Rideau River Muskie Study

Read/download the full thesis  by clicking the link below (PDF – 552 KB)
Comparative spatial ecology of sympatric adult muskellunge and northern pike during a one-year period in an urban reach of the Rideau River, Canada

Abstract: The reach of the Rideau River that flows through Ottawa, Ontario supports a recreational fishery for northern pike (Esox lucius) and muskellunge (Esox masquinongy). The reach is unique not only because such a vibrant esocid-based recreational fishery exists in an urban center, but that these two species co-occur.

Typically, when these species occur sympatrically, northern pike tend to exclude muskellunge. To ensure the persistence of these esocid populations and the fisheries they support it is important to identify key spawning, nursery, foraging and over-wintering locations along this reach, and to evaluate the extent to
which adults of the two species exhibit spatio-temporal overlap in habitat use. Radio-telemetry was used to track adult northern pike (N = 18; length 510 to 890 mm) and adult muskellunge (N = 15; length 695 to 1200 mm) on 73 occasions over one year, with particular focus on the breeding seasons (early April until the end of May [56% tracking effort]). For the two esocids, we observed 19–60 % overlap in key aggregation areas during each season and during the spawning period. The  minimum activity (average linear river distance travelled between consecutive tracking events) and core range (linear river distance within 95 % C.I. of mean river position) were greatest in the winter and fall for northern pike and in the spring for muskellunge. On average, northern pike were considerably smaller than muskellunge and had lower minimum activities and smaller core ranges, which
could be a result of thermal biology, limited suitable habitat, prey availability or predation. Results from this study will inform future management of these unique
esocid populations and should be considered before any habitat alterations occurs within or adjacent to the Rideau River.

 

Lure Love

Love – the object of attachment, devotion, or admiration

I didn’t want to admit it, but I’m in love and it’s affecting my game.  It happens to all of us whether we want to admit it or not.  I can’t stay away from that lure for very long and it shows up in all of my big muskie dreams !

I caught my PB on this lure late last year and I guess that’s when it happened.  Did I  fall in love with it because I had spent so much time thinking about catching a big fish on a top water?  Was the attraction just a result of that adrenaline high you get when you put a big fish in the boat?   It just sounds and moves soooo good that I can’t stay away.

Affairs of the heart are a mystery to me  and I don’t have an answer for the fatal attraction.  I do know that I have a rod in the boat that always has that lure on it.  It’s the first lure I try, no matter what the location or conditions.  I continue to throw that lure well beyond the time when I should be changing things up.  When I’m not throwing it, I worry that I should be throwing it.   When my boat partner is chucking it – I’m jealous.

After considering my options for trolling this top water, I decided that I needed to re-visit my relationship and god forbid – decide to try a trial separation!

Last time out I spent some time casting blades and had some moderate success.  Thoughts did creep in – that muskie that missed the blades would have been hooked up if I had been using “her”.  I tried to ignore those thoughts and stick with the separation, telling myself that it was me, not her (just in case I need to go back to her later).

I’ll stick it out and hopefully put a big fish in the boat during the separation.  Just in case,  I ordered two more of the same lure.  I picked different patterns in case the separation create some bad Karma with the original pattern.

This is normal right ….

 

 

 

Trailer Maintenance

We are only 2 sleeps away from the opener on the Ottawa river. With my opening day fishing plan in place (since Feb.), thoughts turn to other important aspects of Muskie fishing that can definitely make or break your day.

Trailer Maintenance

by Trevor Smith Originally published in the Muskies Canada Release Journal May/June 2010

The soft water season is fast approaching! Our boats have been cleaned and prepped, but what about your trailer? Over the years I have come up with a check list, I go over not only in the spring, but throughout the season. Let’s get started!

Lights
I will start by providing a reference for the trailer wiring colours:

Brown -Tail lights / Marker lights
Yellow – Left signal
Green – Right signal
White – Ground wire

Most lighting problems can be diagnosed with a multi meter and a 12 volt test light:
When diagnosing, start with your tow vehicle; trailer unplugged. Test for power at each terminal, with the appropriate accessory on. (Turn each light on individually). This will verify you have power on the correct terminal.

After this has been completed, plug the trailer wiring in and connect trailer to vehicle. It is important to have the trailer connected as this can be your ground connection on some trailers. Continue to test for power working back to the problem light.

Lighting Tips
Most lighting issues are related to a bad ground. A bad ground can cause vehicle lights to malfunction, and numerous lighting problems with your trailer. Some ofthese problems include: dim lights, flickering, or not working at all.

When I wire a trailer, I like to have the ground wire from the trailer connected thru the trailer plug to a well known ground on the vehicle.

