Thru The Lens
Recently, I learned bass fishing is a $50 million a year industry. That did not happen overnight or by accident. Sportsmen and state fisheries programs, along with conservation programs, worked together to develop bass populations to increase the population of this popular game fish.
Today, sports fish popularity is fast growing into a healthy fisheries program. The freshwater Muskellunge – or Musky as most people call it – is making a strong comeback in streams in the warm waters of North America. For many years, musky fisherman believed they had to travel to Canada or a few northern states to catch this aggressive species. But, due to increased conservation and states working to develop this game fish, it is returning to more of our waterways.
West Virginia is one of those states that has worked hard to increase the species’ presence in our state waters. Recently, I was a guest of Musky Inc. and the State DNR at an advanced musky fingerling collection program near Burnsville Lake in Braxton County.
The rearing pond was being drained of its water along with the young muskys stocked earlier in the year. This process of collecting fingerlings and moving them to locations around the state takes place at several sites each fall.
Jim Moore, president of Musky Inc., explained that our state now raises fish to what is known as advance fingerlings. These fish are generally in the 10-15 inch range when collected and transported to different state waters.
In the past, young muskies were raised to a size of three to four inches and harvested during the summer months. But, research by the state fisheries department has determined the survival rate for the advance fingerling is far superior to normally stocked fingerlings.
I asked state fish biologist, Chris O’Bara, about how this program worked and his expectations for the harvest. He explained that in late spring muskies are collected by state DNR personnel from different streams and lakes. For many years, Middle Island Creek that flows through several counties has been one of the favorite collection creeks.
Fish are also harvested from North Bend Lake. The DNR hopes that by collecting from several different sites, the genetic make up of the fish will stay diverse and strong. The program does, on occasion, receive young fish from a more northern fish population to help improve the diversity of the species. Ryan Bosserman, assistant manager of the Apple Grove Hatchery, pointed out that fish that are collected for harvesting are returned to within a few feet of their original location. This is important to the DNR to maintain the natural fish habitat.
In talking with officials of the DNR and Musky Inc. I learned that cooperation between the state and members of musky organizations improve the overall scope of the program. The clubs supply the state with valuable information about musky population and size through its members. They also make recommendations as to where future musky stocking may help to increase fish populations.
The Husky Musky and Musky Inc. clubs sponsor tournaments each year for their members to catch muskies in the state waters. These types of organizations around the country and here in West Virginia have helped to improve the overall programs.
The DNR takes the valuable information from the clubs, along with stream monitoring for water quality and department requests, to determine where the different fish species are to be stocked. One of the things I learned by talking to DNR personnel is that the state hatcheries are made up of two different areas, warm water and cold water hatcheries.
These two distinctly different areas of fish rearing make up the state fisheries program. The cold water hatchery is most directly involved in raising different trout species for the state’s cooler waters. The warm water hatchery can be called upon to raise several varieties of fish. Catfish, bass, crappie, paddlefish, and muskies are just a few of the fish that may be raised for stocking in the state waters.
As the last water of the pond drained into a holding area below the dam, the DNR staff began collecting the young muskies as they were entering the concrete containment area. With each seining, more of the colorful young fish were collected, sorted, and measured before being loaded onto different stocking trucks.
Above the dam, members of Husky Musky and Musky Inc., along with DNR personnel, waded the muddy pond bottom to recover the few remaing stragglers in small pools of water. By the end of the day, the count was a little more than 800 muskies to be stocked into state waters. All involved had hoped for more but were satisfied with the healthy condition of young fish.
Musky fishing may not be a multi-billion dollar industry, yet. But, I have learned that West Virginia DNR and the state’s muskie clubs are working hard to make the future of muskie fishing strong. I was once told that a muskie fisherman may make hundreds of casts to hook just one of those magnificent fighting fish.
Successful programs like this will hopefully drop that number significantly over the upcoming years. Muskie fishermen who now believe they have to travel to Canada or some other northern state will realize that a prize muskie is lurking in our state waters. This will enhance our state’s ability to bring in revenues to continue development of other state wildlife programs.
So the next time you go musky fishing and hook that big fish, remember the hard work of the state DNR and local musky clubs that helped to develop these effective fish programs. From behind the camera I’l be looking for that next state record muskie, Thru the Lens..