Effects of angling with a single hook and live bait on muskellunge survival

Use of live bait for angling of muskellunge, Esox masquinongy, is popular in Wisconsin. A traditional method utilizes a large hook through the bait fish’s snout, which requires the muskellunge to swallow the bait prior to hook set. Adult muskellunge (>76 cm; 30 in) were held in lined hatchery ponds and caught while fishing with live bait on 10/0 size single hooks. The leader was cut and the muskellunge was released when hooked in the stomach. Survival was monitored for up to 1 year. No immediate ( <24 h) mortality occurred. However, 22% of hooked muskellunge died within 50 days and 83% died within 1 year. Necropsies revealed extensive trauma to the stomach and other organs from hooks, along with systemic bacterial infections. Highest mortality on both hooked and control fish occurred over winter through spring. This peak mortality may be associated with natural stressors that occur during the spring spawning period. Mortality rates observed in this study are considered unacceptable for trophy management of muskellunge. Although use of live bait for muskellunge is traditional in Wisconsin, terminal tackle such as quick-strike rigs that hook fish in the mouth or buccal cavity should enhance the chances a released muskellunge will survive.