(English) Muskies Canada’s Biggest Project

Désolé, cet article est seulement disponible en Anglais Canadien.

Trapnetting in Gloucester Pool

The Lake Simcoe Muskie Restoration Project (LSMRP) commenced in 2004. Before it started, there were several years of feasibility studies, which determined that restocking of Lake Simcoe was viable. Muskies Canada Executive asked the Toronto Chapter to lead the project for the club. Dave Boxall headed the LSMRP Team in the early years, with Steve Bedarf, Jim Kelly and Cupcake. In 2002 and 2003, the team had limited knowledge of how to raise wild Muskie, obtained eggs from Lake Couchiching, and experimented with outdoor ponds. These efforts were largely unsuccessful, due primarily to cannibalism, with no fingerlings in the first year and 8 in the second year.

The LSMRP then started in 2004. Our two main operational partners were the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) and Sir Sandford Fleming`s Lindsay hatchery (Fleming). The key people we worked with were Emily Funnell (Jason Borwick in the early years), Wil Wegman and Brent Shirley of the MNRF`s Aurora and Midhurst districts and Mark Newell of Fleming. The Muskies Canada team the past decade has been lead by Ian Young, Jim Kelly, Dave Boxall and Andy Pappas, with many volunteers assisting every year with both the collection of eggs in the spring in Gloucester Pool and the putting of fall fingerlings into the Lake in late October and early November. A lot of expertise regarding the raising of wild Muskies has been developed by all of these involved parties.

The original term of the Project was 10 years, with an annual target of 500 fall fingerlings and yearlings. This was later changed to 14 or 15 years, with an annual target in excess of 1,000 fingerlings and yearlings after Dr. John Casselman said he was sure we would be successful if we stocked muskies through 3 life cycles. Dr. Casselman is the world`s top living Muskie scientist. We have evidence from a similar 8 year restocking program of over 10,000 fingerlings and yearlings in the Spanish River that finished a decade ago (see article in the last issue of the RJ) which has been successful. There has been DNA proof of our stocked fingerlings surviving and many inadvertent catches and sightings of Muskie in Lake Simcoe. By the end of 2018, the LSMRP had lasted 14 years and we had stocked over 20,000 fingerlings and yearlings into Lake Simcoe.

Egg fertilization
Egg fertilization

The total cost of the LSMRP through 2018 has been over $1.5 million. Muskie Canada`s contribution has been over $250,000 ln cash plus many hours by volunteers each year in management meetings, assisting with the spring egg collections and putting of fingerlings and yearlings into the Lake in the fall. Muskie Canada`s fundraising efforts have been lead by Jim, Dave and Ian. Our main financial supporters have been the Becker Foundation (see separate article), the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (Zones E, G, H and J), Orillia Fish and Game, and Muskies Canada (National and the Kawartha Lakes, Hamilton, Barrie and Toronto Chapters). Thanks to a lot of hard work by Peter Levick to obtain approval from Georgina Township for Muskies to run a provincial lottery in 2016 and a lot of additional work by Tom McCutcheon to run the lottery since then, significant funds have been raised to help fund the LSMRP each year. Over $5,000 has also been donated by individuals to our “Adopt-a-Muskie” program, which we are running jointly with Fleming. These funds are currently in the Muskies Canada Foundation, earmarked for the LSMRP.

Emily Funnell, Resources Management Supervisor of the MNRF`s Aurora District and a Muskie fingerling ready for release

The LSMRP brings a lot of positive publicity each year to Muskies Canada and Muskie conservation. There have been many magazine and newspaper articles and film clips and interviews on television. The LSMRP was the first winner of the best fisheries conservation project in Canada when that annual award was started in 2010. There have also been presentations on the LSMRP at the two world Muskellunge symposiums in Ottawa and Minnetonka, Minnesota in 2014 and 2016. A scientific paper on the LSMRP, was published by the American Fisheries Society in 2017 in its book titled “Muskellunge Management”. A major reason why we have such a strong relationship with the Spring Fishing and Boat Show, and Andy and Vita Pallotta, has been the LSMRP. We developed Muskie Sunday, one of our two major annual fundraising efforts with the Odyssey, out of Andy`s desire to help us raise funds for the LSMRP and Muskie conservation.

There have been many benefits for Muskies Canada in addition to the satisfaction of helping to restore muskellunge to their historical waters in Lake Simcoe. Muskies Canada, the MNRF and Fleming are now likely the most knowledgeable raisers of wild muskellunge in the world We have developed tremendous partnerships and personal friendships with the MNRF, Fleming, OFAH, the Becker Foundation and Muskies Inc., Orillia Fish and Game, and many other partners. This project has been a significant help in raising Muskie Canada`s profile in the fishing and conservation worlds.

At the end of 2018 we had exceeded our expectations regarding the number of Muskie fingerlings and yearlings stocked into the Lake. The MNRF and Muskies Canada have jointly decided that 2019 is a good time to stop egg collections, rearing and stocking of muskies for the LSMRP. Thus, as Emily Funnell, Resources Management Supervisor of the MNRF`s Aurora District announced in a press release in December 2018, “We will not be undertaking egg collections, rearing and stocking in 2019. We will continue to engage with our partners and fisheries experts as we move into long term effectiveness monitoring.”

