A popular catch for many anglers, the illusive and athletic muskellunge is a highly-sought after catch in Michigan. So much so, that the state Department of Natural Resources has dedicated years of work to rearing and stocking muskies in specific waterways. In May 2022, the Michigan DNR collected muskellunge eggs from the Detroit River and Lake St. Clair to be reared at Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery in Mattawan and Thompson State Fish Hatchery near Manistique for stocking in the fall.
Although the stocking is driven by angling effort, muskies are Michigan natives and, as a top-level aquatic predator, are an important part of the state’s natural ecosystem. DNR fisheries biologist Matthew Hughes said that muskie stocking in Michigan dates back to 1954, when managers performed the first egg take of northern strain muskellunge in the Lac Vieux Desert. Since then, the hatchery program has grown to include more egg sources and fisheries.
Electrofishing is used to capture mature muskies in the Detroit River and Lake St. Clair–whereafter the eggs are collected. Fish caught for egg collection are released unharmed after retrieval.
As far as muskellunge are concerned, collecting and stocking efforts in 2021 led to the collection of 232,000 eggs from the Detroit River. The state DNR reported that those eggs grew into “nearly 30,000 fall fingerlings that were stocked in 19 inland lakes and rivers.” The 2022 fall goal was to collect 400,000 eggs in order to meet a target of 40,000 fall fingerlings for stocking.
Muskellunge are just one of the many types of species that the DNR stocked in the past few years. Michigan Live reports that in fall 2021 alone, the DNR stocked 13.5 tons of fish in the state’s waterways. Likewise, they reported that in the fall of 2022, 7.8 tons of fish were stocked.
Muskies are a choice species for fisheries to stock as their allure can attract a plethora of anglers to the region. Anglers are huge contributors to fisheries and recreational land use, making providing a diverse list of potential catches important for resource managers–complicating the decision-making behind where, when and what to stock.
Across the U.S., resource managers facilitate the stocking efforts of a range of species in various locations. There is a long history of stocking and its success in population management and species conservation and restoration efforts in necessary regions. However, the methodology behind stocking programs can be summarized as existing in order to meet ecological and recreational needs, according to the Michigan DNR.
According to the Michigan DNR, there are two kinds of muskellunge in Michigan, the Great Lakes muskellunge and the northern muskellunge. In the early days of the program, Michigan predominantly stocked northern muskies, but now, the DNR directs much of its efforts toward raising the Great Lakes strain, which was historically more widely distributed in the state than their northern brethren. The DNR has harvested Great Lakes muskies for egg collection since 2011 and has continued to rely on the same methods and procedures over the past decade to continue stocking the Great Lakes species in the appropriate waterways.