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

A General Assessment of a Southern Riverine Muskellunge Population [Abstract]

Jason M. Hallacher, Brad Fink, and Steve J. Reeser


Biologists began stocking Muskellunge Esox masquinongy in the Shenandoah River system in the mid-1960s. Very little sampling specifically targeting Muskellunge population parameters had been completed. The Shenandoah River Muskellunge Research Project began in 2009 to determine contribution of stocked Muskellunge, percentage of natural reproduction, individual growth, movement, and general population data. Coded wire tags (CWT) were used to mark fingerling and advanced fingerling Muskellunge stocked into the south fork and main stem Shenandoah River. Sampling took place during February and March each year using three electrofishing boats in tandem. Muskellunge age 3 and older were considered fully recruited to the sampling gear. All Muskellunge collected during spring sampling (2009–2015) were double-marked with a passive integrated transponder (PIT) tag and visual implant alpha tag. In 2014 and 2015, pelvic fin rays were collected on all fish for age verification. Electrofishing catch rates ranged from 1.0 to 2.2 Muskellunge/h. During this project, 61 coded-wire-tagged fish were collected. Reader accuracy of known-age Muskellunge using pelvic fin rays was 100% through age 4 and 88% through age 5. Thirty-four percent of Muskellunge younger than age 7 from the 2014 sample were stocked Muskellunge with CWT, indicating that both stocked and wild fish contributed to the population. Of the 55 PIT-tagged Muskellunge that were recaptured, 9.1% showed significant movement. These findings will direct future Muskellunge management in the Shenandoah River watershed.