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.

 

Spring Egg Collection – Week 1

Every year  the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry conducts a spring egg collection in and around the Gloucester pool.  Trap nets are set to capture ripe females and males to provide eggs and milt. The fertilized eggs then go to Fleming College and two Ministry hatcheries to provide the fingerlings that will be raised and released in October for the Lake Simcoe Muskie Restoration Project.

These mini-reports will give you an idea of how the work is progressing as well as a feel for what it’s like to work on the front lines with experienced MNRF staff.

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

Well week one is behind us and another exciting muskie trapnetting and hopefully another successful egg collection season is upon us. Also, back by popular demand, are these little end of week updates from our time on the water.
We deployed six trap nets on Monday April 18th 2016. This is a full week earlier than last year, when they were set Monday April 27th. With early ice out and incredibly warm temps for 4 full days prior to the 18th, we reckoned things could happen sooner than later so instead of taking any chances and missing an early opportunity at collecting eggs, we anxiously set the nets despite less than ideal water temps that were hovering just below the 7C mark.

That Monday though, air temps were 23C … and it was a hot sweaty deal for the crews from Midhurst and Aurora District as they made sure each net was perfect for fishing … and checking come Tuesday morning.Tuesday morning came … and despite the warm air temps the previous day, water temps remained cool. Ideally we’d like to see over 8 before we see much in the way of ripe muskie. We weren’t there yet … and neither were the muskie even present in our nets, let alone ripe. In fact, we saw extremely low catches all around in all of our nets that first day and subsequently the same could be said for the remainder of the week.

On Wednesday afternoon, after 2 days of zero catch at one particular set, the MNRF crew of Brent Shirley, Kate Gee and myself, elected to move that net 100 metres away to an area where last year’s pencil reeds would not impair the effectiveness of the main lead – which draws the fish into our nets. This decision was not taken lightly as during our first couple years for this program we caught A LOT of muskie here … and it has saved our bacon many times with successful egg collections. As Muskie anglers will appreciate though, lakes and conditions change and the amount of pencil reeds here has become so great, that proper net sets are just no longer feasible. We set the new ‘hot spot’ along the edge of this significant pencil reed bed … and have high hopes for success.

Thursday, we welcomed our first Muskies Canada volunteer … Dave Cunningham of Ajax who is with the Toronto chapter. He was a fine rep for MC and enthusiastically assisted the MNRF crew of Brent and Carolyn Hann. Our nets were slightly more productive than earlier in the week … and a good variety of species were caught, including largemouth and smallmouth bass, pumpkinseed sunfish, brown bullhead, northern pike, yellow perch, rock bass, black crappie and a few northern map turtles. After checking the nets, they were all closed off – so as to not fish Friday or Saturday (the health lab at Guelph University cannot accept samples for disease testing on Fridays). Encouraging news on Thursday afternoon was that water temps were beginning to rise as they pushed the 8.5C mark in several areas. This Sunday Kate and Brent from Midhurst will zip up to G Pool and snip open the funnels .. allowing them once again to fish – and hopefully catch muskie for week two.

On a side note, it was great to welcome long time MC member (and member of our Lake Simcoe Fisheries Stakeholder Committee) Jim Kelly to our electro fishing night on Wed April 20. Jim joined a couple of other volunteers from Ontario Streams and the Aurora Bassmasters as they helped MNRF staff electro-fish the Pefferlaw River. The primary goal of the evening was to monitor the walleye run … and of course to keep our eyes open for muskie. The mightiest of freshwater predator fish was not found, but we did capture 9 beautiful big walleye that were sampled, tagged and released. A couple of those were recaps from previous years … so that was interesting. Of interest to MC members as well no doubt, was an earlier in-the-week electro fishing exercise by MNRF and MOECC staff on the Talbot River when a total of 6 beautiful muskie were captured sampled and tagged. Five of those were ‘new’ fish, but one had a prior record … captured last year and tagged by our crew. As you may recall, those fish all turned out to have Kawartha strain genetics – not those of our stocked Georgian Bay Strain. We’ll see what DNA results say about the 2016 catch.

Unfortunately … early weather predictions for week two on G Pool are not the greatest … with even a touch of snow flurries forecast. We’ll cross our fingers though and hope for the best and we’ll happily report our findings to you a week from today. We’ll begin the week with MC volunteer Jim Crocker who will join MNRF staff Brent and Carloyn.

Have a great weekend everyone … and happy trout opener.

I’m sure I’ll see the usual friendly MC volunteers tomorrow at the annual Huck Finn Kids Fishing event in Uxbridge.

 

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The Wednesday night electro fishing crew with an average sized walleye sampled tagged and released from the Pefferlaw River. From left to right: MNRF biologist Adam Challice, former MNRF biologist Scott McGill, MC member Jim Kelly and Aurora Bassmaster Des Barnes.

 

 

Northern Map Turtles of various sizes and ages are a common by catch … and are always found in great shape and happily released … but sometimes they do become the centre of attention and pose for a couple of photos first. Here Kate Gee (left) and Brent Shirley display these species of special concern on day two of the program.

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Muskies Canada volunteer Dave Cunningham left holding a nice smallmouth bass, with MNRF  biologists Carolyn Hann right and Brent Shirley in background.trapnetting_002

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!