A special thank you to all of our partners and volunteers for their contributions to date. We look forward to continuing to work together in the future on the long-term monitoring program.

(English) The Lake Simcoe Muskie Restoration Project

Désolé, cet article est seulement disponible en Anglais Canadien.

Young muskie during stocking at Orillia and Cook’s Bay
Young muskie during stocking at Orillia and Cook’s Bay

By Ian Young, Jim Kelly, and Dave Boxall

2018 marked the 14th year of the Lake Simcoe Muskie Restoration Program (LSMRP). The epitome of a true partnership, the LSMRP involves Muskies Canada, Orillia Fish and Game, Fleming College, the Becker Foundation, OFAH, Toronto Spring Fishing and Boat Show and MNRF’s Aurora and Midhurst Districts. This program aims to restore a self-sustaining Muskie population that is not reliant on stocking back into Lake Simcoe. Once plentiful in the lake, it is believed that by the 1930’s the species was almost extirpated due to a variety of reasons, including a prior commercial fishery, decreased spawning habitat quality increasing Pike numbers and a lack of catch and release ethic by anglers.

A Feasibility study conducted prior to the program’s start in 2005, determined that restoring Muskie was feasible, but likely wouldn’t be successful if the original or Kawartha strain Muskie was used to help restock the lake. Kawartha’s Muskie have proven to have little tolerance for, nor an ability to co-exist with Northern Pike whereas their cousins to the north in Georgian Bay, have long been able to co-exist. Therefore, all partners agreed that Georgian Bay strain Muskie would be used.

Since 2005, crews trap netted Muskie every spring in either Georgian Bay or nearby Gloucester Pool (considered same strain) hoping to collect as many as three families each year. But like all good things … it wasn’t easy! “If Muskie are known as the fish of 10,000 casts amongst us anglers, then they are quietly recognized as the fish of a thousand net sets for fisheries techs and biologists,” revealed long time Muskies Canada member, trap netting volunteer and LSMRP organizer Jim Kelly. “Some years we would capture several ripe male and female muskies and collect our full three families in less than two weeks while other years MNRF staff would have their nets out and check for 4 or 5 weeks and barely scrape out enough ripe Muskie for one family,” he added. Whatever the case however one thing was certain … that once the fertilized eggs were transferred over to Mark Newell – “The Muskie Whisperer” and Hatchery Manager at Sir Sandford Fleming College in Lindsay, he would work his magic and get the absolute most out of every single egg, fry and fingerling he was tasked with raising!

Over the years the actual number of Muskie stocked into Lake Simcoe has varied tremendously … from less than a hundred at the start to as many as 4,000 in 2015.

After more than 10 years of trapnetting Muskie in Gloucester Pool, crews from Midhurst and Aurora realized that fewer and fewer Muskie were being caught there so they decided instead in 2018 to join forces with their MNRF Upper Great Lakes Management Unit (UGLMU) cohorts to help trap net Muskie in Severn Sound of Georgian Bay. Here they trap netted for over three weeks in early May and although several Muskie were captured … not all were ripe and willing to yield the eggs and milt required. One very large family however was collected from a big female with plenty of eggs and in the end, this proved to be the saving grace for 2018. “Mark was able to work his magic once again and get the absolute optimal results from that one family … enough that by early summer he was able to transfer 450 summer fingerlings to MNRF’s Harwood Fish Culture Station,” said Dave Boxall long time Muskie Canada member LSMRP organizer. Here, just like Mark was able to do at Fleming, staff did an amazing job ensuring cannibalism was kept at a minimum and only a small handful of mortalities were the result. So … by November stocking time about 1,700 fall fingerlings from Fleming were ready to be stocked into Lake Simcoe and 400 from Harwood were prepared for Georgian Bay at Severn Sound. “The major preparation procedure is basically switching all of the Muskie over from a pellet based feed – over to minnows. This helps acclimate all those individuals to the type of food source they’ll need to chase down and capture in their new homes if they want to survive” concluded Dave.

It was agreed beforehand that a portion of the total stocking numbers in 2018 should go back into the waterbody where the parents came from. On November 15, a crew from MNRF Aurora District, the UGLMU and Harwood Fish Culture, braved icy and snowy conditions to travel out on Georgian Bay in their Jon Boat to release 397 Muskie. “As Wil Wegman, with MNRF Aurora District who’s been connected with the LSMRP mentioned on his Instagram and Facebook Page, many of those young Muskie were stocked around the exact same area of Severn Sound where their parents were captured in trap nets that very spring and where that very important egg collection was conducted,” said Ian.

Stocking Muskie back into Lake Simcoe occurred successfully as well. On November 3rd, over 35 volunteers from Orillia Fish and Game, Muskies Canada, Bayshore Village Community, Fleming College and the Aurora Bassmasters … converged on Barnstable Bay in Lake Simcoe, and released 500 healthy young fingerlings between 7-9 inches from Fleming. On November 6th, Fleming students travelled by boat to the south side of Georgina Island and released 587 Muskie between there and the mainland. The Talbot River was the final stop for Muskie stocking in 2018 and for at least a year while the stocking portion of the LSMRP takes a one-year hiatus in 2019. Those 589 fall fingerlings and four larger yearlings were stocked throughout the river in prime habitat with more shiners to feed on than they could eat in a lifetime.

