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Surveying muskies on Mantrap

Trophy hunters love targeting muskies in the late fall, but it's nearly time to put away the muskie gear for the season. The muskie season closes Dec.1 and the species is off limits until the 2014 season begins next spring. (Jason Durham / For the Enterprise)

By Jason Durham / For the Enterprise

Many people don’t realize it, but muskie season is coming to an end very soon.

The Minnesota muskie season closes Dec. 1, meaning anglers can’t intentionally target the species from Dec. 1 until the opening of the muskie season in the spring of 2014.

The Park Rapids Area Department of Natural Resources has been keeping close tabs on muskies in our area for a long time and this year is no different.

Although the final report has yet to be compiled, I asked Park Rapids Fisheries Supervisor Doug Kingsley about the information collected on Mantrap Lake muskies over the past season.

Kingsley says, “We have done some preliminary work with the information, but with rearing pond harvest, stocking and hunting we haven’t done more detailed analysis yet. Here’s the preliminary study.

“We used large trap nets in early spring to collect and mark an initial sample of muskies, like we have been doing at Mantrap about every one to three years since 1986,” Kingsley said. “We used 12 nets set for 8 days to collect 151 fish. Nets are set at locations where we have historically collected the highest numbers of fish.

“We went back in about a week later and night electrofished to collect 39 fish. Electrofishing entails emitting current into the water to stun a fish and momentarily upset its equilibrium. The fish rise to the surface, are netted, measured and released. The practice has a very high, near 100 percent survival rate. Twenty-eight of those were fish that hadn’t been sampled with the trap nets so weren’t marked. The other 11 were recaptures.

“Based on that, we came up with a population estimate of about 500 fish larger than 20 inches. That would be about 1 fish for every 3 acres, or about 0.3 fish per acre. That doesn’t sound like many, but it’s actually on the high side compared to estimates of 1 fish to 3-5 acres where other fish management areas have done similar estimates.

“Yet, we still want to try estimating population size in different areas of the lake”, says Kingsley.

Although the information is still preliminary, it’s very interesting for muskie nuts or any angler interested in catching the fish of 10,000 casts.

The off-limits period for muskies is a result of several circumstances. One is that the species seek deep water refuge along certain stretches of the Mississippi river, concentrating numbers of fish in small areas and making them highly susceptible to angler harvest.

Another concern is their capture in a sub-zero environment while ice fishing or late fall open water angling. Eyes and fins can freeze in seconds and a fish that is massive and difficult to control can receive threatening injuries or even die.

It won’t be long until the lakes are frozen and anglers begin fishing for big northern pike with tip-ups. Keep in mind that northerns can suffer the same injuries, so precaution is advised. Additionally, anglers should be able to identify muskies so they can be released if accidentally caught.