JEFF KNAPP: Commission takes stock of muskies
Research by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission on Canadohta Lake is aimed at providing insight as to the survival rate of stocked muskies, as well as the effects of regulations changes instituted in 2007.
Located in northeastern Crawford County, Canadohta is a 170-acre glacially formed natural lake. Traditionally it’s been an important resource in terms of muskie fishing.
Most muskie fisheries in the state are maintained by regular stocking of muskies by the Fish and Boat Commission. Typically, muskies are stocked as fingerlings, introduced in the fall of the year after a few months of growth in a hatchery.
Since 2002 the state agency has been experimenting with the stocking of yearling-stage muskies, hoping to realize a better survival rate from the older fish. Canadohta is one of three waters in which yearling muskies (in addition to fingerlings) are being stocked. The other two are Tionesta and Edinboro.
Canadohta has received equal numbers of fingerling and yearling muskies since the stocking change took place.
Beginning in 2010 the Commission began tagging Canadohta’s fingerling-stage muskies with a Coded Wire Tag — comprised of a small stainless steel wire — in order to distinguish them from yearling-stage muskies upon recapture. The tagging portion of the study is slated to run until 2015.
During the week of April 22 of last year fisheries personnel from the Area 2 office in Tionesta conducted a survey on Canadohta. It consisted of five trap nets, set for a total of 467 hours. Nets were deployed and retrieved daily, and 16 muskies were collected, three of which were tagged fish,
“We only started coded-wire tagging in 2010,” said Area 2 Fisheries Manager Al Woomer. “So the reason only three muskie were coded-wire tagged, out of the total captured at Canadohta, was because only 3-year-old musky and younger would have the tags. All the others caught were older than 3. Besides that fact, generally only mature spawning muskie — usually three years or older — are vulnerable to the trapnet gear fished during this spring period. And muskie start spawning at about three years of age in Pennsylvania.”
Area 2 personnel hope to look at yearling-stocked lakes several times from this year through 2017.
“We have a lot of things vying for our attention that time of year and we can’t always get back to a water as often as we would like,” he said. “Hopefully by the end of this period we will have a good idea if the spring yearlings survive at a high enough proportion — compared to the fall fingerlings — to justify the extra time, work and money needed to hold them at the hatcheries over winter.”
The 2013 work is also part of a statewide study aimed at evaluating the effect of 2007 regulation changes. At that time the creel limit of two and minimum length limit of 30 inches was reduced to a one-fish limit, and a 40-inch minimum size. The closed season, which ran from mid May to early May, was also eliminated. A major tool of this study is the use of Passive Integrated Transponders. PITs — tiny glass that contain a microchip — are inserted in the muscle tissue of the fish. Canadohta is one of eight waters across the state where muskies are being fitted with PITs.
“In this study we will sample a water five times over a 10-year period and use the trapnet catches to evaluate abundance, growth rates, mortality and other factors important in producing healthy high quality musky fisheries,” Woomer said.
Woomer said that PFBC Fisheries Management is making a major effort to better understand and manage muskie in Pennsylvania.
“Hopefully this will lead to better muskie fishing in the future. This is all part of the Muskie Management Plan that was introduced in fall of 2012,” he said.
Besides the muskie-related work, the April survey also included a general assessment of Lake Canadohta’s fish populations. A highlight of that work was the number and quality of walleyes collected.
The catch rate was the highest on record for Canadohta. All of the walleyes captured in trap nets were of legal size, ranging from 17 to 28 inches.