Are muskies coming to a lake near you?
We think of the Northland when Muskies are mentioned. They’re not native to the southernmost counties of Minnesota, where the state Department of Natural Resources stocks them to accommodate Minnesota fishermen reluctant to undertake the arduous drive north.
But stocking non-native species in local lakes can be controversial, in Minnesota and elsewhere. Muskellunge are a predatory species, after all. Some lakefront property owners object to unknown effects on the local ecosystem and some local fishermen, truth be told, just don’t want more out-of-town fishermen putting oars in their water.
Addressing the Ecological Concerns
Minnesota DNR officials addressed the ecological concerns last year after state legislators raised the issue. DNR fisheries chief Don Pereira assured lawmakers that introduction that introduction of non-native muskies to new lakes can be managed in such a way that they are “ecologically benign.”
Pereira said Minnesota has the potential for 40 to 50 new muskie fisheries in the south, with a significant local economic impact. DNR planned to stock eight new lakes by 2020, but politics brought the plan to a standstill after stocking only five.
This opened the door for nearby states to stock their lakes and create muskie fisheries of their own.
Indiana had some limited native muskie fisheries in its extreme north end, but their DNR pushed the range down into the Indianapolis area and surrounding central Indiana by stocking.
Hoosiers are keenly protective of their lakes’ native sport fish species, so the DNR experimentally stocked 12 lakes, and monitored the impact at varying densities. Some were stocked at five fish per acre, and some (Eagle Creek Reservoir, for example) at only one fish per acre. Early studies of stomach contents indicated that crappie, bluegills and largemouth bass went mostly unmolested by predatory muskies.
Additional Threats and Solutions
Carp and gizzard shad have presented the greater threat to the Eagle Creek sport fishery. Combined, they made up 40 per cent of the lake’s fish population. At these swollen populations, they threatened bass, bluegill and crappie survival. The happy discovery of the lake studies was that muskies feast greedily on gizzard shad, a win-win for central Indiana sport fishermen.
Although DNR continues to monitor the impact of muskie on native species, the state has been emboldened to experiment with walleye in Hoosier waters. At Eagle Creek Reservoir, they’re stocked annually at a density of 100 fingerlings per acre.
The fishing map continues to shift and expand beyond what most of us could imagine a few years ago, due to confidence in scientific experimentation and the evidence-based management of fisheries. It’s a great time to be a fisherman!