Ian Young is past president of MCI and lead for the LSMRP for his organization. “So after stocking over 20,000 Muskie into Lake Simcoe since 2005, it looks like, at Press Time anyways, that LSMRP will be taking at least a year off from capturing Muskie in the spring for egg collections and from raising Muskie at the hatcheries and releasing fall fingerlings in November”. There are several reasons for this hiatus, including current spending and travel restrictions on MNRF District staff since the new government came into power here in Ontario,

“After 14 years we are nearing the end of the project and it is now timely to sit back and re-evaluate where the program should go from here. Without trap netting and stocking, in 2019 and beyond, I know MNRF staff would like to focus more on monitoring Lake Simcoe and it’s rivers to try and determine how successful the program has been and where all those stocked Muskie and their offspring can be found. So here at Muskies Canada, we are on board with that in a big way and we look forward to an ongoing partnership with the fine staff at MNRF. We have made some great working relationships and personal friendships with these dedicated Muskie enthusiasts and we know that won’t end anytime soon,” concluded Ian.

Le maskinongé au Québec : deux siècles d’histoire de pêche et de gestion

Gustave Provost, directeur de la station piscicole de Lachine en 1962. Gustave Prévost, director of the Muskellunge hatchery in 1962. Crédit : MFFP.

Anne Carrier ¹ ², Philippe Brodeur³, Daniel Hatin⁴ et Louis Bernatchez¹
¹Département de biologie, Institut de Biologie Intégrative et des Systèmes (IBIS), Université Laval, G1V 0A6, Québec, Canada
²Département de Techniques du milieu naturel, Centre d’études collégiales à Chibougamau, Cégep de Saint-Félicien, Chibougamau, G8P 2E9, Canada
³Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs, Direction de la gestion de la faune de la Mauricie et du Centre-du-Québec, 100, rue Laviolette, bureau 207, Trois-Rivières, G9A 5S9, Canada
⁴Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs, Direction de la gestion de la faune de l’Estrie-Montréal- Montérégie-Laval, 201, Place Charles-LeMoyne, Longueuil, Québec, J4K 2T5, Canada

Le maskinongé est l’une des espèces de poissons les plus mythiques et impressionnantes. Au cours des deux derniers siècles, les biologistes ainsi que les pêcheurs de maskinongé ont documenté plusieurs aspects fascinants de sa biologie. À titre d’exemples, mentionnons la taille impressionnante qu’atteint cette espèce (Bernatchez et Giroux 2012), ses capacités de déplacement hors du commun (Kerr et Jones 2017) ou encore son comportement parfois surprenant (Crossman 1990, Jennings et coll. 2011). L’histoire entourant le maskinongé est fascinante, comme en témoigne l’origine de son nom et l’historique de sa gestion, qui révèlent l’importance particulière de l’espèce au Québec.

Le présent article a pour objectif de dresser un survol historique non exhaustif de quelques-uns des aspects les plus marquants de la gestion du maskinongé au Québec. On y aborde notamment certaines mentions historiques concernant la nomenclature et la taxonomie du maskinongé, sa répartition spatiale originale et contemporaine ainsi que l’historique des ensemencements. Cette synthèse est issue d’un travail réalisé dans le cadre d’un mémoire de maîtrise, qui visait d’abord à réunir les informations historiques disponibles pouvant soutenir l’interprétation de données génétiques sur le maskinongé dans les eaux québécoises (voir l’article de Rougemont et collaborateurs dans le présent numéro).

Taxonomie et folklore québécois

À l’époque de la colonisation de la Nouvelle-France, des documents d’archives de la Société Provancher mentionnent que le premier vice-roi de France, le Sieur Jean-François de La Rocque de Roberval, utilisait le bassin de la rivière Maskinongé comme territoire de pêche. À l’époque, le maskinongé était une espèce bien connue des populations autochtones, comme en témoignent les multiples racines amérindiennes présumées du nom de l’espèce, qui signifierait gros brochet, brochet laid ou brochet tacheté (Crossman 1986, MacCaughey 1917). Progressivement, ces appellations auraient dérivé pour devenir « masque long » ou « masque allongé » en français québécois. Aujourd’hui, les deux appellations généralement acceptées sont « maskinongé », au Canada, et « Muskellunge », aux États-Unis, mais on répertorie entre 40 et 94 noms communs en français seulement (voir Mellen 1917, Chambers 1923, Weed 1927 et Crossman 1986 pour un inventaire exhaustif des différents noms et de leur origine). Comme le mentionne Crossman (1986), aucun autre poisson n’a probablement autant de versions ou de façon d’orthographier son nom commun dans une seule langue. Selon Weed (1927), la quantité de noms communs d’une espèce reflète généralement l’attrait des gens pour celle-ci. Cela explique en partie cette nomenclature diversifiée et floue, mais comme Mongeau (1976) le souligne, cette confusion d’un point de vue taxonomique vient aussi certainement de sa grande ressemblance avec le grand brochet (Esox lucius) et du fait qu’il a été reconnu assez tardivement comme une espèce différente de son cousin.