As mentioned earlier, some trailers ground thru the trailer ball, which can cause connection problems; due to rust and dirt.

Bulbs
Another problem I have found is the wrong bulb has been used. The most common bulb is part # 1157. This is a double filament, incandescent bulb. It can be identified by the 2 contacts on the bottom of the bulb and offset notches on the body of the bulb.

This bulb can be mistaken for an 1156 bulb, which is a single filament, 1 contact on the bottom and no offset notch. The bulbs should not be able to get interchanged, but do. The sockets on trailers tend to be cheaper lighter gauge metal; making it possible to install the wrong bulb. This can and will cause major issues.

Newer trailers use 30 and 31 series bulbs and LED lighting. If you are looking for an upgrade; LED lights are a great choice because of there low maintenance.

Wheel Bearings
Wheels bearings are integral in getting you to and from the lake. In my opinion they need to be inspected yearly.

Tires / Wheels

  • Tires should be checked regularly for cracks, cuts and foreign objects in the tread.
  • Tire pressure should be checked regularly when the tire is cold.
  • Trailer tires are identified by the ST in front of the size. P and LT identify passenger and light truck tires.
  • Tires only rated for trailer use should be used. Passenger tires are engineered for ride comfort and sometimes cannot handle load capacity.
  • Tires are rated by load range and identified by a letter. (Usually B, C, D) The higher the letter, the more weight the tire can carry. Your tires work in conjunction with your trailer suspension. Increasing tire load range does not allow you to exceed axel rating.

Load Range “B” = 4 Ply
Load Range “C” = 6 Ply
Load Range “D”= 8 Ply

trailer1_01
A tire showing signs of wear that indicate a replacement is due

Wheels should be checked for tightness at least once a season. Check tightness with a torque wrench, if available. Torques specifications will vary depending on stud type and size. ( refer to manual or internet).

Suspension

  • Look for broken or damaged leaf springs.
  • Tighten all hardware.

trailer1_02

Frame Inspection

  • Inspect trailer frame for cracks and loose bolts.
  • Check rollers for adjustment and wear.
  • Inspect trailer bunk for damage and wear.
  • Check license plate mounting screws. I have upgraded to lock nuts for my license plate, as it has come loose on a couple of occasions.
trailer1_03
Inspect rollers and frame for cracks, wear, etc.

Trailer Winch / Tie down Straps

  • Check winch mounting bolts for tightness.
  • Make sure winch locking mechanisms release and lock properly.
  • Inspect winch strap for frays. Be sure to check safety hooks and latches as well for damage. Inspect tie downs straps as well.
trailer1_04
Check winch mechanism, strap and mounting bolts
trailer1_05
Replace broken hardware

That’s it! You can inspect your trailer relatively quickly, and you should do some sort of an inspection before each use. Spending a little time before your trip can provide you more time on the water, and that’s what it’s all about.
 

Egg Collection – Week 7 Update

Week Seven Update: (June 6-10)

Wil Wegman
<°))))><
Resource Management Technician
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
Aurora District- 905-713-7730

The first full week of no trap netting on Gloucester Pool in search of muskies for an egg collection is now behind us and crews from Midhurst and Aurora went back to their busy routines with other field and office work.  Both Blue Jay Creek and Fleming Hatchery staff remained very busy as well doing their utmost to ensure each precious egg and newly hatched fry was getting the best care possible. Thankfully those big muskie-to-be, have the most dedicated hatchery staff imaginable to ensure their well-being.  In this week’s update we are fortunate to have two good week-ending reports – supplied from Paul Vieira at Blue Jay and Mark Newell, at Fleming.

Blue Jay Creek::

Egg survival was poor maybe due to the late spawning?

All of the Musky have hatched and fish are living off of their yolk sacs, feeding will start soon. They look like Balsam Fir needles.

Presently we have 40 fry from the Pointe Au Baril family

1200 fry from G Pool family

 

Paul M still has feelers out with our lake unit colleges in case they come across any ripe fish, it is pretty late in the game though.

 

trapnetting_050

One of the tanks with young muskie fry

 trapnetting_051

A close up of some great looking muskie fry

Paul V.

Fleming College:

Similar story here… right down to the balsam fir needles! I’ve used that comparison many times over the years!

We are expecting swim up to begin at any time. The battle of feeding strategies is on repeat in my brain as I try to figure out how to maximize success of the few fry we do have. Current count is around 1575 but there are maybe 5% of those that are really borderline… alive but bent, stunted or otherwise challenged. So call it 1500 quality looking fry.

