Professional and amateur anglers alike dream of someday making that big catch. For many Minnesota fishermen, that big catch is a trophy muskie. Over the years they have been targeted, muskellunge have developed a reputation for being aggressive and relatively difficult to find. Given the elusiveness of the fish, muskie fishing requires a large investment of time and travel for those wishing to try their hand at landing one.
According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, interest in trophy muskie fishing has steadily increased over the past several years. It’s easy to see why: catching a huge muskie provides a true thrill, great memories, and an experience that makes for a great fishing story. However, opportunities for muskie fishing in Minnesota are limited. A few years ago, the DNR began looking into ways to increase muskie populations in popular fishing lakes without creating a negative impact on other fish species in the lakes. The whole plan is a careful balancing act for the DNR to address both demands for increased fishing opportunities and concerns that anti-stocking advocates may have.
This plan called for eight lakes to be stocked with muskie fingerlings by the year 2020. As of now, three of those original lakes have been stocked- Pokegama, Roosevelt, and the Sauk River Chain. Additional lakes have been added to this proposition including area lakes Franklin, Lizzie, and Loon.
Concerns over muskie stocking are mostly about how an increased population of muskie will affect other fish populations, most notably walleye and pike populations. The DNR has reported that they would not manage for a fish species if they had evidence that it would negatively and substantially affect other fish species. Muskie stocking by MDNR would mimic the low density of muskie populations in the wild, preventing a large impact on other fish populations while providing an environment where muskie young could develop into trophy catches for anglers. Studies conducted by the DNR have concluded that northern pike, walleye, yellow perch, bluegill, black crappie, white sucker, and cisco generally coexist well with Muskies in stocked lakes.
There are several lakes in the area that are beneficiaries of DNR stocking practices. These include Pelican Lake and Detroit Lake among others which are stocked less frequently.
Partly because the DNR stocks Muskie fingerlings, Detroit Lake has become a destination for Muskie anglers, bringing valuable business into this area. Nathan Olson, Area Fisheries supervisor for the Detroit Lakes DNR office, reports, “Muskies were introduced into Detroit Lake in 1989. We currently stock 3,000 muskie fingerlings into Detroit Lake every other year.” Most of them do not live into adulthood.
The DNR defines high quality angling areas as having one adult muskie per every 4-10 acres. Lakes that are stocked to achieve this density usually provide the best environment for giant muskie to develop. According to a 2016 DNR survey of the muskie population of Detroit Lake, there is about one adult muskie per every 8.3 acres of water. Olson and his team estimate that there are approximately 366 adult muskies currently residing in the lake.
Stocking practices seem to be working in Detroit Lake. Demands for Muskie fishing opportunities are being met without damaging other fish species that make their home in the lake. As reported by Olson, a survey conducted last summer on other fish populations “showed that walleye abundance continues to remain stable, if not slightly higher than average for Detroit Lake. Northern pike, black crappie, and yellow perch also were more abundant than average.”
Jim Wolters, the Area Fisheries Supervisor for the Fergus Falls branch of the DNR, reports similar statistics for Pelican Lake, another muskie fishing destination in Otter Tail County. Despite stocking of Muskie young into the lake, other fish populations have not been significantly affected.
Landing a trophy muskie is sure to continue to be a goal of anglers for many generations. With the help of the DNR, it’s possible to continue providing opportunities for muskie angling without harming existing fish populations.