Pêche commerciale et répartition naturelle au 19e siècle

Comme la nomenclature de l’espèce a été très variable jusqu’au début du 20e siècle, il est très difficile d’interpréter les observations quant à la répartition du maskinongé avant les années 1900. Au 19e siècle, le maskinongé était une espèce de prédilection pour les pêcheries autochtones et allochtones et, en raison de la qualité de sa chair et de sa taille imposante, il a contribué à une pêcherie commerciale importante au Québec. Bien qu’aujourd’hui les avis soient mitigés à propos du goût de la chair du maskinongé, le naturaliste Constantine Rafinesque mentionnait en 1818 que « c’est l’un des meilleurs poissons (…) sa chair est très délicate et se divise facilement, comme celle du saumon, en grandes plaques blanches comme la neige » (MacCaughey 1917). Selon les registres historiques des autorités de gestion des pêcheries du Canada (Crossman 1986), près de 2,9 millions de livres, représentant approximativement 192 535 maskinongés, ont été récoltées à la pêche commerciale au Québec de 1868 à 1936. Les prises commerciales de maskinongés dans les eaux de la région de Montréal représentaient 90 % des débarquements de cette espèce dans l’ensemble de la province (Fry et coll. 1942). La pêche commerciale du maskinongé a cessé en 1936.

Les textes historiques consultés suggèrent que le maskinongé, à l’état naturel, ne se trouvait que dans le sud du Québec. Sa répartition se limitait vraisemblablement aux eaux du bassin versant du fleuve Saint-Laurent et de certains de ses affluents, de la rivière des Outaouais jusqu’à Québec (Small 1883, Dymond 1939, Vézina 1977). Les limites nord et sud de la répartition de l’espèce ne sont que très peu définies. Selon les informations dont on dispose à ce sujet, à la fin du 19e siècle, on trouvait du maskinongé à l’état naturel, de la frontière sud de la province (incluant le lac Champlain et le bassin versant de la rivière Richelieu) jusqu’au nord-ouest de l’Outaouais, des Laurentides, de Lanaudière et de la Mauricie (Dymond 1939). Plus précisément, Dymond (1939), Small (1883), Halkett (1906 et 1907) et Montpetit (1897) mentionnent que le maskinongé était présent (1) dans la rivière Rideau au nord de Merrickville (Outaouais, Québec), (2) dans la rivière des Outaouais au sud de Rapides des Joachim (MRC de Pontiac, Outaouais, Québec), au sud de la rivière Petawawa et jusqu’au lac Travers (parc provincial Algonquin, Ontario) et (3) dans plusieurs lacs connectés aux rivières Gatineau et du Lièvre, dont les lacs Gilmour, Donaldson et Plumbago (MRC des Collines-de-l’Outaouais, Outaouais, Québec). De plus, quelques populations isolées ont été découvertes en 1968 à la suite du démantèlement des clubs de pêche de la région de la Mauricie, plus précisément dans le bassin de la rivière des Envies, tributaire de la rivière Batiscan, et dont fait partie le lac Traverse (Potvin 1973, Pageau et coll. 1978) analysé dans l’étude génétique de Rougemont et collaborateurs (voir l’article dans le présent numéro). Enfin, selon l’interprétation de Fry et collaborateurs (1942), cité par Robitaille et Cotton (1992), la population naturelle la plus importante au Québec aurait été celle du lac Saint-Louis, un lac fluvial du fleuve Saint-Laurent.

Période de gestion active

Les ensemencements

Gustave Provost, directeur de la station piscicole de Lachine en 1962. Gustave Prévost, director of the Muskellunge hatchery in 1962. Crédit : MFFP.
Gustave Prévost, directeur de la station piscicole de Lachine en 1962.  Photo : MFFP.

Le maskinongé figure parmi les espèces de poissons qui ont été les plus ensemencées au Québec (Dumont 1991). Avant 1950, peu d’ensemencements de maskinongés sur le territoire québécois ont été répertoriés dans la littérature (MacCaughey 1917, Dymond 1939, Small 1883, Halkett 1906 et 1907). À la fin de la première moitié du 20e siècle, une baisse importante des populations de maskinongés dans les eaux du fleuve Saint-Laurent et de l’archipel de Montréal, associée à la surpêche et à la détérioration de ses habitats, a semé beaucoup d’inquiétude. Les autorités de gestion de la faune de l’époque ont alors entrepris un vaste projet de restauration, incluant la construction d’une pisciculture de maskinongés à Lachine (arrondissement de la Ville de Montréal, Québec) (Photos 1 à 3) ainsi que le développement d’une expertise locale d’élevage d’ésocidés (Vézina 1977). En 1950, ces actions ont permis d’entreprendre des ensemencements de soutien. En 1985, ces derniers ont été adaptés aux connaissances contemporaines. Ils se sont ensuite poursuivis jusqu’en 1997. Durant la même période, l’espèce a également été introduite, avec ou sans succès, dans plus de 80 plans d’eau québécois afin de créer de nouvelles opportunités et de mettre en valeur la pêche au maskinongé (Vézina 1977, Dumont 1991, Vincent et Legendre 1974, Brodeur et coll. 2013, de la Fontaine, Y. non publié). Dans quelques rares cas, l’introduction du maskinongé a été utilisée pour tenter de contrôler les espèces compétitrices dans des lacs à omble de fontaine. Ces pratiques d’introduction d’un prédateur de haut niveau dans la chaîne alimentaire ont évidemment eu des répercussions sur les communautés de poissons.

