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Frequently Asked Questions About Increased Minimum Size L imits for Muskies

Muskie Size Limits FAQ

Mike Roberts
Published March 23, 2006

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Regarding Muskellunge Length-Limit Regulations
Information from Fisheries Biologists, Fishermen and Fishery Professionals
Compiled by Michael J. Roberts

Q)How long does it take a musky to grow to the current statewide minimum of 34?

A)From Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources(WDNR) research work: the Northern Wisconsin Average is just over 6 years for a female to reach 34 and just under 8 years for a male to reach 34.

Q)At what age and size do muskies start spawning?

A)Again from WDNR work, they start seeing mature females at about 27-28 inches, not all females are mature at that size, personnel have estimate that half the females mature by 30 inches, or about age 5. In a recent netting of Lake Tomahawk, Oneida County, the smallest mature female was 29 inches; they had unknown-sex fish (probably immature females) that were 30.5, 32.5, 34 and 37 inches.

Q)Will higher musky length limits cause overpopulation and impacts on other species?

A)Muskies are a low-density species, even in the absence of angler harvest. High minimum length limits are not appropriate for all waters. They are best suited to large waters with low-density muskie populations where a few fish will have the opportunity to live long and grow large. Most class A-1 muskie populations have fewer than 0.5 adult muskies per acre of water. In contrast, an average adult bass or walleye population is about 8 times this value and northern pike populations are even higher. Even with their larger size, muskies have less of on impact than other species simply because of the number of mouths to feed.

Q)As the largest predator in a lake, muskies can pretty much eat what they like. Studies have shown that what they prefer to eat are smooth, fatty forage species like suckers and cisco. For example, a recent study examined the food habitats of Wisconsin Muskellunge (Bozek et al. 1999). Thirty-four musky lakes where sampled over a 4-year period, with 1,092 muskellunge (8 to 46 inches in length) examined. Only 6 walleye (0.9% of the diet items) were found in all the samples.

A)A recent multi-lake study, Fayram et al. (2005) found that largemouth bass was the only game fish that had a detrimental impact on the survival of stocked walleyes. In contrast, northern pike, muskellunge and small mouth bass did not have strong predatory or competitive interactions with walleye populations. For example, in the past, musky have been introduced to lake systems in an attempt to quell stunted panfish populations. It has never worked, it is just too difficult to reach the required density of musky. Bass and Walleye have much more of an effect on panfish and can be used to control stunted populations.

Q)What do you say to an angler who may catch their largest musky ever or first musky and because of high limits the fish has to be released.

A)Even a 34 minimum prevents a child or novice from keeping his first or largest if it is 30. The opportunity to educate the novice or child on the benefits of catch and release and the great feeling you get from releasing a top predator to fight another day are flip side benefits. Many anglers believe that a truly large musky is too valuable to be caught only once. That fish of a lifetime might never have been there if another angler had chosen not to release it. A reproduction is an excellent option for someone wishing to memorialize a past accomplishment. Many of the best taxidermists now offer reproductions at the same price as skin mounts and it is extremely difficult to tell the difference between the two. With higher limits, and a naturally reproducing population, more people will have the opportunity to catch that first or personnel best musky.

Q)Most serious musky fishermen today release all of their muskies, Why do we want to regulate something the public is already doing voluntarily?

A)An estimated 92 % of all muskies are released, but the mean length of harvested muskies is only 37 inches (Simonson and Hewett 1999). As a fish grows larger than 40 inches, the odds of its being kept instead of released keep increasing. Based on data in Casselman (1999), it takes a female musky an average of 9 years to reach 40 inches and another 7 years to reach 50 inches. It may be caught many times during this time, but each fish can only be harvested once. Casselman et al (1996) suggest that with a 2% increase in mortality, recruitment would need to be doubled to maintain the number of trophy muskellunge in a population. Relying solely on voluntary release is not an effective way to grow big muskies.

Q)What do you say to people who feel higher length limits are only requested by trophy fishermen, so they can get their picture in the papers?

A)The main goal is to protect the existing fish in the system to increase the size structure, which will help natural reproduction maintain the musky fishery, hopefully with no stocking in the future. This is the best and cheapest way to increase the size and protect existing genetic stock. A favorable by product is a quality catch and release fishing opportunity while the fish grow. From survey information, the WDNR collected from all species fishermen, the majority of anglers consider a trophy musky to be 50 inches or larger. This is the most desired length, so it makes sense to protect the fish to that size on appropriate lakes.

Q)The other part to this question is whether all lakes should have the same regulation, or if we should have a few lakes where we manage for big fish and some lakes that are managed for higher densities with smaller minimum length limits. (i.e., even if you like to harvest all legal muskie, should there be a few lakes where they are protected until they grow truly large?)


A)Some say higher length limits mean slower growing male muskies will never be harvested and will therefore become overpopulated and wasted.

Q)Most male muskies can and do reach 40 inches or more if they are given the chance to live long enough. A fish can be caught multiple times, but it can only be killed once, so anything that reduces angling mortality will improve the quality status of the fishery.

A)The real issue is whether "not harvested" is the same as "wasted." With very high minimums; only a limited number of very large females will be taken. Therefore, there is no worry the sex ratio will become unbalanced. The noticeable change will be the number of fish that make it to the mid- to upper 40s. The true question is, if a fish harvested at 42 inches has more value than the same fish released at 42, 43, 47 and 49 inches, even if it dies of hooking mortality or old age. Many agree the added enjoyment a quality fish provides when it is caught again and again would not be considered a waste.

