SWANTON—The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department continued its Lake Champlain muskellunge restoration efforts by stocking more than 7,000 fingerlings into the Missisquoi River and Missisquoi Bay last week.
For the second time this year, the muskellunge, or “muskies,” were stocked above Swanton Dam up to the Highgate Falls Dam. This section 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 Fish & Wildlife Department has stocked more than 38,000 muskies into the river and the bay in an attempt to restore a viable population to Lake Champlain. Lake Champlain is the only lake in New England to which the muskie is native.
“The muskie has a unique role as Lake Champlain’s apex aquatic predator,” said Shawn Good, the state fisheries biologist leading the muskie restoration effort. “On the Missisquoi River, muskies were historically important as a large mythical fish that was present but very difficult to catch. Successful anglers are members of a very small and fortunate club.”
The six-inch fish stocked in the river this year 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.
Genetic assessment of the small number of muskies caught by anglers since 2005 in the Lake Champlain Basin reveals those fish were stocked by the New York DEC into the Great Chazy River. They were 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, and we’ve wondered if these were remnant native fish, or strays from New York,” said Good. “We now know through the genetic assessment 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.”
“I have high hopes for these little guys,” said Good. “With so much habitat and food 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.”
Vermont regulations allow fishing for muskie on a catch-and-release basis only with artificial lures or flies. All muskies caught must be immediately released where they are caught.