On Monday, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat commission released the results of an extensive population study. The targeted fish was the muskellunge, and the water body was Lake Arthur, a 3,200-acre lake located within Moraine State Park in Butler County.
Biologists set trap-nets during two weeks near the end of April and beginning of May. Results from the study indicated a catch rate of one muskie for every 12 hours a trap-net was set.
Results like that are why Lake Arthur remains one of the top five muskie waters in the state. During this year’s research 53 muskies were captured and tagged in part of an ongoing statewide study of the effects of changes to the size limit and creel limit for muskellunge that occurred in 2007.
Prior to the change, an angler could harvest two muskellunge per day that were 30 inches or more in length. Since Jan. 1, 2007, an angler may harvest only one muskellunge per day, and it must be 40 inches or more in length. There is no closed season.
Lake Arthur maintains an excellent muskellunge population that sees a high amount of angler use, which makes it a prime candidate for this study. Being part of the study means Lake Arthur will have its muskellunge population assessed five times in the next 10 years, and many of the muskellunge will be tagged in an effort to develop accurate estimates of growth and survival.
Tags applied were internal passive integrated transponders, not visible to anglers, and require a reader to enumerate the tag number. Out of the 53 muskies that were caught, the smallest was 27 inches and all others were 30 inches or more, with the largest an impressive 52 inches. The bulk of fish captured were in the 38- to 42-inch range, balancing right on the 40-inch limit recently established.
Most musky anglers practice catch-and-release to begin with, and it appears that the average-size fish will continue to grow with each season. For those looking to keep their muskie, an exact measurement will be needed with so many teetering on the edge of being legal.
• Now that bass season is under way, the boat traffic will be a little thicker, and many clubs and associations are beginning their weekly bass tournaments. These events vary greatly, with some only weighing in one fish and others an entire limit. Almost always the fish are required to be alive and then immediately released after being weighed in.
Keeping a clean live well is essential for insuring that fish kept will actually live to be caught another day. Practicing catch, keep and then release adds a twist to survival rates of traditional catch-and-release. In warmer weather, bacteria can quickly grow in live wells, while the heat also adversely impacts the recovery of caught bass.
Much like bass, bait of almost any sort takes more effort to keep lively. Minnows, shiners and night crawlers all work well as bait but can all go bad in a hurry. Having a backup plan is smart in case the crawlers are forgotten in the sun or baitfish begin to float. Baits such as wax worms or maggots take heat better, and a jar of power bait can last for years. Jerk baits or spinners work well when fishing from shore, and carrying a couple along is a good practice.
The simplicity of bait-fishing is why so many practice it, but also why it can go south in a hurry. Without bait or an alternative, the fishing stops in a hurry.
In addition to anglers, pleasure boaters in anything from a yacht to a kayak are enjoying the warmer weather.
• Fields that have not yet been mowed are beginning to provide habitat for a host of creatures, and in many it is now impossible to see a standing groundhog.