The muskie long has been recognized as special - a large, rare trophy. Its habitat requirements are more particular than that of its close relative, the northern pike. In many areas, the muskie's existence is rather tenuous - threatened by fishing, habitat loss, and competition from other fish species. So the goal of muskie management is to create or protect self-sustaining populations and to produce a few large fish for the angler skilled and dedicated enough to catch them.
In lakes where the muskie is native, the protection of habitat - especially spawning areas - is the key to protecting these fish. Removal of shoreline and aquatic vegetation denies the muskie cover it needs. Eutrophication from farmland and residential development hurts spawning success by consuming oxygen along the riverbed or lake bottom, where the eggs of muskie and some forage fish incubate. Drainage of wetlands causes siltation and exaggerates the effects of flooding and drought - all to the detriment of muskie. Increased turbidity makes foraging harder for the sight-feeding muskie.
The DNR normally doesn't stock muskie in lakes and rivers where they are native and self-sustaining. It simply isn't necessary or effective. Stocking is used instead to create new muskie fisheries. The DNR introduces muskie only to lakes that seem particularly well suited to them. An ideal lake has adequate forage, no chance of winterkill, suitable spawning areas and a size exceeding about 500 acres. Muskie then are stocked as fingerlings. If natural spawning areas are limited, stocking will continue on a regular schedule. Ideally, however, the population will become self-sustaining.
Fish managers have begun paying much more attention than they once did to the genetic origins of the muskie they stock. Several strains of the fish have evolved in different regions and watersheds. Some grow larger than others, which is of interest to the angler. More important, however, is that the adaptations of some strains allow them to better survive in certain habitats. For example, the muskie of Leech Lake and elsewhere in the upper Mississippi basin has evolved to coexist with northern pike, apparently by spawning in areas different from "classic" northern pike and muskie spawning habitat.
Efforts to stock muskies to control stunted panfish populations generally have failed. Muskies seem as ill-suited to the task as do northern pike. When muskies were introduced to one Wisconsin lake, the number of largemouth bass dropped. The number of yellow perch increased while their size decreased. Muskie actually appeared to contribute to the problem they were thought to correct. In another Wisconsin experiment, muskies were stocked in a lake filled with runty bluegill. Though the muskie fattened up quickly, the bluegill population showed no effect.
Because muskie are perceived as trophies - and because large fish are scarce and old - most states impose a minimum-length limit and low possession limit. In Minnesota, the possession limit is one and the minimum length is 30 to 40 inches, (30 inches on shoepack Lake).
While Minnesota allows spearing of northern pike, it bans the practice on many lakes where muskie might be accidentally speared.
Serious muskie fishermen are doing far more for their sport than the law requires, voluntarily releasing nearly all their fish, even those larger than the size limit, to be caught again. In the words of ichthyologist George C. Becker, "catch-and-release programs work by offering more fishing fun, and by providing the moral satisfaction that comes with leaving something for the next fisherman rather than contributing to the exhaustion of an already strained resource."
No matter how lovingly we treat the muskellunges, it is destined to remain uncommon and hard to catch. Its biology guarantees that. But with proper management, the occasional trophy will continue to thrill the dedicated muskie angler. - 50 inches or greater is a trophy muskellunge. - Virtually no male muskellunge reach 50 inches in length. - 45-49 inches is a trophy male muskellunge. - Most 50-inch muskellunge are 15 years or older.
Interested individuals can read about what DNR fisheries is considering by visiting the Muskellunge & Northern Pike Draft Long-Range Plan page.