The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department recently continued its Lake Champlain muskellunge restoration efforts by stocking 7,580 fish into the Missisquoi River and Missisquoi Bay.
This year, for the first time, muskellunge, or ‘muskie,’ were also stocked above Swanton Dam up to the Highgate Falls Dam. This reach of the Missisquoi River is the last location in Vermont that supported a naturally-reproducing native muskie population before they disappeared in the late 1970s following a chemical spill.
Since 2008, the department has stocked over 30,000 muskies into the Missisquoi River and Missisquoi Bay in an attempt to restore a viable population to Lake Champlain. Lake Champlain is the only lake in New England to which muskies are native.
“Muskies are the top predator in aquatic ecosystems and can create some real excitement for anglers,” said Fish & Wildlife Commissioner Patrick Berry. “In Lake Champlain muskie was historically a species that was rarely caught or seen. As the restoration continues there should be a few more lucky anglers each year that catch one unexpectedly. Often that is all it takes to make them muskie anglers for life.”
The six-inch fish stocked in the river were donated by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which also stocks the Great Chazy River on the New York side of the lake with the same strain of muskie.
The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department has done a genetic assessment of a very small number of muskie caught since 2005 in the Lake Champlain Basin. They determined that these fish were stocked by the New York DEC into the Great Chazy River and are not from the original native strain.
“In recent years, anglers have reported catching and releasing an occasional muskie in the lower Missisquoi River and Missisquoi Bay,” said Shawn Good, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife biologist leading the muskie restoration effort in the state. “We wondered if these were remnant native fish or strays from New York. So we performed a genetic assessment and found that some of the muskie stocked in New York’s Great Chazy River make their way out into Lake Champlain and into Missisquoi Bay and Missisquoi River.”
Vermont regulations allow fishing for muskie on a catch-and-release basis only, with artificial lures or flies. Muskie must be immediately released where caught.
“I have high hopes for these little guys,” said Good. “With so much habitat and food resources available to them in Lake Champlain, I expect these fish to grow fast and to get big. It’s not unreasonable to think that in the next few years, anglers could be catching trophy muskies measuring 50 inches or more from Lake Champlain.”
Media Contacts: Shawn Good, 802-786-3863; Bernie Pientka, 802-879-5698; Eric Palmer 802-828-1645