Photo 2 - Station piscicole de Lachine (1950-1964). Photo : MFFP.
Photo 2 – Station piscicole de Lachine (1950-1964). Photo : MFFP.

L’élevage du maskinongé au Québec a débuté à la pisciculture de Lachine, en 1950. En raison de problèmes d’approvisionnement en eau, l’élevage a été transféré en 1964 à la pisciculture de Baldwin Mills, située en Estrie (connue aujourd’hui sous le nom de la station piscicole provinciale de Baldwin-Coaticook) (Dumont 1991). À la suite de quelques tentatives infructueuses visant la reproduction artificielle des maskinongés issus des lacs des Deux-Montagnes (région de Montréal), Gilmour, Donaldson et Plumbago (Outaouais) (MPC 1961, Vézina 1977, Crossman et Goodchild 1978), des œufs embryonnés ont été importés de la pisciculture de Bemus Point (New York, États-Unis) et, dans une moindre mesure, de la pisciculture de Deer Lake (Ontario, Canada) pour amorcer la production (Kerr 2001, Dufour et Paulhus 1977, Christopher Wilson et Christopher Legard, communication personnelle). Les maskinongés élevés dans ces deux stations piscicoles provenaient respectivement du lac Chautauqua (New York, États-Unis) et des lacs Stony et Buckhorn ainsi que de la rivière Crowe, faisant tous partie du système des lacs Kawartha en Ontario. Selon les informations recueillies, il semblerait que tous les lacs utilisés par ces piscicultures aient été ensemencés avec des maskinongés de source inconnue, eux-mêmes élevés en pisciculture, afin de soutenir leur offre de pêche respective (Christopher Wilson et Christopher Legard, communication personnelle). Les deux piscicultures, tout comme celle de Lachine, ne sont plus en activité aujourd’hui.

Photo 3 - Camion de transport de poissons de la pisciculture de Lachine. Photo : MFFP.
Photo 3 – Camion de transport de
poissons de la pisciculture de Lachine.
Photo : MFFP.

De 1965 à 1986, le lac Joseph (Centre-du-Québec, Québec) a été utilisé pour la capture de géniteurs visant à approvisionner la station piscicole de Baldwin Mills (Dumont 1991). Par la suite, de 1986 à 1997, la population du lac Tremblant (Laurentides, Québec) a servi de source. À l’origine, le maskinongé a été introduit dans ces deux lacs à partir des sources américaines ou ontariennes (voir Figure 1, schéma de l’historique des ensemencements connus à ce jour). Les résultats de l’étude génétique ont confirmé que la source américaine est la plus probable.

Les ensemencements de soutien, effectués durant plusieurs décennies dans la région de Montréal, se sont révélés efficaces pour améliorer l’état des stocks et maintenir l’activité de pêche sportive au maskinongé. En effet, une analyse de l’ampleur du recrutement mesuré durant la période de 1962 à 1977 a révélé que 55 % de la variation annuelle de l’abondance des jeunes maskinongés pouvait s’expliquer par le nombre de maskinongés ensemencés au cours de l’année et par l’abondance des jeunes maskinongés de l’année précédente (effet de cannibalisme et/ou de compétition) (Dumont 1991).

L’amélioration de la structure des populations de maskinongés étalée sur une longue période et la présence d’un recrutement naturel ont justifié l’arrêt des ensemencements en 1998 (Cloutier 1987, Dumont 1991). Depuis, aucun ensemencement de maskinongé n’a été effectué au Québec.

Figure 1 - Représentation simplifiée des ensemencements historiques du fleuve Saint-Laurent et de quelques lacs des eaux intérieures du Québec. Les flèches représentent les évènements d’ensemencement à partir de différentes populations sources. Les flèches pleines indiquent des mentions claires d’ensemencement, alors que les flèches pointillées représentent des mentions anecdotiques.
Figure 1 – Représentation simplifiée des ensemencements historiques du fleuve Saint-Laurent et de quelques lacs des eaux intérieures du Québec. Les flèches représentent les évènements d’ensemencement à partir de différentes populations sources. Les flèches pleines indiquent des mentions claires d’ensemencement, alors que les flèches pointillées représentent des mentions anecdotiques.

Intégration de la science collaborative à la gestion du maskinongé

Parallèlement aux mesures de gestion entreprises par le gouvernement, une réflexion sur les pratiques de pêche et un intérêt grandissant pour la conservation d’une pêcherie de qualité axée sur la pêche de spécimens de taille trophée ont émergé, menant à la création de Muskies Canada (Wachelka 2008 a,b,c) et à la naissance d’une longue collaboration entre les pêcheurs et les autorités de gestion de la faune du Québec. Le maskinongé est très peu vulnérable à la capture par les engins de pêche scientifiques utilisés pour le suivi des communautés de poissons. Le suivi de la récolte sportive de maskinongés par l’entremise d’enquêtes de pêche constitue donc une excellente solution pour contribuer à sa gestion et pour permettre l’évaluation de l’efficacité des mesures mises en place.

