Windsor

Ministry fishing muskie with Ontario anglers to learn about its habitat

About 40 Ontario anglers sent their fishing lines into the water alongside employees of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to catch muskie, which will be tracked for a number of years.

Fish will be tagged and sent back out into Lake St. Clair, then tracked for several years

Mike Parker, left, and Stephen Marklevitz, a biologist with the Ministry of Natural Resources, have spent multiple years studying muskie fish and found that some have left Lake St. Clair, gone down to Lake Erie and swam all the way down to the Buffalo harbour. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

On a cool, October morning on a lake as clear as glass, volunteers geared up at the Belle River Marina in Lakeshore, Ont. to reel in the big muskie.

About 40 anglers sent their fishing lines into the water alongside employees of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to — hopefully — catch at least 20 muskies. They would be tagged and sent back out into Lake St. Clair.

Some do their fishing from a boat, while others help from the shoreline — including Mike Parker who's been helping the government for the second year in a row. 

The tags last about five to seven years. Anglers say they'll need that same amount of time before all of the data has been gathered. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

"I help them with muskies when they're tagging them. When the boats come in, I'll help get the fish off the boats. Help them with the tanks, getting the stuff ready. Just here to participate and do some video and get the word out to the public," said Parker, who is a muskie tour guide.

The health of the muskie population is important for business. Parker said there was a 2006 outbreak of viral hemorrhagic septicemia, a disease which killed of tens of thousands of muskies in Lake St. Clair.

"Doing stuff like this here, we can see where the muskies are going and then if they're surviving and it really is something important to give back to the lake, so we can keep an eye on where the fish are going so we can see maybe why are these diseases hurting them and why are some things not hurting them."

Tags aren't cheap

Knowing there's a healthy supply of muskies is good for business. It's one of the reasons Parker, along with the Belle River chapter of Muskie Canada, have bought the tags — which aren't cheap.

Each tag is $500 and the Belle River anglers bought 22 of them. but they're crucial for tracking.

The fish are stunned with an electric current, then quickly weighed and measured. Once an incision has been made, the muskie are ready to be equipped a tag, which is good for several years.

The process of inserting a tag happens rather quickly. A surgeon is there to perform the task to make sure everything is done safely and humanely. While he operates, Stephen Marklevitz, a biologist with the Ministry of Natural Resources, takes down all the information.

A muskie tagger applies an incision to a fish. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

"We know relatively little about lots of fish species and muskie is one of them in particular. So the hope here is that the information will lead into some future management decisions and actions," said Marklevitz.

Marklevitz added he hopes the information they collect will help them make future well-informed management decisions.

"We're hoping to be able to identify some home ranges and how far a fish may move over a lifetime — migratory patterns, seasonal patterns, whether or not the fish caught in Belle River today stay around here or whether or not these fish here stay around Erie."

Gathering the data

The fish are stunned with an electric current, then quickly weighed and measured. Once an incision has been made, the muskie are ready to be equipped a tag which is good for several years.

The process of inserting a tag happens rather quickly. A surgeon is there to perform the task to make sure everything is done safely and humanely.

There are recorders are out on the lake, so when the fish swim near them, it logs their signal, allowing anglers to track where the fish go.

Reel Therapy consists of five anglers from Michigan, including Corinne Skinner, left. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

Out on a boat called Reel Therapy, catching muskies is top-of-mind for five Michiganders, including Corinne Skinner. She currently holds the record for the largest muskie caught by a female in her fishing organization — 133.4 cm (52.5 in) and 17.7 kg (39.1 lbs).

"This is the boat owned by my boyfriend and his dad and we've been fishing together for the last two and a half years as long as we've been together" said Skinner. "I think it's really cool what they're trying to do to track the fish and learn more about them."

When she catches a muskie, it must be returned to the lake to be tagged.

The ministry tagged 22 muskies — half the number from last year. As for the anglers, they're excited they'll be soon back out in the water trying their luck at catching the big one.

Take a look at this clip of an angler readying a fish to be tagged:

About 40 anglers sent their fishing lines into the water alongside employees of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to catch muskie fish, which will be tracked for a number of years. 0:57

With files from Stacey Janzer

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