Muskie fishing will be 'spot on' in state hatchery program

WOLF LAKE - There will be a big change coming for anglers who seek one of the biggest game fish in Michigan waters, the muskellunge. Consider catching a fish of over 50 pounds, and you can see why anglers might take note of this change.

For years hatchery rearing of these big member of the pike family has been centered on raising the strain called Northern muskellunge. But plans are now being made to switch over to another strain of the same species; the Great Lakes (spotted) muskie.

The Department of Natural Resources has announced plans to raise the Great Lakes muskellunge at its Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery beginning this year. That change marks a definite direction from the rearing of northern muskies as the DNRE hatchery system has in the past.

According to DNRE Fish Production Manager Gary Whelen, “This is a key turning point in our muskellunge production program.

“This strain of muskellunge is native to most of Michigan; the northern muskellunge is native to only a small portion of the far western Upper Peninsula in the Wisconsin River drainage.

There is a good reason for this change, Whelen notes.”The spotted muskellunge will be more at home in more waters than northern muskies.”

This change is not a new idea. In fact the DNR has been studying the idea of raising spotted muskies for more than a decade. But concerns about bringing the Great Lake strain into the hatchery system while they were still raising northern muskies put the change on hold because of potential disease to other fish stocks.

But now the plans are going forward, and in order to acquire eggs from spotted muskies the DNRE plans to take 1.5 million eggs from spotted muskies in Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River this spring.

If successful, they can meet a goal of producing 40,000 10- to 12-inch fall fingerlings.

As in any hatchery operation, extreme care in monitoring the health and condition of any new stocks being introduced into the hatcheries will assure that a healthy muskie will be released to Michigan’s waters. “In order to minimize the risk of spreading disease, the DNR will not take eggs from northern muskellunge this year,” Whelen noted. The hatchery will evaluate the need to produce northern strain muskies in the future. Ideally, the department will address the disease concerns and be able to raise both strains in the future, Whelan said.

As to the anglers who rank the muskie high on their fishing plans, there’s good reason to wish the change-over a success. Consider this: On Sunday, Sept. 27, Kyle Anderson of Rapid City, caught a 50-pound 8-ounce Great Lakes muskie. That fish is now the new Michigan state record, beating the old record, set in 1984, by 2.5 pounds. Anderson was fishing in Torch Lake, near Traverse City.

The great thing about records is that they are made to be broken. Who knows when this new record will fall, but if the hatchery change-over is successful, there will be even more of these lengthy lunkers swimming around looking for something to sink their teeth in. With a little bit of luck, it might be your lure that gets the bite!