Q)Higher length limits won't do any good because too many fish will die after they're released, especially if they're deep-hooked on live bait. Besides, unhooking a large musky is dangerous!

A)Some hooking mortality is bound to occur any time fish are caught and released. However, with a minimum of handling and some common sense, most released muskies will survive, without undue risk of injury to the angler. Proper catch and release techniques are already being practiced by many anglers. Efforts to educate all anglers on these techniques should continue, and again anything that reduces angling mortality will improve the quality status of the fishery. Regarding Live bait, it has been shown that SINGLE HOOK SUCKER RIGS cause significant damage to internal organs, of gut hooked fish. Recent studies have shown that cutting the leader and releasing the fish, in most cases still results in a DEAD fish. When fishing with live bait, QUICK-SET RIG should be used so fish are more likely to be hooked in the jaws and not the throat or stomach.

Q)What do you say to people who say higher length limits will have a negative effect on family based tourism?

A)The majority of people will not plan their family vacation based on the ability to harvest or not harvest a musky. Good fishing for all species, along with the availability of other family based activities, have a far greater impact on tourism. If a quality musky fishing experience can be created through increased size limits it can be used to promote tourism to musky anglers, especially during the traditional slower fall period. It will actually give an area one more advantage.

Q)What do you say to people who say higher length limits will have a negative affect on musky tournaments?

A)There are two muskie tournament formats: 1. Transport tournaments, where muskies are transported to a registration station before release, and 2. Immediate release, where a judge boat is dispatched and the muskie is registered at boatside, often without even leaving the water.

Q)Because of the stress involved with transport, a transported fish is considered by the law the same as a harvested fish: it must meet minimum length limits and is counted towards the anglers daily bag limit.

A)A muskie immediately released at boatside and not transported (except to facilitate a safe release, or to avoid imminent danger) is treated much the same as a fish that is photographed and released: minimum length limits do not apply and it is not counted in the anglers daily bag limit.

Q)Tournaments that run with an immediate release format will see no changes.

A)Tournaments that run a transport format will need to change to an immediate release format to continue to register 34 fish. If tournament promoters choose to only register fish over the new size limit, they can continue with the transport format.

Q)Why should we protect fish on lakes that are heavily speared? Are we not just leaving them to be harvested through spearing in the spring?

A)Under the present system for determining tribal harvest quotas, spearing will not negate the benefits to be gained by increasing the minimum length limit, even if the tribes take their full quota on a lake (which has seldom happened). This is because tribal quotas are lower than the normal sport harvest of muskies on most lakes. Higher minimum length limits will benefit all users by allowing the fish to grow larger. Killing a musky out of spite will not lower the tribal quota. It will only result in one less fish for an angler to catch again. For example on Pelican Lake in Oneida county, which gets speared heavily every spring, tribal speares have taken an average of 14.5 muskies per year since spearing began in 1985. By comparison, the estimated angler harvest was 146 muskies, during the year of the last angler creel survey on Pelican Lake. Sound, proactive management decisions can be used as a positive, when attempting to negotiate reduced harvest from tribal spearing.


Q)I've been buying fishing licenses all my life and I deserve to keep the muskies I catch!

A)Looking strictly at economics, in lakes where stocking is needed, no one angler spends enough money on fishing licenses in a lifetime to cover the cost of more than a very few legal muskies. Based on the cost to produce and stock musky fingerlings and the number of stocked fish surviving to adulthood several years later, each stocked musky reaching legal size can be worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The higher limits can help bolster natural reproducing and stocking on some lakes can be limited or even eliminated. Remember that revenue from fishing licenses goes towards many programs in addition to musky stocking. The high cost of musky stocking is justified in terms of benefits to the economy of the state, in addition to the enjoyment that muskies provide, but here again a muskellunge is most valuable when it is alive, swimming, and is caught more than one time.

Q)I can't catch a legal musky now. If the minimum length limit is increased, I'll never catch one!

A)The length limit is too often used as a magical dividing line between success and failure in fishing. We need to help anglers change their thinking and simply strive to catch the biggest fish they can, without worrying about how many are "legal." All muskies are exciting to catch, legal-sized or not, and hopefully that's one of the main reasons people fish for them. A 35-inch fish should be just as much fun to catch whether the minimum length limit is 34 inches, 45 inches, or even 50 inches. Remember that higher length limits will continually improve chances of landing big muskies, including the musky of a lifetime!

Reference Material:

Bozek, M. A., T. M. Burri and R. W. Frie. 1999. Diets of muskellunge
in northern Wisconsin Lakes. N. Am. J. Fish. Mgmt. 19:258-270.

Casselman, J. M., E. J. Crossman and C. J. Robinson. 1999. Assessing sustainability of trophy muskellunge fisheries. Pages 29-40 in S. J. Kerr and C. H. Oliver, editors. Managing muskies in the 90s. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Workshop Proceedings WP-007, Kemptville, Ontario.

Casselman, J. M., C. J. Robinson and E. J. Crossman 1999. Growth and ultimate length of muskellunge from Ontario water bodies. N. Am. J. Fish. Mgmt. 19:271-290.

Fayram, A. H., M. J. Hansen and N. A. Nate. 2005. Determining optimal stocking rates using a stock-recruitment model: An example using walleye in northern Wisconsin. N. Am. J. Fish. Mgmt. 25:1215-1225.

Simonson, T. D. and S. W. Hewett. 1999. Trends in Wisconsins muskellunge fishery. N. Am. J. Fish. Mgmt. 19:291-299.