Genetic Study Yields Answers
Musky Hunter|February/March 2021
STUDY SUGGESTS LEECH STRAIN IS NOT THE ‘SILVER BULLET’ FOR WISCONSIN MUSKY WATERS
Jordan Weeks

Ahhhh ... genetics. I can’t get enough — the results never cease to amaze and inform. Hope-fully you feel that way, too. This research hits close to home for me because it was performed on four waters in Wisconsin, my home state. However, this article is not just for those in and around Wisconsin. These results should help you better understand musky (or any species of fish) management in your location.

Those of you who know me are aware of my second passion — hunting, specifically, archery hunting. I research that sport much like I do musky fishing. I use scientific discovery and peer-reviewed studies to put me on big deer quicker. If you deer hunt in the upper Midwest, no doubt you are familiar with deer meccas like Buffalo County, Wisconsin, southern Iowa, and Pike County, Illinois (to name a few). The common belief in much of Wisconsin is that the deer in Buffalo County grow big because they have special or unique genetics. If you look into the science (real peer-reviewed stuff) behind this premise, you will quickly find out that genetics play only a small role. Variables like mortality, habitat, climate, nutrition and age are equally important components.

This is no different for muskellunge. Genetics (DNA) is only part of the puzzle. Survival (mortality), habitat (water chemistry), climate (growing season length), nutrition (forage), and age combine to create a magnificent trophy muskellunge ... or not. It’s not just as simple as stock, wait, and catch giants.

Fish genetics is a rapidly growing field. Going forward, this discipline will help fisheries scientists and anglers better understand muskies. This paper was recently published in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management. This journal is widely accepted as the top of the mountain in terms of fish management publications.

Fish used in reference and study lakes were captured by angler partners and Department of Natural Resources personnel during routine sampling with electrofishing, trap nets, and hook and line from 2013 to 2019. Between 2005 and 2015, 87 percent of the samples were from fish stocked. A total of 1,011 samples were obtained, and 1,001 of those 1,011 were successfully genotyped.

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