 I wouldn’t wish this scenario on anyone, it is going to be a tough go!

trapnetting_052

5% challenged sac fry: some good quality fry with a few of their “challenged” siblings in the bottom right corner

 trapnetting_053

2016 late stage sac fry: shows a good resolution shot of some of the high quality fry at Fleming

 trapnetting_054

Bent Muskellunge fry. This pic taken 1st week of June shortly after hatch.  It shows some of the severely challenged fry removed by the hatchery staff.  There was a higher than usual proportion of these in this particular family.

 … warm temp at collection or old donor fish (senescence)? Combination?

 

trapnetting_055

Fathead Minnow Fry:

These tiny almost transparent newly hatched Fatheads can be great food for baby muskies!  However once they have a taste of these will they ever accept manufactured diet? Unlikely!

However, Mark Newell from Fleming is preparing for all eventualities saying

“It may come to the point where we may HAVE to feed the young muskie these fatheads so we are scrambling right now to figure out how to optimize our production, harvest and sorting of these young fry”.

Egg Collection – Week 6

Week Six Update: (May 22-May 27)

Wil Wegman
<°))))><
Resource Management Technician
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
Aurora District- 905-713-7730

 

Hi Everyone,

Another whirl-wind week on the wild and wonderful trapnetting circuit for the wily egg collection crew on G Pool.

It began on the beautiful Sunday morning of the Victoria Day Long Wknd as Wil and Brent set out to open the six nets. Once open,  they could fish 48 hours until they would be checked on Tuesday. We don’t normally need to leave our nets working this late into the season so expected to see plenty of boat action on both Little Lake and Gloucester Pool, and this was definitely the case on this busy holiday wknd. Most of the boaters we encountered were cottage based recreational anglers and several struck up conversations with us. All of them seemed fully aware of … and supportive of, our trapnetting program over the last decade. Being able to engage with these important local stakeholders on a busy wknd and have a positive presence was definitely an added bonus to opening our nets on Sunday.

Then came Tuesday.  We were anxiously expecting fuller than normal nets … based on the water temperature spiking to 16 degrees and a 48 hour set, but unfortunately this was not the case… With the exception  of one net that had over two dozen long nosed gar for us to deal with.  Gar typically move inshore as the weather warms and the water temps reach 15C. They love swimming near the surface on bright sunny days so we could see some cruising along before we even checked our nets. These prehistoric fish are extremely cool looking and we enjoy seeing them, however they can be a bit of a challenge when many of them have their long bills sticking thru the nets.  While we were hauling out gar from our nets we encountered what may be a first for this program… A few VERY ripe females that were very happy to see Brent so they spewed their small white, very sticky eggs all over him and the boat. If only we could find muskie that were so ripe and free flowing … but that’s typically not the case at all.

trapnetting_033

Longnose Gar eggs sticking to our paddle

trapnetting_034

Kate Gee with a small G Pool Gar

Kate Gee who was with us that day let us know that these gar eggs are unlike most other fish eggs in every respect in that they should never be eaten as caviar . They are quite toxic and can cause fairly severe illness—such as vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, etc.  Some other interesting factoids about Longnose gar include:

Longnose Gar Facts

  • The Longnose Gar can survive in low oxygenated waters because of a highly vascularized swim bladder.  This swim bladder allows the Longnose to breathe air.  It usually uses both its swim bladder and its gills to breathe.  It surfaces and releases an air bubble to take in another before returning underwater.
  • Shy’s away from the surface when water gets colder.  But, when oxygen is low it cover its gills and uses the bladder only.  This allows for the organism to live outside the water for awhile if it is kept wet.
  • The Longnose Gar’s eggs are poisonous to humans, other mammals, and birds.
  • Longnose Gar scales were used by native Americans as arrow heads, ornaments, and tools.
  • Longnose Gar have been around since the time of dinosaurs.
  • Longnose gar have a year round open season and no limit in most parts of Ontario, but most anglers find them extremely difficult to catch so overall angler effort targeted at this species is very low. Their long, very hard snouts do not have conventional teeth like other fish – so most hooks don’t penetrate well to land these fish. Some fly fishers do have success, occasionally they can be caught on 3-4 inch jerkbaits if the lure is engulfed sideways … and some anglers have even had success using a strip of Velcro instead of a lure – as their small jagged teeth seem to clasp on.

trapnetting_035

As water temps warmed up more bowfin were caught in the nets … including several males like this one held by Wil … It’s in full spawning colors with characteristic spot on tail

