The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has decided to raise Great Lakes muskies at its Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery this year as opposed to the northern muskies they have raised in the past.
“This is a key turning point in our muskellunge production program,” said DNR Fish Production Manager Gary Whelan. “This strain of muskellunge is native to most of Michigan; the northern muskellunge is native to only a small portion of the far western Upper Peninsula in the Wisconsin River drainage. The spotted muskellunge will be more at home in more waters than northern muskies.”
This would allow the DNR to use the Great Lake muskies anywhere in the state, opening a whole new set of options that, according to Whelan, was unavailable before.
“Great Lakes muskies are adapted to our waters and are an appropriate fit. And while the northern muskies did well, they really aren’t native to most of the Great Lakes drainage,” he said.
While the DNR did stock the northern muskies throughout the state, they were only placed in areas where they had minimum chances of escaping and meeting up with the more native Great Lakes strain.
Even though Great Lakes and northern muskies are physically and genetically different, they are able to interbreed. And Whelan said that could cause problems genetically for the next generation of fish.
“We don’t want the Great Lakes strain to introgress with the northern muskies because we don’t want them to reduce (the Great Lakes muskies’) fitness,” he explained. “Interbreeding one strain with another could result in a less desirable mixture. Each strain has unique traits from the bodies of water they came from. By breeding together, they pass along genes that would make it so they would not survive as well.”
This threat of interbreeding was one of the reasons why the DNR was limited in where they could stock northern muskies.
DNR Fisheries Division personnel plan to take 1.5 million eggs from spotted muskies in Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River this spring with a goal of producing 40,000 10- to 12-inch fall fingerlings.
Muskies of both strains provide a challenge for anglers. According to Whelan, they are “extremely large” fish that can reach up to 50 pounds — and they put up a fight.
“They’re a challenge. You could spend a lot of hours before you catch a muskie,” he said.