Muskellunge and Tiger Muskellunge Management and Fishing in Pennsylvania
Prepared by R. Lorantas and D. Kristine
PFBC Warmwater Unit
May 2005 (stocking numbers updated after 2005)
Goal: Maintain or create enhanced sport fisheries through judicious stocking of muskellunge and tiger muskellunge that recognize naturally produced muskellunge and enlist harvest management and habitat management approaches that foster increased density of naturally produced and stocked muskellunge.
Muskellunge are indigenous to rivers, streams, and lakes of the western slope of the Ridge and Valley Province in Pennsylvania (Ohio, Allegheny, Monongahela River drainages and Lake Erie Drainage). Two semi-discrete populations likely occurred in Pennsylvania, Great Lakes and Ohio River populations. Currently natural reproduction is very limited. Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission stocking programs have carefully expanded the range of muskellunge, east, to locations throughout Pennsylvania. Most muskellunge populations in Pennsylvania are maintained through Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) stocking programs. All muskellunge stocked in Pennsylvania are derived from wild-caught broodfish from lakes in northwestern Pennsylvania, reared to fingerling size (~6 inches) for late summer or fall stocking. In recent years limited rearing and stocking of yearling size (~10 inches) muskellunge has taken place to comparatively evaluate survival.
Tiger Muskellunge are an interspecific hybrid, cultured in Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission hatcheries, using wild caught female muskellunge and male northern pike. Both muskellunge and northern pike are indigenous to rivers, streams, and lakes of the western slope of the Ridge and Valley Province in Pennsylvania (Ohio, Allegheny, Monongahela River drainages and Lake Erie Drainage). Although this hybrid is known to occur in the wild it’s occurrence is rare. Tiger muskellunge populations in Pennsylvania are maintained exclusively through Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) stocking programs. We estimate that 94 % of musky angler trips can be attributed to Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission muskellunge and tiger muskellunge stocking programs. Our GIS map depicts where muskellunge and tiger muskellunge fisheries currently occur in Pennsylvania.
Sport harvest limits and stocking represent the most widely applied techniques used by Fishery Managers in Pennsylvania to sustain and enhance muskellunge and tiger muskellunge sport fisheries. Muskellunge stocking was initiated to counter declining natural muskellunge populations. Graff (1986) reported that muskellunge stocking in Pennsylvania began in the 1890’s, was abandoned due to it’s difficulty, and was reinitiated in 1953. Success in culture of muskellunge in the 1950’s and continuing to recent decades has led to expansive stocking programs to the present in Pennsylvania (Table 1). Stocking programs that make use of tiger muskellunge yield populations can be carefully controlled since the hybrid cannot proliferate naturally (functionally sterile). In addition to more exacting control of population numbers, tiger muskellunge can be more easily reared in a hatchery setting using artificial diets (fish food). Successful large-scale production of tiger muskellunge using an artificial diet was pioneered in Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission hatcheries (Bender and Graff 1986). Tiger muskellunge have been cultured at production levels for stocking into Pennsylvania waterways since 1965. Success in culture of muskellunge in the 1960’s and continuing to recent decades has led to expansive stocking programs to the present in Pennsylvania (Table 1). Current goals of stocking muskellunge go beyond reducing natural decline to now providing opportunity to catch a trophy sport fish in many waters across the state. The tiger muskellunge program has expanded opportunities for anglers to catch a trophy sport fish in a wide variety of waters across the state.
Muskellunge and tiger muskellunge stocking by the Pennsylvania
Fish and Boat Commission
|Year||Muskellunge||Tiger Muskellunge||All Muskellunge|
Over the course of history in Pennsylvania many man-made reservoirs have been created, these “man-made” habitats sometimes do not provide attractive fisheries when colonized by indigenous fishes that occur in streams and rivers that drain into the reservoir. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission examines and evaluates fish populations in man-made reservoirs as well as natural waters throughout Pennsylvania. Information derived from those assessments guide biologists relative to the suitability for muskellunge and tiger muskellunge stocking. Since muskellunge and tiger muskellunge are stocked as juveniles, appropriate juvenile habitat is necessary as well as availability of appropriately sized forage fish. In addition the presence and density of other predators are considered, as well as the needs and requirements of adult muskellunge. In conjunction with creating a trophy fishing opportunity, fishery managers insure that stocking takes place into a niche not filled and that no adverse impacts occur to desirable indigenous fish populations.
Statewide harvest of muskellunge and tiger muskellunge limits an angler to 2 fish of at least 30 inches (approximately 6.5 pounds). It requires approximately 4 years for a muskellunge or tiger muskellunge to attain legal size (Figure 1). In instances where increased size limits would be expected to enhance natural reproduction and recruitment, a water specific management plan has been developed that focuses upon that goal. In Presque Isle Bay (Erie County) where muskellunge nursery and rearing habitat have dramatically improved, management plans were developed such that stocking and elevated minimum size limit fostered natural spawning and recruitment. The size limit for muskellunge in Presque Isle Bay (Erie County) was set to 40 inches with a one fish creel limit in 1995. Also, where there is expectation that density can be enhanced by restrictions on harvest above the statewide restriction, size limits have been elevated (36 inches) and creel limits reduced (1 fish per day), as at Sugar Lake (Crawford County) and Conowingo Reservoir (Lancaster County).
Figure 1. Average length of muskellunge and tiger muskellunge collected by
Fisheries Biologists in assessment gear (March – June) in Pennsylvania.
Interest in muskellunge fishing and management has become increasingly popular and many Pennsylvania anglers specialize in pursuing this most noble and largest of game fish. This interest as well as improvement in water quality and aquatic habitats in some locales in Pennsylvania has lead the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission to reconsider its strategies associated with managing muskellunge. New strategies will focus upon enhancing fisheries on selected waters, enhancing natural recruitment where feasible and involving anglers in assessment of muskellunge management programs through data collection and data sharing.
Casting or trolling a variety of bucktails, stick baits, jerk baits, jigs, or live-baits using medium or heavy freshwater tackle will catch muskellunge. However, anglers should be prepared to be patient as they purse the fish of 1,000 casts. Surveys carried out by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission illustrate the number of fish caught per angler hour in medium size reservoirs (Figure 2), large size reservoirs (Figure 3) and rivers (Figure 4). Although considerable time is required to catch a muskellunge or tiger muskellunge, anglers should note that the highest monthly catch per hour tends to occur in the fall season, although these fish can be caught most any time of year. Once an angler catches a large muskellunge or tiger muskellunge they are often interested in how much the fish weighs and how old it is. Data collected by Fishery Managers and summarized in Table 2 provide average values for muskellunge and tiger muskellunge. Differences in weight, and age for a given length fish exhibit only slight differences for these species. Anglers should note that these listings represent average values and values for individual fish will vary.
Figure 2. Average catch per angler hour from medium size Pennsylvania reservoirs.
Figure 3. Average catch per angler hour from medium size Pennsylvania reservoirs.
Figure 4. Average catch per angler hour from Pennsylvania rivers.
|Table 2. Average weight and average age of muskellunge at a given length.|
|Inches||Muskellunge||Tiger Muskellunge||Inches||Muskellunge||Tiger Muskellunge||Inches||Muskellunge||Tiger Muskellunge|
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