Pour faire le point sur l’état des stocks de maskinongés, une étude a été menée dans les années 1990 en collaboration avec le chapitre de Montréal de Muskies Canada. De 1994 à 1997, cinq pêcheurs ont étiqueté et relâché 808 maskinongés, principalement dans la région de Montréal. Les résultats ont révélé que quelques heures de pêche suffisaient pour capturer un maskinongé, alors que dans les années 1970, il fallait à un pêcheur sportif expérimenté une centaine d’heures de pêche pour capturer un seul spécimen. Après trois ans de suivi, 88 spécimens ayant été marqués ont été capturés de nouveau par les pêcheurs sportifs, ce qui correspondait à un taux de recapture de 11 %, jugé relativement faible et révélateur d’une abondance totale de maskinongés correspondant à plusieurs milliers de spécimens (Pierre Dumont, communication personnelle). L’augmentation graduelle de l’étendue de la structure en taille suggérée par les résultats des enquêtes de pêche et la présence d’une production naturelle de jeunes maskinongés ont mené à l’abandon des ensemencements en 1998 (Dumont 1991).

La mise à jour des informations sur la récolte sportive de maskinongés dans le fleuve Saint-Laurent (du lac Saint-François au lac Saint-Pierre) et dans le lac des Deux-Montagnes a ensuite été effectuée de 2010 à 2013, soit plus d’une décennie après l’arrêt des ensemencements. Cette seconde phase d’étude a été réalisée grâce à la précieuse collaboration de trois pêcheurs professionnels reconnus au Québec : M. Marc Thorpe, M. Mike Lazarus et M. Michael Phillips.
Au cours de l’étude, un total de 2 569 maskinongés ont été capturés, dont 2 162 ont été marqués au moyen d’une étiquette et 108 de ces poissons ont été recapturés.

L’ordre de grandeur des taux de recapture était faible dans l’ensemble des secteurs étudiés (de 3,7 % à 4,8 %). Par rapport à l’étude réalisée dans la région de Montréal de 1994 à 1997, le taux de recapture documenté dans le même secteur de 2010 à 2013 était deux fois plus faible (4,8 % par rapport à 11 %). Le taux de recapture étant généralement inversement proportionnel à l’abondance totale d’une population, ce résultat suggère que l’abondance du maskinongé dans la région de Montréal aurait augmenté depuis l’arrêt des ensemencements, du moins chez les poissons de taille moyenne à élevée, qui sont ciblés par les pêcheurs.

Figure 2 - Comparaisons historiques de la proportion de poissons de taille supérieure à 44 po dans la récolte sportive au lac Saint-Louis. L’année d’instauration des tailles minimales à 38 po en 1986, augmentée à 44 po en 1998, est également représentée.
Figure 2 – Comparaisons historiques de la proportion de poissons de taille supérieure à 44 po dans la récolte sportive au lac Saint-Louis. L’année d’instauration des tailles minimales à 38 po en 1986, augmentée à 44 po en 1998, est également représentée.

D’après des données archivées de 1918 à 1927, 19 % des maskinongés capturés dans le lac Saint-Louis dépassaient la taille minimale légale de 44 pouces. (Figure 2). En 1973, cette proportion était de 16 % et a ensuite augmenté à près de 50 % à la fin des années 1990 puis à 54 % durant la période de 2010 à 2013. Cette amélioration, échelonnée sur plusieurs décennies, s’explique par les ensemencements de soutien combinés à l’instauration d’une taille minimale légale à 38 pouces en 1986, qui a été augmentée à 44 pouces en 1998 (Figure 2). En raison de la présence de gros spécimens, les eaux du fleuve Saint-Laurent et du lac des Deux-Montagnes sont maintenant identifiées comme site de grand intérêt pour les pêcheurs de maskinongé. Dans le tronçon situé entre Montréal et Sorel ainsi qu’au lac Saint-Pierre, la plus faible abondance de jeunes spécimens de taille inférieure ou égale à 35 pouces récoltés par les pêcheurs sportifs suggère que le recrutement de jeunes maskinongés soit plus faible dans ces deux plans d’eau, comparativement au lac Saint-Louis et au lac des Deux-Montagnes (Figure 3). Ce constat a motivé l’instauration d’une étude par le ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs (MFFP) et ses nombreux partenaires dans le but d’identifier les habitats essentiels de l’espèce par télémétrie dans ce tronçon du fleuve (voir l’article de Brodeur et collaborateurs dans le présent numéro).

Figure 3 - Structure en taille des maskinongés dans la récolte sportive mesurée durant la période 2010 à 2013 dans les plans d’eau du fleuve Saint-Laurent (LDM : lac des Deux-Montagnes; LSF : lac Saint-François; LSL : lac Saint-Louis; MS : tronçon entre Montréal et Sorel; LSP : lac Saint-Pierre). La proportion des poissons de taille supérieure ou égale à 44 po, de 36 à 43 po et de 35 po et moins est représentée.
Figure 3 – Structure en taille des maskinongés dans la récolte sportive mesurée durant la période 2010 à 2013 dans les plans d’eau du fleuve Saint-Laurent (LDM : lac des Deux-Montagnes; LSF : lac Saint-François; LSL : lac Saint-Louis; MS : tronçon entre Montréal et Sorel; LSP : lac Saint-Pierre). La proportion des poissons de taille supérieure ou égale à 44 po, de 36 à 43 po et de 35 po et moins est représentée.