The next day (May 25)  the crew set out again … and the overwhelming sensation of another “Groundhog Day” (from the movie) was upon them. Low net catches were dominant from one set to the other … and no muskie were showing up. To add insult to injury the 2nd last net had one very big aggressive snapping turtle in it, that decided not to vacate the premises despite tearing several big holes in the net.  As we were repairing those … a call came in from Paul Methner of Blue Jay Creek Hatchery.  Despite Georgian Bay  originally being recognized earlier this spring as an unlikely back-up source for muskie eggs, more recent discussions between hatchery and other managers, field crews and MC, recognized that time was running out for Gloucester Pool to produce. One of the  trapnetting crews that was doing telemetry research in partnership with McMaster University up on Georgian Bay near Point Au Baril had a ripe male and two ripe female muskie in their nets. The crew did not have any egg sampling gear, and were not trained to take eggs, but the offer was made to hold those muskie, should Brent and Wil be able to drive up, meet the crew and go out on their boat to get the job done.  Special arrangements were made with the health lab and the two hatcheries … some evening family plans were quickly altered and off the they went to fish their last net on G Pool, before hitting the road north to hopefully …. finally get some eggs! As many Muskie Canada veterans may recall, the first couple of years of the Lake Simcoe Muskie Restoration Program, we relied on Georgian Bay families and it was only a few years in that the switch was made to relying more on G Pool, so using these eggs would be nothing new.

A couple hours later, Wil and Brent met up with fellow MNRF staffers and master trapnetters Lawrence and Stephen from MNRF’s Lake Huron Fisheries Management Unit. On their big beautiful steel boat we travelled out to the nets and quickly picked up one male, deposited him into a big tub with fresh water and  then headed to the other net where a smaller male and two females were anxiously awaiting to donate their contributions to the cause . Although the females were both quite small, the crew still hoped plenty of eggs could be collected … but unfortunately only one small family from each – one for Blue Jay Creek and the other for Fleming was all they had in them.  The male did his job for both … the eggs were hardened with hatchery water, transferred from bowl to jars, disinfected with ovadine, rinsed and rinsed again and again and again until it was time to deliver them to shore and the hatcheries.

trapnetting_036

Lawrence of the Lake Huron Management Unit (LHMU), Wil and Brent with one of the egg donors

trapnetting_037

Lawrence and Stephen of LHMU and Brent with the male donor

 trapnetting_038

Wil with the first egg collection of 2016- two very small families

 So … although the families were small the hatchery managers were thankful the skunk factor was now behind all involved. Paul Methner had already travelled down from Manitoulin Island’s Blue Jay Creek where his eggs were handed over and the trip back down to Coldwater was made to hand off the Fleming eggs to their hatchery manager Mark Newell who drove up from Lindsay.   “The family was small (est 2500-3000 eggs) but looked good with very few dead eggs to be picked once they were deposited in the incubation trays at the hatchery,” said Mark.

On Thursday May 26 the crew tried to beat out the impending weather and partially succeeded at all but one of their six net sites. By the time they got to it,  a stiff on-shore breeze was developing and just as they were about to check for fish a large rogue gust of wind blew them further onto the rest of the net …  tangled things up … and bringing them quickly within site of two very large muskie within the house portion of their net! They quickly regrouped, opened the zipper, assessed the condition of each fish … and amazingly one was a ripe male and the other a ripe female! With even heavier on shore winds threatening – the decision was made to leave the two fish for the next day when a safer and more effective egg collection could be made! Meanwhile, the first small family remained in good condition at Fleming with a relatively normal level of dead eggs to pick.

Friday May 27th.  Normally this is an office day for the crew.  However both hatcheries were anxious to collect eggs ‘whenever possible’ and the manager of Health Lab at Guelph University – Steven Lord was willing to wait around that Friday to collect fluids for disease testing. In order to expedite runs to the two hatcheries and to Guelph, two MNRF crews in two separate boats were deployed to Coldwater to get the job done. One of those crews was happy to report another female had been captured … so after all the nets were checked … she was put in the large tub and travelled from Port Severn in Little Lake with Brent, Kate and Wil down to G Pool to meet up with Stephen, Carolyn and Gabby.  The other two muskie were taken from their overnight accommodations and both were in exceptional condition. Neither had ever been captured during the trap netting program before … as tags were absent. Incredibly this was the biggest male on record … coming in at 49 inches; just a touch shorter than the Double Nickels (55+) female.  Unfortunately … the smaller female was now hard (not uncommon for smaller fish) but both big male and big female were ripe. The crew collected enough eggs for each hatchery and split them into two separate jars for each.

trapnetting_039

Carolyn Hann (foreground) holds bowl for egg collecting while Brent  extracts eggs and Wilmaintains control of this 40 pound super strong female

