Pictured above: Ryan Carpentier with the 14-pound, 38-inch muskie he caught and released in Missisquoi Bay on February 12. (Photo provided by Ryan Carpentier)
A series of recent muskellunge catches by anglers ice fishing on northern Lake Champlain have provided fisheries biologists from Vermont Fish & Wildlife with added confirmation that muskie stocking and restoration efforts in Missisquoi Bay and the Missisquoi River are proving successful.
In a rare occurrence, Vermont anglers Ryan Carpentier and Gage Honsinger both landed muskie through the ice in mid-February at two different locales on the northern end of the lake. Carpentier’s fish, caught and released in Missisquoi Bay, measured 38 inches in length and weighed 14.1 pounds. Honsinger’s muskie, which measured 35 inches in length, was caught and released in the Inland Sea area.
While large, adult muskie have been caught sporadically in northern Lake Champlain over the years, biologists say the two February catches likely indicate a direct link to the department’s recent muskie stocking efforts which began in 2008 and are part of the department’s long-term muskie restoration plan.
“Based on known age-at-length data, we estimate these two fish to be between six and eight years old,” said Shawn Good, fisheries biologist with Vermont Fish & Wildlife who has led the muskie restoration program. “Given the age estimate and locations of these two catches in proximity to our muskie stocking sites, there is a strong likelihood that these fish are a product of our initial stocking efforts, which is incredibly encouraging and satisfying to see.”
Muskellunge, which can grow to over 50 inches in length and weigh over 50 pounds, are one of four species of esocids (pike family) native to Vermont, along with northern pike, chain pickerel and redfin pickerel.
Although the Lake Champlain muskie population was once widespread, it began to decline in the 1960’s and 1970’s and is thought to have been extirpated completely from the lake by the early 1980’s following a spill of untreated waste from a mill on the Missisquoi River.
Since 2008, the department has stocked over 50,000 fingerling muskellunge into the Missisquoi Bay and Missisquoi River area, working to restore the species to northern Lake Champlain.
“Our goal is to return the species to Lake Champlain and reestablish its place in the fish community,” said Good. “Muskie are an apex predator that once played an important role in the lake’s aquatic ecosystem. It’s really exciting to see these catches and gather more evidence that the stocked fish are succeeding.”
Good, who is reminding anglers that any muskie caught in Vermont must be immediately released based on state law, is also eager for the future recreational opportunities that the fish will provide.
“People who have caught them, like Ryan and Gage, will attest to the incredible fight they provide and what an experience it is to catch them,” said Good. “They are known for vicious strikes, powerful runs and acrobatic leaps. It’s an exciting prospect for Lake Champlain sport fishing and we’re thrilled to see progress.”
To learn more about fishing in Vermont, the department’s fisheries programs, or to purchase a fishing license, visit vtfishandwildlife.com.