La plus récente enquête de pêche a permis d’amasser quelques connaissances préliminaires au sujet des déplacements des maskinongés. Ainsi, entre 2010 et 2013, la majorité des individus recapturés à la pêche sportive (95 %), au cours des six mois suivant le marquage ou un à deux ans après, l’ont été dans le même plan d’eau où ils avaient été marqués. Les distances mesurées entre la capture et la recapture des spécimens étaient généralement inférieures à quelques kilomètres, et ce, autant à l’échelle d’une année qu’entre les années (72,7 % et 58,1 % des recaptures à moins de 5 km du lieu de marquage, respectivement). Bien que les maskinongés puissent se déplacer sur de longues distances notamment en période de reproduction, ce résultat suggère qu’une portion importante des individus est fidèle à des secteurs spécifiques correspondant généralement à de grands herbiers favorables à l’alimentation. Ce résultat démontre l’importance de préserver et de restaurer les secteurs d’herbiers aquatiques du fleuve Saint-Laurent. Des déplacements à large échelle entre les différents secteurs du fleuve ont toutefois été observés entre le lac Saint-Pierre et le tronçon Montréal-Sorel, avec des distances parcourues pouvant atteindre jusqu’à 58 km. Ce constat a récemment été corroboré par les résultats préliminaires de l’étude télémétrique qui montre qu’une certaine proportion des maskinongés marqués au lac Saint-Pierre effectuent des déplacements jusqu’à la région de Montréal (voir l’article de Brodeur et collaborateurs dans le présent numéro). Ces observations de grands déplacements corroborent aussi la connectivité sur l’ensemble du Saint-Laurent révélée par les analyses génétiques.

Perspectives futures

Pour maintenir un statut de poisson trophée, susceptible de maintenir et d’améliorer la qualité de pêche au maskinongé, une révision régulière de l’état des stocks et des modalités de gestion est requise. Depuis 2010, une étude ayant pour objectif général de recueillir de nouvelles connaissances sur plusieurs sphères de la biologie du maskinongé est menée par le MFFP et ses partenaires. Cette étude vise à contribuer à la gestion du maskinongé au Québec. À ce jour, cette initiative a permis de réaliser une rétrospective de gestion historique, faisant l’objet du présent article, une analyse de la génétique des populations de maskinongés (voir l’article de Rougemont et collaborateurs dans le présent numéro), et d’amorcer une étude visant l’identification des habitats essentiels du maskinongé entre Montréal et le lac Saint-Pierre. Certains pêcheurs sportifs rapportent une diminution récente de la qualité de la pêche au maskinongé dans certains plans d’eau des eaux intérieures du Québec, ce qui, par ailleurs, reste à mesurer. Des études sur les populations de maskinongés de la rivière des Outaouais et du lac Maskinongé ont d’ailleurs été amorcées depuis quelques années (voir l’article de Deschesnes dans le présent numéro).


Nous remercions chaleureusement les personnes suivantes pour leur précieuse collaboration: nous tenons à souligner l’implication des pêcheurs de maskinongés qui ont participé à l’enquête de pêche de 2010 à 2013, soit Marc Thorpe, Mike Lazarus et Michael Phillips. Merci tout particulièrement à Peter Levick (Muskies Canada), Chris Wilson (Aquatic Research and Monitoring Section, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry) et John Farrell (Department of Environmental and Forest Biology, State University of New York) qui nous ont fait part de nombreuses informations sur la gestion du maskinongé. Merci à Christopher Legard (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation) et à Christopher Wilson (Fish Culture Section, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry) d’avoir vérifié et partagé l’historique des activités des piscicultures du lac Chautauqua et de Deer Lake. Merci à Steven Kerr (biologiste retraité, Fisheries Section, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources) pour ses précieux conseils et pour avoir partagé son savoir sur l’historique de gestion du maskinongé au Québec. Merci à Shawn Good (Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department) et Jeffrey J. Loukmas (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation) pour avoir partagé l’historique de la gestion et des ensemencements du lac Champlain. Nous remercions également la Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et des pêcheurs, Ressources Aquatiques Québec et Muskies Inc. pour leur soutien financier. Le financement a aussi été assuré par le ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs du Québec et par la Chaire de recherche du Canada en génomique et conservation des ressources aquatiques.


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(English) Helping Habitat : Bill C-68

Désolé, cet article est seulement disponible en Anglais Canadien.

I have been invited to write a regular column on conservation issues related to Muskies and their Habitat.  So my territory overlaps well with the range of Muskies in Canada.

A bit about me first, I work for Ducks Unlimited Canada as the Director of Regional Operations for Eastern Canada.  This means I oversee DUC’s conservation work east of Manitoba. So my territory overlaps well with the range of Muskies in Canada.  I have been a member of Muskies Canada for three years and am yet to catch my first Muskie.  I hope the 2018 is my year. 

I worked with Peter Levick, then president of Muskies Canada to develop a Memorandum of Understanding between Muskies and DUC in 2015.  In this MOU we committed to ongoing collaboration to expand mutual habitat conservation projects that benefit Muskellunge and Waterfowl in eastern Canada.  Given our shared focus on habitat this was the quickest MOU that I have ever developed.  You will have seen in Chris Nielson’s Presidents message, that we are seeing good examples of working together.

