Muskellunge Management: Fifty Years of Cooperation Among Anglers, Scientists, and Fisheries Biologists

The History of Muskellunge Management in Chautauqua Lake, New York [Extended Abstract]

Christopher D. Legard

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781934874462.ch53

Chautauqua Lake is an approximately 13,000-acre (5.260.9 ha) lake located in southwestern New York and is part of the Alleghany River watershed. The lake is one of New York’s top Muskellunge Esox masquinongy waters and has supported the state’s Muskellunge hatchery system since 1888. The Muskellunge fishery on Chautauqua Lake has likely existed for as long as humans have occupied the area. However, the modern fishery began after European settlement in the mid-1800s.

The early fishery was characterized by both commercial harvest and high recreational harvest. The fishery ran the entire year but the bulk of the harvest took place through the ice. Spear fisherman used dark houses that allowed them to see into the water under the ice and spear Muskellunge for both subsistence use and for commercial sale. By the mid-1800s, there were calls for eliminating spearing due to a perceived reduction in the Muskellunge population in Chautauqua Lake. As a result, spearing was the first Muskellunge fishing activity to be regulated on Chautauqua Lake. From 1841 to 1905, there was a series of regulations and deregulations that were passed by local and state governments that either restricted or expanded the Muskellunge spear fishery. On May 12, 1905, spearing Muskellunge on Chautauqua Lake was permanently banned by the state of New York (Ward 2013).

High recreational and commercial harvest through the 1800s caused a decline in the Muskellunge population and ultimately led to an effort to establish an artificial propagation program for Muskellunge on Chautauqua Lake. Up to this point, Muskellunge had never been reared in a hatchery setting in the state of New York. The first experimental Muskellunge propagation was done by the New York State Fish Commission in 1887 on the southern end of Chautauqua Lake, near Greenhurst, New York, This effort proved successful and Muskellunge fry were reared at Greenhurst until a permanent hatchery was opened at Bemus Point in 1905 (McKeown 1996).