 

 trapnetting_040

Brent (foreground),  Wil (background) and Carolyn (middle) caring for eggs before they are transferred to jars- below

trapnetting_041

trapnetting_042

A quick group photo after a successful egg collection and sampling with the 55.5 inch female. From left to right: Brent, Wil, Steve, Kate and Carolyn. Photo taken by Gabby

trapnetting_043

Wil is taking scale samples here for ageing and genetics, while Brent steadies the muskie and Carolyn is ready with the scale envelope

trapnetting_044

Brent (left), Wil and Kate with the largest males ever used in an egg collection = 49” long, 19.5” girth & 26.7lbs. It was the warmest egg collection ever- with air temps pushing 28C and water temps well over 18C

trapnetting_045 

The icing on the cake is always a healthy live release after the muskie have been sampled and contributed to future stocking efforts on Lake Simcoe

 

After the egg collection was made, the team went into action to deliver the goods to the respective locations as quickly as possible. Gabby made the long trip down from Coldwater to Guelph and battled crazy traffic but got the fluid samples to the lab in time.  Carolyn drove south to Lindsay … stopping every half hour to check eggs and ensure no clumping was taking place. Then she would rinse and add fresh hatchery water before she left the eggs with Mark at Fleming.  Mark reported that, “ There was a somewhat larger than normal number of dead eggs to pick on the day of receiving (670) but not a number of significant concern.”

trapnetting_046

Carolyn checking eggs en route to Fleming before rinsing and adding fresh water. “It’s kind of like our own little tailgate party,” she said

Wil drove north to Parry Sound following the same egg-care protocol to drop the eggs with Michaela from Blue Jay Creek who drove down from Manitoulin Island. Here Wil and Michaela also met up with Ryan … who had driven from Pearson International Airport in a truck fully loaded with fish food for the muskie and other species raised at the Blue Jay Creek Hatchery. Here the three staff quickly transferred all the contents from one truck to the other … and then each was off to go their own separate ways from there.

trapnetting_047

Michaela and Ryan unloading feed for fish at Blue Jay Creek

 

Update 7: Saturday May 28-Thursday June 2nd

Although the weekend of May 28th and 29th would be the first one the crew had completely off in six weeks, there was certainly no rest for the devoted hatchery staff at Blue Jay Creek and at Fleming. Critical, almost around the clock care of the precious muskie eggs is compulsory to ensure success down the road.  Even with the most experienced and dedicated staff however, Mother Nature can throw unexpected obstacles into the best laid plans – something the trapnetting crew was all too familiar with. The first text from Mark Newell to Wil came in late Saturday  afternoon letting him know things did not look good with the eggs and that he had already picked out 8,000 dead ones over the last 8 hours.

Below are further details provided by Mark Newell:

“On Saturday May 28  is when the rollercoaster went into its steepest dive. The first family of eggs showed significant (over 50%) dead eggs. The die off continued the full while that the picking was happening with eggs dying off almost as fast as we could pick them. By the end of the day we were down to fewer than 5% eggs remaining. We examined a few of the remaining eggs under a microscope and there was no sign of an embryo. This pattern of complete loss all within the 36-72 hours after spawn window is a very strong indicator of unsuccessful fertilization. Couple that with the lack of embryo in the few remaining “live” eggs at the end of the period the presumptive determination at the hatchery is that fertilization did not happen in this batch.

 Also on May 28 we saw an enormous die off of eggs from the larger, Gloucester Pool batch. As many as 8200 eggs were picked. This is an unusual, but not unprecedented loss for this stage of development. Given our already low numbers and the loss of the first small family it was pretty devastating. We had hoped this one batch was going to save the year.

 On May 29 we saw further loss, of ~4700 eggs from the second family… it seemed by the time the picking was done in the early afternoon on Sunday that the egg loss had tapered off quite a bit and examination of the remaining eggs showed signs of embryo presence.

 On May 30 we continued to lose eggs (at a much lower rate) and by day end we had picked ~600. The remaining eggs still looked good and embryos were clearly visible

 On May 31 lower mortalities gave us a break from the bad news and only 185 eggs were picked.

 On June 1 fungus had made its expected appearance, the egg shells are softening and embryos have developed a tiny bit of pigmentation. We picked just over 400 eggs today.

 The initial estimate of numbers received (~25,000) now seems to have been a bit high, so doing the math we may have as many as 3000-3500 viable eggs left as of June 1st. It is hard to estimate numbers when they are spread out over several incubator trays.”