Implications of proposed amendments to the Fisheries Act

One of the powerful tools supporting habitat conservation at scale is Federal or Provincial legislation or policy.  These government directions can have significant impacts on habitat and uses of habitat.  The federal fisheries act is a critical act that regulates activities related to fisheries and fish habitat.  As such, it is an important tool in conservation of habitat. 

The fisheries act underwent significant modernization and change in 2012.  Some of these changes reduced the extent of fish habitats protected across Canada.  The Federal government has introduced new amendments to the act (Bill C-68) that will have a significant impact on fish and fish habitat.  Some highlights include:

Before Proposed Amendments

After Proposed Amendments

Not all fish and fish habitat protected; only those related to a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fishery protected

Protection of all fish and fish habitat

Uncertainty as to when authorizations are required for development projects


Clarity on which types of projects require authorizations through permitting and codes of practice


Lack of transparency regarding authorization decisions for projects; no requirement to publicly release information on these decisions


Requirement to publicly release information on project decisions through an online registry

No provisions to restore degraded habitat as part of development project reviews


Provisions to consider restoration priorities as part of development project reviews


No tools to quickly implement in-season fisheries restrictions to address unforeseen conservation and management issues


Ability to put in place targeted short-term measures to quickly and effectively respond to unforeseen threats to the management of fisheries and to the conservation of fish


 These proposed amendments are important to Muskies Canada for several reasons.  First, the changes strengthen the protection of habitat for muskellunge throughout their lives.  In addition, the proposed amendments will make is easier to know and understand if future development projects are going to impact muskellunge habitat and how developer will compensate for these impacts.  The amendments are more explicit on compensation for destruction of fish habitat.  Muskies Canada has the opportunity to guide compensation for loss of muskellunge habitat.

The act is currently moving thru the parliamentary process and the government is considering the proposed amendments.   MP and Federal Ministers respond to comments from members of grass roots organizations like Muskies Canada.

So it is time to Take Action.

You can have a positive influence on getting Bill C-68 adopted by sending a letter, email or talking to your MP and/or Dominic LeBlanc the Federal Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.  The message is simple you support the positive changes to increase the protection of fish habitat being proposed in Bill C-68.

Here is the complete Bill-C68 submission.

Création d’une échancrure le long de la rivière Jock (2014-2016)

En octobre 2014, la Rideau Valley Conservation Authority a construit une échancrure destinée à accroître la superficie de l’habitat du poisson dans la zone de conservation de Richmond, située à Ottawa (Ontario). Ce projet a été réalisé en partenariat avec Pêches et Océans Canada, Shell Fueling Change, Muskies Canada (chapitre d’Ottawa), le National Defence Fish and Game Club, la Fondation communautaire d’Ottawa, Fendock et l’Ottawa Flyfishers Society.

Le projet a consisté à convertir une zone de parc gazonnée en un petit milieu humide le long de la rivière Jock. L’entreprise Raab Construction Ltd. a participé à la création du milieu humide, et les travaux n’auraient pu être achevés sans l’aide d’un groupe de vaillants bénévoles.

Le projet s’est conclu par une journée de plantation d’arbres le 16 mai.

Pour informations :
Jennifer Lamoureux, biologiste (habitats aquatiques et de poissons)
Rideau Valley Conservation Authority
613-692-3571, poste 1108
https://www.rvca.ca/jock-river-fish-habitat-embayment-creation-project (en anglais)

Projet de restauration de l’habitat du maskinongé au lac Simcoe 2017

Les mises à jour hebdomadaires ci-dessous ont été envoyées à des représentants de Muskies Canada et de l’Orillia Fish and Game Club, de même qu’à des employés clés du ministère des Richesses naturelles et des Forêts de l’Ontario, pendant les cinq semaines qu’a duré le programme de pêche au filet. Périodiquement, après la pêche et notre collecte d’œufs, le personnel des alevinières a transmis des informations additionnelles (reflétées dans les mises à jour).

Merci de votre participation au Projet de restauration de l’habitat du maskinongé au lac Simcoe – Wil Wegman


Pour télécharger et lire le rapport intégral (en anglais), cliquez sur le lien ci-dessous. (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.



One of the tanks with young muskie fry


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!


5% challenged sac fry: some good quality fry with a few of their “challenged” siblings in the bottom right corner


2016 late stage sac fry: shows a good resolution shot of some of the high quality fry at Fleming


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?



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.


Longnose Gar eggs sticking to our paddle


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.


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.


Lawrence of the Lake Huron Management Unit (LHMU), Wil and Brent with one of the egg donors


Lawrence and Stephen of LHMU and Brent with the male donor


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.


Carolyn Hann (foreground) holds bowl for egg collecting while Brent  extracts eggs and Wilmaintains control of this 40 pound super strong female



Brent (foreground),  Wil (background) and Carolyn (middle) caring for eggs before they are transferred to jars- below



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


Wil is taking scale samples here for ageing and genetics, while Brent steadies the muskie and Carolyn is ready with the scale envelope


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


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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



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.


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.


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


Kate and Wil with one very fat egg-laden female largemouth bass on a wet, cold day on the water.


Here, during a warmer Wednesday on the Pool, MNRF’s Melanie Shapiera  holds another good Largemouth – with Wil and Brent look on.


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.


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.


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.


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


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


Eva Bobak (MNRF Aurora) with one of her favorite species … the longnose gar. Brent in background collecting data.



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.