Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) are known to inhabit 169 miles of rocky and fast‐flowing streams on the Cumberland Plateau in East‐Central Tennessee. These waters are usually clear (turbidity less than 5 p.p.m.) and slightly acid. Muskellunge in Tennessee streams grow an average of 5.8 inches per year but few fish live beyond 6 years of age. Male fish mature when about 22 inches long and 3 years old; females mature when about 25 inches long and 3 or 4 years old. Muskellunge spawn in April when water temperatures are near 50° F. Young fish are found in only 15 percent of the total habitat distance. Management of the muskellunge streams in Tennessee appears to be necessary to maintain the presently small muskellunge fishery.
The native ranged of the muskellunge in West Virginia is restricted to streams of the Ohio River drainage. Native muskellunge populations are currently present in 41 streams which comprise 1,100 km and 2,935 hectares of muskellunge habitat. A life history study of the muskellunge in Middle Island Creek was conducted from 1966 to 1974. A 28.7 hectare study area had a minimum muskellunge population of 1.5 fish/hectare and 4.5 kg/hectare. An intensively sampled 6.2 hectare pool contained a minimum muskellunge population of 4.4 fish/hectare and 9.1 kg/hectare. Adult muskellunge in Middle Island Creek were heavily exploited by anglers and showed a great deal of upstream and downstream movement. Males matured at age III or IV and at lengths of 61-64 cm. Females matured at age IV or V at lengths of 66-71 cm. Spawning occurred during April when daily water temperatures averaged 10°C or higher for 4-8 days. Spawning sites were located at the lower or upper ends of pools in slack water near riffles. The time period between egg fertilization and fry swim-up ranged from 17 to 30 days.
The waters of Georgian nBay and the North Channel of Lake Huron represent one of the most substantial areas that support muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) populations in North America. In spite of the importance of this area to muskellunge, very little information is available on the current status of many of these muskellunge populations. Recent initiatives aimed at compiling and summarizing existing information on muskellunge in Georgian Bay have been undertaken. In addition to these information sources, numerous unpublished Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources reports contain information on muskellunge populations which have not been consolidated into one document. A review of this information shows that several studies are available that document the distribution of muskellunge spawning and nursery areas for a very limited portion of Georgian Bay and the North Channel. Most of the remaining information is in the form of incidental catches from index trapnetting and creel surveys. For most areas of Georgian Bay and the North Channel the existing information ins not adequate to make any meaningful assessments of muskellunge populations. The ability fo make effective management decisions on this important resource in the future requires a more substantial and coordinated effort at data collection.
Several life‐history features of Niagara River muskellunge were determined and compared to similar data for other populations. Sexual maturity occurred during the fourth and fifth year for most Niagara River males and females, respectively. In terms of ages at sexual maturity and length‐weight relationship, Niagara River muskellunge were similar to lake populations. In early life, fish of the Niagara River, and those of West Virginia and Kentucky streams, grew more rapidly than fish from lake populations. However, growth of river and stream fish slowed more quickly with age than that of lake fish. These differences in growth pattern between lentic and lotic populations may have resulted from differences in prey sizes and availability
Prior to 1979, insufficient date existed on muskellunge populations and angler use to guide Wisconsin’s muskellunge management plan. Consequently, a study was conducted from 1979 to o1983 to determine population characteristics and angler use of eight northern Wisconsin muskellunge lakes. Each lake was sampled with fyke nets for two consecutive springs and a randon, stratified roving creel census was conducted along with voluntary registration of angler-caught muskellunge for one open water angling season.
Mean length-at-age of male muskellunge was shorter than for females. Males generally reached sexual maturity one or two years earlier than females and were shorter lived. Because of the slower growth and higher mortality few males reached trophy size and nearly all muskellunge larger than 40 inches were females. Growth of both sexes was related to the density of catostomids. Growth of males was inversely related to muskellunge density. Density of legal-sized (> 30 inches) averaged 0.11 fish/acre and ranged from 0.09 to 0.61 fish/acre; highest densities were found in dark, turbid waters.
Total angling pressure averaged 42.8 hours/acre. In five of the eight lakes muskellunge were the most sought after species. Overall, 42.2% of all angler trips were specifically for muskellunge. Muskellunge anglers fished an average of 16.8 hours/acre; exploitation rates averaged 27.5% and ranged from 13.8% to 42.0%. Quality of size structure of legal-sized populations was inversely related to angler exploitation rates. The 30 inch size limit regulation during t his study failed to protect female muskellunge until their first spawning. In some lakes, high exploitation rates appeared to be limiting trophy muskellunge angling potential.
