Comments sought on stocking muskies in Gull Chain

The muskie--a torpedo shaped predatory fish native to Minnesota--is known for its massive size and ability to give anglers an arm-jolting experience on the water.

More muskies could be released into area lakes if the Minnesota DNR approves the proposed stocking. Minnesota DNR stock photo
More muskies could be released into area lakes if the Minnesota DNR approves the proposed stocking. Minnesota DNR stock photo

The muskie-a torpedo shaped predatory fish native to Minnesota-is known for its massive size and ability to give anglers an arm-jolting experience on the water.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is considering stocking the top-level predator in the Gull Chain near Brainerd starting in 2016. The 9,947-acre lake located about 9 miles northwest of Brainerd has been known for its legendary walleye fishing opportunities and helped bolster the direction of modern fishing. If stocking were approved it could become one of a growing number of lakes known for large muskie.

Officials are seeking input on the stocking from 7 to 9 p.m. Dec. 2 at the Crow Wing County Land Services Building in Brainerd.

Muskie fishing is one of the fastest growing segments of Minnesota sport fishing. Estimates suggest that more than 30 percent of Minnesota's anglers either already target muskies or want to try muskie fishing, according to the DNR.

The idea of adding to the number of muskie lake opportunities is one that has come after research on the fish on a body of water and the fact that more anglers want a chance at the fish of 10,000 casts.


Several years ago, the Minnesota DNR prepared a long-range plan designed to balance interest in expanded muskellunge fishing opportunities with those that oppose muskie management and continued stocking. The plan called for eight new waters to be stocked with muskie by 2020. Three of those lakes-Roosevelt, Pokegema and the Sauk River Chain-already have been stocked.

That stocking moved ahead because the research showed muskie have little effect on other game fish.

"Fisheries research work in Minnesota and Wisconsin shows that muskellunge co-exist with healthy populations of walleye and other important game fish," said T.J. DeBates, east metro area fisheries supervisor.

According to the research unveiled in the article Fish Community Responses to the Introduction of Muskellunge into Minnesota Lakes, published in 2012 by North American Journal of Fisheries Management, "We evaluated the responses of seven fish species to muskellunge by comparing gill-net and/or trap-net catch per unit effort before and after muskellunge were stocked in 41 Minnesota lakes composed of 12 lake-classes. The species examined were northern pike, walleye, yellow perch, bluegill, black crappie, white sucker, and cisco. We found no significant decreases among the lakes in the mean CPUE of any species after muskellunge stocking, either for the stocked lakes as a whole or within lake-classes.

"Nevertheless, there was large variability in the changes in CPUE among lakes, and several individual lakes had significant changes in mean CPUE for some species following muskellunge stocking. The trend in CPUE increased for yellow perch and declined for white suckers over the entire group of lakes after muskellunge stocking. Because Minnesota follows established, biologically based guidelines for selecting new muskellunge lakes, the study lakes were not chosen at random and therefore the study conclusions most appropriately apply to lakes chosen in this manner. The lack of consistent negative changes in CPUE after stocking suggests that these fish species have generally coexisted well with muskellunge in these lakes at the densities that have resulted from stocking."

While the studies for those lakes show that muskie have little impact on the other fish, some anglers like John Blong, head guide for Brainerd Guide Service, said there are too many unknowns about what the muskie could do the the fishing in the Gull Chain.

"I think this is a case where caution is probably the best thing to do in this situation," Blong said.

"Gull has a rich history," Blong continued. "It's too valuable as a fishery."


Blong fishes all but five or six days out of the year. He has been around long enough to have been through several ups and downs of the walleye fishing on Gull, but the foundation of the tourism for the lake revolves around the walleye, he said. Blong feels the walleye would be in direct competition for the deep water forage, cisco, if muskies were stocked.

His solution is to look at other area lakes that don't already have the same tourism draw as Gull as possible muskie stocking lakes. Or, as Blong said: "Those opportunities already exist."

"If you want a quality muskie fishery, you don't have to go far," he said.

Lake Shamineau, Cedar, Little Boy, Mille Lacs, and Alexander are high on the list for area muskie anglers and not too far from the Brainerd lakes area.

"While there are muskie lakes within a half-hour or so of the area, there are none within the core of the lakes area," Marc Bacigalupi, Brainerd Fisheries Area Supervisor, said in an email. "Gull was chosen specifically as it has the best potential to be a premier destination for muskie fishing.

"Many of the characteristics of Gull are similar to other waters in Minnesota where muskie management has been successful. It is a large lake with a variety of diverse angling locations and habitat types as well as a very significant prey base for muskies. It has a well-developed infrastructure of resorts and public accesses to handle angling and recreational use. Finally, a recent survey of anglers who fish Gull showed that across most demographics, more anglers would support muskie stocking in Gull than would be opposed."

One of the groups in favor of the stocking effort in the state is the Brainerd Lakes Chapter of Muskies Inc.

Chapter president Jeff Young said he is a multi-species angler like many others that target muskie. He said that those opposing the stocking need to realize that this is not a numbers game.


"We are talking about low-density populations," Young said.

The DNR said they would stock about 2,000 fall fingerling muskellunge-each about 11 inches long-every other year for nine years.

After the initial five stockings, the DNR will evaluate the lakes potential for natural reproduction and adjust stocking as needed. The proposed stocking rate has produced good fishing yet maintains the muskellunge population at a relatively low densities in other key lakes. An adult (30 inches or longer) population of roughly one fish for every 4 to 10 acres would be anticipated with a goal of one muskellunge for every three acres of water in the main lake. It will take at least a decade or so before the stocked fish are large and numerous enough to provide a fishery.

"The Minnesota DNR has a very strong muskie management program in the state," Young said. "The program is modeled off of the potential for trophy fishing. They are not after putting muskie in lakes just to throw muskies in lakes and say there you go. There are only a few lakes in our state that have that potential for trophy muskie."

There is a small population of muskie in the Gull Chain system already.

The Brainerd Chapter of Muskies Inc. has a membership of about 175 to 200 anglers. They were formed in 2003. Young said musky anglers can spend days without catching a muskie. But he said just catching one makes the wait worth every last cast. He is excited for a chance to catch a trophy on Gull.

"I would love to see it," Young said. "It would be eye opening for anglers on how great these fish are to fish for."

The DNR is also looking to stock muskie in the southern part of the state in the Fairmont Chain; in three lakes in Otter Tail County; and in Big Marine in the metro. To view all lakes part of the proposed stocking visit, where you can also view meeting times and locations.


State of walleyes in Gull

"Both walleye abundance and catchability by anglers fluctuates," Bacigalupi said, regarding walleye fishing on Gull. "Walleye fishing in the mid to late 2000s was very good on Gull and we're now on the other side of that cycle. The walleye population has not crashed, but their numbers have been below average the last couple years. Large numbers of small perch have been observed and have likely contributed to a slow walleye bite. The 2015 survey catch was 4.7 walleyes per gill net which is up from the 2013 catch of 3.6 walleyes per gill net. The long term average is 6.4 per net. We stock walleyes annually and monitor their abundance routinely so we are confident we can adapt our management and stocking strategies to ensure adequate quantities of juvenile walleyes are present in Gull. However, it still takes a couple years of growth before they are harvestable by anglers.

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