graham Findlay of Midhurst with a nice smallmouth

 

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Eva Bobak of the Aurora MNRF office  with a good sized smallmouth bass, while Brent Shirley (Midhurst) fills in the data collection sheets

 

 

 

One constant with this muskie netting program is a steady number of northern map turtles of various sizes that we see and catch. Below are Aaron and Mel – one with the turtle and another with a largemouth bass. I trust I don’t have to explain which is which.

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This Sunday, May 8th …  Melanie and I will open nets … and crews will be fishing them for the full four days all of next week. Expectations are high for week 4 so we hope this time next week the Muskie Trapnetting  Update will be full of great news.

Have a great Mother’s Day Weekend!

 

Egg Collection – Week 2

Wil Wegman
<°))))><
Resource Management Technician
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
Aurora District- 905-713-7730

April 29th

Oh my! Another rather uneventful week on the Pool.  Much to our dismay, the weather continues to play havoc with our efforts to not only collect muskie eggs, but to even capture any muskie in our nets. If you recall from Update 1, we began our program on a real high note Monday April 18th and set our six trap nets during a 23 C heat wave as water temperatures were on the rise. Jump forward just one week though, and our dedicated MNRF crew along with a real trooper – Jim Crocker of the Orillia Fish and Game club, checked nets in a cold and blustery snow storm that more or less set the stage for the rest of the week.

Here volunteer Jim Crocker makes a quick count of the fish he just scooped from the trap net before returning them to the lake. Some days this job means crews are challenged by what Mother Nature can throw at them, but invariably it’s a day well spent and one for the memory books.

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On Tuesday we had strong winds forecasted, so had to cancel  the day. We hoped a 48 hour set would increase our catch rates for Wednesday, but that really didn’t materialize except for an outstanding largemouth bass catch in one of our Little Lake sets that we affectionately call ‘stumpy’ . It is in an area is loaded with stumps and has accounted for many muskie over the last few years

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Brianne Brothers (left) and Kate Gee show off some beautiful largemouth bass from our ol’ stumpy set 

 

 

 

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Brent with a nice smallmouth bass and Brianne with her largemouth
 

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A net full of largemouth is never anything to be too upset about as long as they’re all released in great shape says Wil – the self- diagnosed bass-a holic from Aurora District. He is flanked from behind  by Brent (left) and Steven Sucharzewski of Midhurst

 

 

 

Interestingly enough, despite the low single digit temperatures that prevailed for most of the week, water temps stayed in the 8C range all week.  Other years we have caught muskie during these low temps, but the big difference those years was usually that the barometer was rising steadily, and so too were water and air temps.

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One of the highlights for the current Muskie netting crew is having the chance to be re-acquainted with former members  who were so instrumental in previous years. This was the case on Wednesday when Brent Shirley from Midhurst welcomed back Emily Funnell from Aurora District – who is now a biologist working on many Species At Risk Files for her district. Here Emily proudly hold a large Northern Map Turtle – A “Species of Special Concern” that was caught and released unharmed from one of our nets.

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A familiar face for many Muskies Canada members … Aurora District’s own Gabby Gilchrist shows one of several small (spawned out) northern pike caught from the trap nets this week. “At least it’s an esocid” she said!

As we head into week three of this program the MNRF crews from Midhurst and Aurora had to discuss their plan of attack and contemplate what the weather forecast would mean for the week. To compound their efforts, a 3rd week of netting looks to be not much better than the first two weeks.

Planning for Week 3:

As you can see the lows at night are still predicted to be in the single digits and even the day time highs remain well below seasonal norm. The chances therefore that we begin to see water temps rise over and above single digits does not look great. With this in mind, for week three, Kate and Wil will be begin by opening the nets on Sunday as usual, however from there crews will only be checking nets every other day. This will not lessen our ability to catch as many muskie as we normally would with 24 hour sets, however will maximize our resources as we prepare for full out success the following week and … if need be, perhaps even consider the week after.

So with just two days on the water checking nets in week 3 (Tuesday and Thursday … Fridays we never fish nets as the Health Lab is unable to accept eggs for disease testing), I’m sure you can appreciate the challenges we’ve had juggling schedules – both with MNRF staff and the dedicated volunteers from Muskies Canada and Orillia Fish and Game. Right now, we’ve made some changes, contacted all the players and are set to go … still hoping that in Week 3 that the weatherman will be wrong and water temps begin to rise steadily so that those mighty G Pool muskellunge begin to grace our presence once again.

PS:  A Muskie Related Highlight:

Just to end this somber update on a high note, on Thursday April 28th, we had our 2nd night of electro fishing the Holland River. On Wednesday, we saw the typical warm water species associated with this river. It was a long and very cold night – where landing nets actually froze to the metal guard rails when the crew was done at 2:00am.  On Thursday things heated up – many more fish were seen, including one very nice looking muskie that was just out of reach of our anodes (that send the electrical current into the water) and subsequently did not entertain being captured by our landing nets. This muskie was in the meter long range and was clearly seen and identified by myself and two other crew mates.   In the same general area another ‘possible-likely’ smaller muskie was seen, however our crew was not as confident as the first one.  None the less, it was an exciting way to end the night and our week on the water.

Thanks everyone for your patience and stay tuned for another report this same time next week.

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We sure don’t get many frogs in our nets, let alone big bubba’s like this seldom-seen brown phased bullfrog.  Brent was tempted to give this one a big kiss in hopes that it would turn into the big beautiful muskie princess that he’s only been dreaming about.