Volunteer guides as a novel source of data collection for rivering muskellunge populations in northwest Wisconsin

Previous evaluations of creel surveys have found non-reporting, recall bias, species misidentification and high drop our rates to inhibit overall effectiveness. Participation in this volunteer creel project was limited to a small group of dedicated professional guides that met annually with Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources staff for training and instruction to ensure high quality data collection and reliable reporting. Data collection began in 2012 and continued through the 2016 open water Wisconsin fishing season. The volunteer guides initiated collection of data for several variables that were not originally considered by agency personnel.

While there are several challenges to initiating and maintaining angler-agency partnerships, they can be an efficient means to collect relevant muskellunge population data in uniquely challenging environments such as river, particularly in comparison to tradition fisheries survey methods used primarily on lakes such as trap netting or electrofishing. Cooperative partnerships between agencies and anglers have the added benefit of generating mutual trust and facilitating exchange of information related to user experience.

Muskellunge population assessment in two northcentral lakes aided by angler participation

A population assessment of muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) in two connected northcentral Minnesota lakes allowed evaluation of angler data when assessing various population metrics, including the residual effects of historical stocking efforts, as a non local strain had been introduced into the native population during the 1970s. In 2012, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources sampled and marked muskellunge using trap nets during the pre-spawning and spawning periods and electrofishing during the post spawn period, while anglers collected data from fish caught during the 2012 open water season. Angler released all fish after collecting a scale for genetic analysis. Microsatellite DNA genotypes were used to differentiate individuals thus identifying recaptures and to estimate accuracy derived from the stocked strain. Anglers reported catching 16% of individuals marked by biologists. Of muskellunge reported by anglers, 78% were from the lake where they were initially captured while 22% were reported in the lake opposite their initial capture. Postspawn movements suggested that more individuals migrated from the lake characterized as having preferred spawning and nursery habitat to the lake characterized as having preferred summer habitat and prey. The age and length frequency distribution of fish captured by anglers and trap nets were similar, while electrofishing sampled younger and smaller fish, likely because it occurred postspawn when many adults had moved offshore. The best estimate of adult population size was produced by a model incorporating fish length as a covariate. Density was estimated at 0.70 adults per ha or 1.92 adults per littoral ha. Higher percentages of nonlocal ancestry were associated with smaller maximum size potential in von Bertalanffy growth models. Our study described key population characteristics for a muskellunge population while demonstrating that anglers could reliably collect several specific types of data that supplement data collected by management agencies.

A management tool for biologists and an online fishing resource for anglers: An introduction to the Ohio musky angler log

Voluntary angler catch reporting has been the principal method for monitoring muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) fisheries in Ohio. From 1960 to 2007, anglers used mail-based catch cards to report 46,000 muskellunge catches. This program has not only been vital for collecting robust long term data on fishery performance and participation, it has also served as a focal point for building a strong partnership between the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife and muskellunge anglers. While instrumental in building quality muskellunge fisheries in Ohio, the mail-based program was limited by the lack of catch detail provided, time lag of catch reporting and minimal access to the catch data by anglers. Consequently, a new online catch reporting system called the Muskie Angler Log (MAL) was launched in 2008. Designed in collaboration with anglers, the MAL expands on the tradition of providing important fishery data to biologists while serving as a fishing resource to anglers. In addition to reporting their catches, anglers using the MAL can now view, summarize and download their personal catches, review reservoir-specific stocking and catch histories and examine recent catch details voluntarily shared by other anglers. Biologists benefit from the MAL by being able to instantaneously track fishery performance and participation. The MAL also provides the opportunity to collect previously unavailable data on fishing effort and catch rates. The MAL shows promise in guiding management strategies, initiating research questions and further strengthening the angler-agency partnership.

The Muskies Inc. log database: 370,000 muskellunge and growing

One of the most notable accomplishments of Muskies Inc. relates to the establishment of the Lunge Log database in 1970. As of March 2016, there have been more than 370,000 muskellunge entered into the Lung Log by Muskies Inc. members. The number of Lung Log entries has grown from 58 muskellunge reported in 1970 was 31% released. To an average of about 15,000 reported per year for the past decade, with more than 99.9% released. The annual release rate has been greater than 99% since 1993. One of the most exciting trends documented by the Lunge Log is that Muskies Inc. members have reported increasing numbers of 50 inch muskellunge over the past 20 years and, since 1997, more than 95% of those big fish have been released. In 2014 and 2015, the release rate for muskellunge > 50 inches was 100%. The release of more than 370,000 muskellunge, documented by the Lung Log, is the most important contribution Muskies Inc. members have made to protect muskellunge fisheries in North America

Ontario’s 2008 volunteer muskellunge angler diary program

A total of 1,554 logs were completed by MCI members for Ontario waters during the 2008 fishing season. Volunteer anglers reported fishing for 22,913.0 hours on 51 different waterbodies to catch 1,183 muskellunge. This represents an overall catch-per-unit-effort of 0.052. Based on a sample size of 1,195 fish, the average size of muskellunge angled in 2008 measured 37.2 inches in length. The size of angled fish ranged from 10.0 to 59.0 inches in length. There were a total of 44 angled muskellunge which exceeded 50 inches in length during the 2008 season. The largest angled muskellunge, measuring 59 inches in length, was angled from the St. Lawrence River in October, 2008. Only five of 1,183 muskellunge angled in 2008 were reportedly released. This represents a release rate in excess of 99%. Five fish, all angled from the Ottawa River, bore lamprey marks.