From Paul Methner at Blue Jay Creek on the morning of June 2nd … a very promising update was provided. Similar to Mark’s issues with the first batch … they too experienced serious failure with their Georgian Bay eggs.  Paul expects about 60 of those eggs that have now hatched remain … which still would provide some genetic diversity. Additionally and even more encouraging … after a very trying Saturday May 28th with eggs dying …the situation appeared to stabilize by the next day- Sunday. “Today, we have plenty of healthy eggs left, which should provide us with more than our target of 500 muskie come fall. If all goes well, thanks to all the improvements we’ve made here at the hatchery, this number could increase,” Paul told Wil over the phone. Some of the improvements made include better lighting system, a better feeding system, a visit by several staff to Mark Newell’s successful muskie hatchery and even hiring a former Fleming student who worked for Mark in the hatchery.

On Monday May 30, two crews of Midhurst and Aurora MNRF staff figured the decision to collect trap nets that day was the right one, when the water temperature at their boats that morning was already 21 C.  One theory for the poor fertilization of eggs could possibly lie with the rapid increase in water temperatures that may have reduced the effectiveness of the male’s sperm. The two crews split up and collected all six trap nets, and then transferred them back to Midhurst district..

The first eggs from the G Pool collection began hatching the morning of June 2nd …. And both hatcheries reported that this continued on to June 3rd.  There were several of these eggs that were duds but at time of writing this an accurate number was not possible.

trapnetting_048

Back on shore Friday May 27 at the Sexsmith’s Lakeside residence after the successful egg collection.  Here for almost ten years,  MNRF Midhurst and Aurora District crews have been able to store their boats and all their gear for the duration of the spring program.  Both crews are extremely grateful to Michelle and Malcolm Sexsmith for their major contribution to this program Above, from left to right: Steve, Carolyn, Malcolm, Gabby, Kate and Brent.

trapnetting_049

Friday June 3rd … all six trapnets were spread out and allowed to bake in the sun to dry out.  Nets were cleaned with stiff brooms to remove filamentous algae, several holes were repaired, and then all were repacked for next time.

 

Egg Collection – Week 5

Wil Wegman
<°))))><
Resource Management Technician
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
Aurora District- 905-713-7730

May 20, 2016

Week Five Update:

Hi Everyone,

A very rainy day one began early Saturday May 14, when MNRF staff Kate, Brent and Wil checked the nets to fish the by-catch. Not wanting to lose the opportunity to catch muskie during the unsettled weather of the weekend when muskie often roam, the decision was made to maintain 48 hour net sets, so nets were not closed off Thursday as is usually the case.

As the day went on the winds picked up, the water temperatures dropped and it turned out to be a cold and nasty day on the water. However the hopes of the crew rose quickly at their 2nd net set when they encountered their 2nd muskie of 2016. This one came from G Pool itself instead of adjoining Little Lake where last week’s muskie came from. Unlike that ripe, previously tagged male however, this 48 inch female was still hard (green) and was a newbie- never having been sampled or tagged before by the crew. It was therefore sampled, tagged with her own uniquely numbered Floy tag, and live released in great shape.

If a ripe female was captured, the crew was prepared to carefully asses her condition in order to possibly hold her over until Monday when an egg collection could be carried out – as the hatcheries and Health Lab are not prepared to accept eggs on Fridays or weekends.

trapnetting_032

Kate Gee and Brent Shirley with the first female muskie of 2016

As they were preparing their gear for the day, on Monday May 16, the crew pictured below had guardedly high hopes that the rotten weather over the weekend would have spurred some muskie activity – and encouraged a couple (in every sense of the word) to enter their nets. However, water temperature at the dock (where their boat is moored) however read just under 11 C. Although muskie spawn (and G Pool egg collections have been made)in water temps ranging from 9.4-15C, optimum temps for spawning appear to be just under 13 C. So that first morning of week 5 saw  high hopes somewhat dashed. The snowfall and cold temps of Sunday had lasting undesirable affects possibly holding muskie out in deeper water away from the nets.

Not unlike hard core muskie anglers who may have ½ a dozen ‘hot-spots’ they like to visit and fish during the day … the MNRF muskie crew traveled from one trap net to another and every time they approached one of their 6 nets (all of which have caught plenty of muskie before), their excitement levels would rise in the hopes that a muskie or two would be waiting. As has been the case however for the duration of the 2016 program to date – disappointment was replicated with more disappointment … not just at the beginning of Week 5, but also mid-week and end-of week. No additional muskie were captured and overall with cool temperatures still dominating until Thursday when they hit a high of 13.7, overall catches of all species continued to be way down from previous years.