Biologists began stocking muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) in the Shenandoah River system in the mid 1960s. Very little sampling specifically targeting muskellunge population parameters had been completed. The Shenandoah River Muskellunge Research Project began in 2009 to determine contribution of stocked muskellunge, percentage of natural reproduction, individual growth, movement and general population data. Coded with tages (CWT) were used to mark fingerling and advanced fingerling muskellunge stocked into the south fork and main stem Shenandoah River. Sampling took place during February and March each year using three electrofishing boats in tandem. Muskellunge age 3 and older were considered fully recruited to the sampling gear. All muuskell8unge collected during spring sampling (2009-2015) were double marked with a passive integrated transponder (PIT) tag and visual implant alpha tag. In 2014 and 2015, pelvic fin rays were collected on all fish hfor age verification. Electrofishing catch rates ranged from 1.0 to 2.2 muskellunge/hour. During this project, 61 coded wire tagged fish were collected. Reader accuracy of know-age muskellunge using pelvic fisn rays was 100% through age-4 and 88% through age-5. Thirty-four percent of muskellunge younger than age 7 from the 2014 sample were stocked muskellunge with hCWT, indicating that both stocked and wild fish contributed to the population. Of the 55 PIT tagged muskellunge that sere recaptured, 9.1% showed significant movement. These findings will direct future muskellunge management in the Shenandoah River watershed.
The population of muskellunge in Lake St. Clair has been exploited by intensive sport fishing for many years. Growth date from trap-netted muskellunge showed that females did no reach maturity until about 914 mm total length which is equal to Michigan’s size limit. Mean total lengths of females were greater than males after age V. Growth rates of Lake St. Clair muskellunge are very similar to those in the St. Lawrence River and the averages size in the Lake St. Clair sports catch has apparently not changed in 40 years. A mail survey of ardent muskellunge fishermen in 1972 showed that 74 anglers caught 1,273 fish in 1,017 days of fishing. An analysis of the Michigan-Ontario Muskies Club catch and of tag returns from the general sport fishery showed substantial north to south movements during June of about 40 km. Tag recoveries also indicated that there are separate stocks of muskellunge inhabiting the east and west areas of the lake.
We review the history of muskellunge management and describe population and fishery responses to management actions. Stocking of muskellunge in the Niagara River occurred sporadically from 1941 to 1974 when angler harvest was common. Since the late 1970s, managers have enacted increasingly restrictive minimum length limits and anglers adopted a catch-and-release ethic. Despite these efforts, angler catches declined sharply after 1991 in Buffalo Harbor and 1984 in the upper Niagara River; catch rates rebounded after 2006 in the Niagara River, but remain near all-time lows in Buffalo Harbor. In addition, mean catch rates of young-of-the-year (YOY) in fall electrofishing surveys declined from 3.3/h in 1992–1993 to 1.7/h in 2006–2009 in Buffalo Harbor and 11.0/h in 1992–1994 to 5.4/h in 2006–2009 in the Niagara River. Several ecosystem changes occurred that likely contributed to reductions in muskellunge populations, but comprehensive monitoring programs were not in place to quantify these effects. Recent seining surveys show YOY muskellunge production during 2007–2011 was highly variable among index sites (within years) and years, but catch per unit effort was 5.3 times higher at Niagara River sites than Buffalo Harbor sites; catch per unit effort of all fishes was 9.5 times higher in the upper Niagara River than Buffalo Harbor. Both areas are in need of habitat restoration, but habitats in Buffalo Harbor appear especially poor for nearshore fishes. Uncertainty about which factors led to declines in angler catches of muskellunge and YOY production demonstrates the need for a comprehensive monitoring program and formal muskellunge management plan.
Population and exploitation estimates were made from angler recaptures of Chautauqua Lake muskellunge,Esox masquinongy Mitchill. Fish were tagged during Conservation Department studies in 1941–1946, 1961–1965 and 1976–1978. Population estimates of adult fish ranged from one to seven fish per hectare and angler exploitation rates of tagged fish fluctuated from 3.8% to 14.1%. Relative catch indicators suggest a major decline in the lake’s muskellunge population during the last decade. Overexploitation, habitat alteration and interspecific competition with recently introduced fish species were cited as probable causes of the decline.