Effects of angling with a single-hook and live bait on muskellunge survival
Use of live bait for angling of muskellunge, Esox masquinongy, is popular in Wisconsin. A traditional method utilizes a large hook through the bait fish’s snout, which requires the muskellunge to swallow the bait prior to hook set. Adult muskellunge (>76 cm; 30 in) were held in lined hatchery ponds and caught while fishing with live bait on 10/0 size single hooks. The leader was cut and the muskellunge was released when hooked in the stomach. Survival was monitored for up to 1 year. No immediate ( <24 h) mortality occurred. However, 22% of hooked muskellunge died within 50 days and 83% died within 1 year. Necropsies revealed extensive trauma to the stomach and other organs from hooks, along with systemic bacterial infections. Highest mortality on both hooked and control fish occurred over winter through spring. This peak mortality may be associated with natural stressors that occur during the spring spawning period. Mortality rates observed in this study are considered unacceptable for trophy management of muskellunge. Although use of live bait for muskellunge is traditional in Wisconsin, terminal tackle such as quick-strike rigs that hook fish in the mouth or buccal cavity should enhance the chances a released muskellunge will survive.
KeywordsEsox masquinongy Mortality Catch and release
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Thanks are due the staff at Governor Tommy Thompson Fish Hatchery, and other Department of Natural Resources staff for their support and assistance during this study. Special thanks to Joel Howard for his assistance in all phases of the study. Muskellunge were X-rayed at the Spooner Veterinary Clinic in Spooner, WI. Sue Marcquenski (WDNR fish health lab) and Marty Collins (WSLH) conducted necropsies on muskellunge and collected samples for bacterial cultures. Ruth King prepared the drawing of the muskellunge. Funding for this study was provided in part by Musky Hunter magazine, the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act (F-95-P), and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
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