A summary of muskellunge angler diary information collected during the 2005 fishing season

One hundred and size (106) members of Muskies Canada Inc. submitted information on their regular 2005 fishing activities as well as four outings. Volunteer anglers reported 24,336.3 rod hours of fishing effort spread over 50 different waterbodies. Catch rates varied among waterbodies. The 2005 catch rate, for all waters combined and expressed in terms of catch-per-unit-effort, was 0.061. Based on a sample size of 1,438 muskellunge which were angled and measures, the means size of muskellunge caught in 2005 was 36.6 inches (93.0 cm). The two largest muskellunge reported during the 2005 fishing season were fish measuring 54.5 inches (138.4 cm). Muskellunge exceeding 50 inches (127 cm) were repotedly angled from at least five different Ontario waters in 2005.

A summary of Muskies Canada Inc. angler log information, 1979-1994

This report summarizes muskellunge angling information collected by members of the Muskies Canada Incorporated (MCI) organization on a number of Ontario waters during a sixteen year period extending from 1979-1994. Three hundred and eighty anglers participated in the volunteer angler diary program during that time. These anglers reported an angling effort of 46,668 rod hours to catch a total of 3,054 muskellunge. Only 112 (3.7%) of these muskellunge were reportedly harvested. Angling quality, expressed in terms of catch-per-unit-effort (CUE), varied between years and among waterbodies. The overall CUE for the study period (all waterbodies combined) was 0.065. Several large southeastern Ontario river systems and the Kawartha lakes received the bulk of muskellunge directed angling effort and related catches. The largest muskellunge captured was a fish measuring 58.25 inches (148 cm) in length with a girth of 28.5 inches (72.4 cm). Biological information and effort-catch records are summarized for individual waterbodies and recommendations are offered for future volunteer angler programs. The information obtained from this volunteer program represents some of the best muskellunge data currently available in Ontario and it is highly recommended that this program be continued in the future.

Results from the 1992 cooperative muskellunge angler diary program in eastern Ontario

Thirty-three anglers participated in the 1992 eastern Ontario cooperative muskellunge angler diary program. These anglers reported exerting a total of 3,490.75 angler hours fishing effort on sixteen different waterbodies to catch a total of 205 muskellunge. Angling activity and muskellunge catches were relatively constant throughout the open water (June-November) season with the exception of October when fishing effort and catches were highest. Six large river systems (Madawaska, Moira, Ottawa, Petawawa, Rideau and St. Lawrence) accounted for 88.4% of the angling effort and 71.2% of the muskellunge catch. The proportion of legal-sized muskellunge in the catch varied considerably among different waterbodies but averaged 52.2% for all waters combined. All but three fish from the reported muskellunge catch were released. On waters receiving a minimum of one hundred hours of angler effort, muskellunge catch-per-unit-of-effort values ranged from 0.018 to0.214 fish per angler hour. The 1992 cooperative program was the fourth consecutive year that muskellunge data has been collected and summarized. This program represents the only continuous source of information on the eastern Ontario muskellunge fishery. It is recommended that a similar project be implemented again in 1993.

Characteristics of the muskellunge fishery in the St. Lawrence River, Québec, based on angler diaries

Muskellunge (Esox maquinongy) declined during the first half of the 20th century in Québec portion of the St. Lawrence River. Muskellunge stocking was conducted from 1950 to 1977 in order to support the recreational fishery. This study aimed to monitor the muskellunge fishery using angler diaries. Fishing effort and success, as well as fish length and sex, were noted from 2010 to 2013 in five sectors of the St. Lawrence River. A total of 2,619 individuals were captured with an angling effort of 12,503 rod hours. Angling success varied from 0.17 to 0.30 muskellunge/rod hour, depending on sector. Based on historical data, size of angled fish increased over the past century. The proportion of catch larger than 44 inches increased from 19% in 1918-1927 to 53% in 2010-2013. However, the proportion of catch smaller than n35 inches (88.9 cm) was low in the downstream sectors of the river, suggesting recruitment failure in recent years. The status of muskellunge stocks appears healthy in the upstream sectors of the St. Lawrence River but remains fragile downstream. In the context of large scale habitat losses observed during the past decade, studies are needed to measure genetic structure of populations and to identify, restore and protect critical spawning, nursery and growth habitats. Angler diaries have proved to be an effective management tool that should be maintained or expanded in the future.

Population characteristics and angler use of muskellunge in eight northern Wisconsin lakes

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.