The following photos of Week 5 demonstrate however that despite not capturing their target species, the crew still managed to catch some remarkable fish, that contributed well to their ongoing data-set for G Pool and Little Lake.

 trapnetting_031

Brent in background with our 3rd and largest walleye this season, with Wil (left) and Jason Cologna (MNRF Peterborough office) each with nice smallmouth on Day 1/Week 5

trapnetting_029

trapnetting_030 

Over the years, the trapnetting crew has caught many large bragging sized channel cats but thousands of brown bullheads (right) of the size shown above.  However, to the best of their recollection, this  real small channel catfish (left) may be the first they have captured. Note the key identifying characteristic in the forked caudal (tail) fin of the channel catfish and the square tail of the brown bullhead catfish.

trapnetting_028

Here one of Canada’s longest serving and most dedicated Muskies Canada members Jim Kelly holds a nice, but not overly large channel cat along with Kate Gee from MNRF.  Jim is former MC president, is a member of the Muskies Canada Hall of Fame (inducted 2003)and represents the organization on the Lake Simcoe Fisheries Stakeholder Committee.

trapnetting_027

Here Wil Wegman (left) and Kate Gee proudly display 5 remarkable stinkpot turtles captured from one net set. This Species of Special Concern was highlighted in last week’s update

trapnetting_026

Kate and Wil with one very fat egg-laden female largemouth bass on a wet, cold day on the water.

trapnetting_025

Here, during a warmer Wednesday on the Pool, MNRF’s Melanie Shapiera  holds another good Largemouth – with Wil and Brent look on.

trapnetting_024

A male bowfin approaching full spawning color’s … indicated by the iridescent green of the underbelly

 

 

 

 

After dismal catches Monday, nets were left open and fished for 48 hours until Wednesday; then fished Thursday with some encouraging signs of warming temps bringing in more fish as the day went on. Another eagle flew overhead and was recognized as a good omen for things to come.
With the long weekend approaching, the muskie egg collection program would have typically long been completed by now, but as these weekly reports have clearly indicated, this has certainly not been a typical spring. Therefore after joint discussions among field crews, MNRF supervisors, Muskies Canada reps, hatchery staff and the health lab … a joint decision has been made to continue on to an unprecedented 6th week of trap netting in order to hopefully capture enough ripe muskie to reach our target goal of 3 families for the hatcheries.

trapnetting_023

So … nets were closed off on Thursday May 19 (a zip tie is fastened around the funnel of the trap net, prohibiting any fish from swimming thru and being captured) and will be reopened during the long weekend on Sunday May 22nd by Brent and Wil. This allows for another 48 hour net set during an anticipated heat wave until nets will be fished again on Tuesday May 24th. From there 24 hour sets will prevail until at least Thursday … and then we’ll have to re-evaluate our options.

Stay tuned … and hope everyone has a wonderful long weekend with plenty of tight lines for all who will wet one.

Egg Collection – Week 4

Wil Wegman
<°))))><
Resource Management Technician
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
Aurora District- 905-713-7730

May 13, 2016

Slowly but surely the 2016 trapnetting crews on Gloucester Pool are gaining confidence that they will  reach their goals of capturing muskie and collecting 3 families worth of eggs for the hatcheries.  This confidence however has not come easily, as crews have experienced a very trying season on the Pool thus far.  As ardent muskie anglers love to say This is the fish of a thousand casts’ … and so too are the crews on Gloucester now saying “this is the fish of a thousand net sets’…

To date we have maximized our efforts since Monday April 18 when we deployed 6 trap nets during a 23C heat wave, only to fish those same nets a week later when temps had fallen 23 degrees during a significant snow storm.  We then experienced crazy formations of green filamentous algae that covered some of our nets, and made our jobs doubly difficult and messy.

This net above was our worst case scenario situated in a proven muskie spot we like to call ol stumpy. It and others have since been cleaned-up. trapnetting_023

Most filamentous algae prefer stagnant, nutrient rich, warm waters. Spirogyra however, is one species that flourishes more in cooler spring and fall months. They are found to dominate the littoral zones where we put our nets (the shallow, near-shore area where sunlight can penetrate to the bottom allowing aquatic plants to grow). During other years, we seldom have more than a few days when water temps remained in the single digits but this year, we had almost two weeks’ worth … optimizing the conditions for this algae to flourish.  Thankfully, during week four, as water temperatures finally began to rise – pushing 14 C, much of the algae began to die off, and crews spent extra time cleaning off the nets.

trapnetting_022

The beginning of week 4, began with Muskies Canada volunteer Terry Barrett who witnessed some tremendous channel cat catches like the one he holds here.

