The feisty muskellunges (muskies) are popular among anglers in Wisconsin – and personnel at the state’s Wild Rose Hatchery are working hard to keep them that way.
Hatchery supervisor, Steve Fajfer told HI that staff are involved in a three-year research project to address the fish’s voracious carnivorous appetite in the most cost-efficient way possible.
Feeding the newborn muskies is a multiphase operation involving phytoplankton, zooplankton and white sucker fry. Then it’s time to move them into outdoor ponds. The goal is to grow the fish to stockable size quickly and cost-effectively.
One of the experiments being carried out at the Wild Rose Hatchery is the increased use of artificial or pelleted feed. Though trials have been underway for a short time the feed shows promise said Fajfer. Juvenile muskies fed on commercial pellets instead of the usual minnows or bait-fish, saved the hatchery close to 20% in feed costs.
However, compared to muskies fed minnows for the same length of time last year, the artificial-fed muskies were a full inch shorter than their counterparts – 10.9 inches long compared to 12 inches. Monitoring is also underway in a number of different lakes to determine how the pellets affect survival rates of the fish.
Fajfer also noted that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources hatchery is conducting experiments with Great Lakes Spotted Musky that are sent for hatching by the Michigan DNR. The hatchery is also in the process of developing a disease-free stock of muskies in lakes throughout the state.
The fishery took a serious downturn in the mid-1990s because of overfishing, loss of habitat and reduced water quality. The Wild Rose Hatchery’s efforts were stepped up and the DNR started a reintroduction program using spawn from a Lake Huron tributary in Michigan, supplemented by additional genetics and fingerlings from Lake St. Clair in Michigan and from Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay in Canada.
The fishery revived and muskies remain a trophy fish in Wisconsin, where they are enjoyed for their fight.
“We estimate that about 25% of anglers (in the state) fish for muskellunge and that has been steadily increasing over the years,” Tim Simonson, a fisheries biologist and co-leader of the Department of Natural Resources musky committee, is reported as commenting.
A recently published Muskellunge Management Update from the DNR estimates that some $425 million is spent on the sport a year. And that’s certainly worth paying attention to.
– Quentin Dodd
Hide and Seek
The Wild Rose Hatchery has several ponds all lined with black plastic, a half-acre to an acre in size, and about eight feet deep. Some of them have recently been fitted with a new special type of artificial “hiding habitat” so the muskies and their minnow prey can find shelter and the latter can hide from the former, and both can be protected from fish-eating birds such as herons.
Fajfer said the habitat is made of metal which can be bent into different shapes. The muskies use them as they would reeds in lakes and rivers, to hide and then dart out to ambush an unsuspecting minnow.