The use of angler diary surveys to evaluate long-term changes in muskellunge populations on Lake of the Woods, Ontario

Reported improvements in the muskellunge angling fishery on Lake of the Woods, Ontario over the last two decades have paralleled an increase in the practice of catch and release angling, and an increase in minimum size regulations for this species. The overall status of muskellunge populations in this large, complex lake has proven difficult to monitor using standard assessment methods. A volunteer muskellunge angler diary program, established in 1988, has provided a cost effective method of gathering a large amount of information with which to track this fishery and associated populations. Results from angling diaries indicated increased angling effort, catch and success rates for muskellunge on Lake of the Woods since the early 1990s. Although the month of July accounted for the majority of angling effort and catch, angling success rates and sizes of fish reported in diaries improved monthly into the late fall. Angling success rates were consistently higher in angling diaries than from creel surveys, but both survey types showed similar long-term trends in the fishery. Angler diary data, incorporating both the numbers of fish caught and/or seen by anglers, were used to calculate catch equality indices which proved to be sensitive to changes in population abundance. Increased minimum length regulations for muskellunge during 1987–2001 have been largely responsible for a decline in harvest rates from an estimated 36% in 1986 to 0% since 1999. Although higher size limits have yet to produce more quality-sized fish in angler catches, diary survey data, supported by recent improvements in catch rates from assessment gill nets, would indicate that muskellunge recruitment has increased. This article concludes with a brief review of how muskellunge angler diary data has been used in the past, including recommendations to minimize biases associated with this survey method.