Penn State students and Fish and Boat Commission interns, Marty Kelly at left and Josh Masich on the right, hold a 44-inch female musky captured last May on the North Branch Susquehanna River.
Looking for a good place to chase muskies?
You could do worse than target the North Branch Susquehanna River.
Located in northeastern Pennsylvania, the river has traditionally been stocked with musky fingerlings. Rob Wnuk, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s area fisheries manager with responsibility for the river, said that usually amounts to about 8,300 fish per year. They’re released in late September at about 6 to 7 inches long.
It’s a costly effort, but not a high density one, he added. Fish are released at a rate of just about 0.5 per acre of water.
The commission suspected those plantings were working, based on the photos of large muskies caught by anglers.
“But we really had no proof from a biological standpoint. Because muskies in rivers are just really hard to sample,” Wnuk said.
Last year, biologists did something different, doing daytime electrofishing for msukies during the spawn. Over 13 days spread across the spawn, he said biologists handled 24 muskies and missed netting another 16.
The largest of those fish ranged up to 44 inches long.
Most impressive was the catch rate of 1.56 adult fish per hour of sampling effort.
How good is that? There’s not a lot of similar data to compare it to, Wnuk said.
But if the commission had caught all of the fish it saw early in the process, when biologists were refining their techniques, “our catch rates would have been higher than the Niagara River, which is a pretty famous musky fishery,” Wnuk said.
More impressive was the size of the young fish. At one year old, they were already going 14 to 17 inches, he said.
“That’s interesting because they shouldn’t have been that big,” Wnuk said.
Typically, muskies at 6 inches in fall are only 9 inches by spring, he said. The fact the young fish were so much larger tells him the vast majority were wild fish.
To confirm that, biologists returned to the river in August – before that year’s stocking of fingerlings — to look for young of the year muskies. Wnuk said they boated 31 and missed six others.
That catch rate of 2.85 per hour is as good as just about anywhere, he added.
Add all that up and it suggests that the commission doesn’t need to stock the North Branch, Wnuk said. The commission is going to back away from that.
It will continue to monitor the river, spring and fall, looking for adults and juvenile muskies annually, however, “to make sure that population stays where it should be.”