Week 4 began with Mel and Wil opening the nets on a chilly Sunday, followed by a day of low catches the following Monday.  Muskies Canada volunteer Terry Barrett however sill enjoyed himself and witnessed some great channel cat catches in a couple of our nets.  On Tuesday, we saw another (or the same individual as last week) bald eagle which we figured had to be a good omen and was, as the very next day we captured our very first muskie of the season – a ripe male.

This individual muskie was getting on in years and was one we had used for a muskie egg collection in 2006 when it was also sampled, tagged and released. Interestingly enough, it was originally caught at the site # 3 and was also recaptured at site # 3. In 2006 it measured 1050mm  and weighed 11kg … but on Tuesday, 10 years later it measured 1090mm and weighed about 8.2kg (based on length girth formula).  The fish was in good shape so he was held overnight in the hopes that on Thursday, our last day to collect eggs for the hatcheries this week, would supply a ripe female from one of our six nets.  Alas … this was not to be, so the tagged muskie was set free to possibly contribute another day to our worthy cause.

trapnetting_021

This old male muskie was our first lunge of the 2016 trapnetting season. Pictured, Brent Shirley (Midhurst MNRF)  left, Adam Chalice (Aurora MNRF) and Kate Gee (Midhurst)

This week we also saw our very first Musk … or ‘Stinkpot’ Turtle. We definitely don’t see as many of these “Species of Special Concern’ turtles as we do of the more common Northern Maps, so they are always cool to see … and even smell – as their musky odor does have a certain, shall we say ‘ Je ne sais quoi’ odor to them. It was only fitting that Aurora District biologist Carolyn Hann was on the muskie trapnetting boat the day the stinkpot was captured.

She has acquired a wealth of turtle knowledge in her career spending many years volunteering for Turtle S.H.E.L.L Tortue helping to rehabilitate injured turtles, install turtle crossing signs, and providing education and outreach on our native turtle populations and habitat. She has continued by working on various Species At Risk  projects including Wood Turtle Research in Nova Scotia, and helping Biologist in Kejimkujik National Park with their Blanding’s Turtle Research.

Biologist Carolyn Hann with her special catch … A Stinkpot Turtle

trapnetting_020

So … to learn even more about this fascinating turtle, turtle aficionado Carolyn Hann provided us with the following:

Stinkpot Fun Facts

  • Unlike many turtles the musk turtle rarely leaves the water except to lay eggs. This turtle is fairly secretive and spends a lot of its time resting on the soft lake bottom, foraging for food and basking in the sun under floating aquatic vegetation in shallow water.
  • This species is generally a poor swimmer and will walk along the Lake Bottom rather than swim.
  • This turtle has a great little defensive tactic in that when it is disturbed it will quickly emit a foul smelling odour from its musk glands giving it the famous name ‘stinkpot’. These little guys are also fairly aggressive and won’t hesitate to bite!
  • Nest close to water and therefore are very vulnerable to changes in water levels.
  • Lay 2 to 7 eggs that are elliptical in shape and vary in size. A little bigger than a quarter. Eggs are laid between May and early July with hatches anywhere from 60 to 90 days later.
  • Diet: molluscs, plants, small fish, insects, and  carrion
  • The barbels on this turtle’s chin and throat are sensory organs which allow the turtle to feel for prey resting on the bottom of the water body.

Threats to the species:

  • Habitat destruction
  • Changes in water levels
  • Heavy recreational boating
  • Fisheries bycatch
  • Depredation

 

 

The champion turtle crew, each with their own stinkpot- left to right: Kate, Mel Shapiera and Brent

trapnetting_019

Eva Bobak (MNRF Aurora) with one of her favorite species … the longnose gar. Brent in background collecting data.

 trapnetting_018

trapnetting_017

Brent Armstrong (Midhurst) with a nice healthy pike

 

Moving on To Week Five:

Getting back to our piscatorial pursuits and all that is muskie, both Midhurst and Aurora District staff are confident that this coming week before the Victoria long weekend will more than make up for the cool waters and cool reception G Pool’s muskie have provided so far. We have however enacted extra measures not normally within scope of this program in order to maximize our chances for a successful egg collection next week.

First, as of yesterday (Thursday May 12)we left the nets open and will fish them for by-catch (not muskie) on Saturday. Come Monday, we will be out in full force, expecting to collect eggs. With the warm latter part of this week leading up to a stormy and cooler weekend, followed by warmer temps again next week … we finally believe all the stars are aligning perfectly to help guarantee success.

Stay tuned for  next week’s report … and have a good pike opener for those of you chasing these toothy critters this weekend.