Muskie Stockings Preceed On Schedule

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IOWA MUSKIE STOCKINGS PROCEED ON SCHEDULE

By Lowell Washburn

Iowa Department of Natural Resources

May 2003

SPIRIT LAKE--One of the state's most important trophy fisheries received a shot in the arm this week as thousands of advanced fingerling muskellunge were released into Iowa public waters. On average, this year's crop of muskie 'super fingerlings' are measuring a full 12.5 inches in length, making them excellent candidates for survival to adulthood, according to DNR Fisheries Research Biologist, Joe Larschied.

"A central goal of our muskie stocking program is to provide the Iowa angler with a unique opportunity to catch a true trophy fish -- or even the fish of lifetime," said Larschied.

"Consequently, we maintain our muskie populations at relatively low densities when compared to other predator species. In essence, the muskie program is intended to be a [catch and release] trophy fishery, not a [catch and eat] meat fishery."

The Spirit Lake State Fish Hatchery is the birthplace for the tiny dart-shaped, baby muskellunge that will one day become the trophies of which angling dreams are made.

According to Spirit Lake hatchery manager Donna Muhm, the tiny muskie fry are introduced to a diet of high protein, dry feed on about their tenth day of life. When the fish reach a length of 4-inches, they are switched to live minnows which fisheries personnel net from area ponds and deliver to the hatchery for the remainder of the summer.

"Our fingerlings thrive on the live minnow diet and by October they usually measure from 9 1/2 to 10-inches in length," said Mumm.

"At that point, the advanced fingerlings are moved south to artificial holding ponds at the Rathbun State Fish Hatchery. Fisheries personnel continue to provide live feed throughout the winter and by spring the fingerlings have usually added another three inches or so to their length," Mumm added.

In early to mid-May, the young muskies are recaptured for stocking across the state. At seven or eight years of age, the survivors will have reached the legal, 40-inch length.

"Part of our overall goal is to establish a population density of one adult, thirty-inch plus muskellunge for every seven to ten surface acres of water," said Larschied.

"With that sort of a population, we can provide anglers with a pretty phenomenal trophy fishery. In the Iowa Great Lakes, for example, we are currently seeing muskie catch rates that actually match the objectives of Wisconsin's best Blue Ribbon waters," said Larschied.

"In essence, we're providing a totally unique fishery."

According to Mumm, around 3,000 to 4,000 advanced muskie fingerlings are stocked in Iowa each year. The fingerlings are divided between Spirit Lake, West Okoboji, Clear Lake, Pleasant Creek, Hawthorn Lake, Big Creek, Three Mile Lake, and Brushy Creek. Each lake receives fingerling stockings on an 'every other year' basis. However, the vast majority of Iowa produced muskies are traded to other states for catfish, smallmouth bass, or other gamefish species which are ultimately stocked into Iowa waters.

"There's no question that our muskie culture has become much more efficient over time," said Larschied.

"At Spirit Lake, for example, we used to release around 1,900 smaller, totally pellet reared fingerlings per year. At best, our success could only be described as fair. Today, we're only releasing 850 advanced fingerlings every other year and are providing a true world class fishery. It was all a matter of stocking a higher quality product," said Larschied.

"A classic example of just how much excitement a trophy muskie can create occurred on Clear Lake just last week when 6-year-old William Elston hooked and landed a 50-incher on the lake's eastern shore," said DNR Fisheries Biologist, Jim Wahl.

"A fish like that always turns heads and is a trophy anywhere in North America. But when a six-year-old hooks into a monster like that, it becomes a real story. The town has been buzzing ever since."

Iowa's current state record muskellunge is a 52.5-inch, 50.4 pound lunker landed in August of 2000 at Spirit Lake by Kevin Cardwell."

The previous state record was a 45-pound, 9-ounce, 52-incher taken from Spirit Lake in 1995. That fish was the largest muskellunge taken anywhere in North America that year.

"Fish like that speak very highly for the quality of our Iowa muskie fishery," said Larschied.
 


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