HIGHGATE – Vermont State Game Wardens have charged a Franklin County ice angler for illegally harvesting and possessing a muskellunge – or “muskie” – caught on Lake Champlain despite state law prohibiting the harvest of muskellunge.
According to a statement from the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, state game wardens had received numerous tips that the angler had posted photos on a social media platform displaying the large muskellunge with other fish caught over the weekend.
Game wardens interviewed the angler, who, according to Fish & Wildlife, said they caught the muskellunge through the ice on Lake Champlain and brought the fish home despite not knowing what it was.
The muskellunge was seized, and the angler was fined for the violation.
According to state law, anglers may legally target and catch muskellunge in Vermont, but only on a catch-and-release basis. Harvest of the species is prohibited as the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department actively works to restore the population of this native species to Lake Champlain.
According to Fish & Wildlife fisheries biologist Shawn Good, who heads up the state’s pike and muskellunge management program, the illegal harvest of this and other muskie can harm restoration efforts.
“This muskie, which was 34” in length, is likely 7 years old – one of 7,500 fish stocked into the Missisquoi River in 2013 as 5-inch fingerlings,” Good said in a statement. “It’s beaten the odds, managing to avoid being eaten by bass, bowfin and other predators when it was young, and it has survived, grown and reached maturity.”
According to Good, large, spawning-aged individuals are highly valuable to the success of the muskellunge restoration program.
“Fishing regulations exist for a purpose, and in this case, the no-harvest rule is designed to protect stocked muskie as they grow, reach maturity and hopefully spawn themselves – contributing to the development of a self-sustaining population,” Good said. “This muskie would have likely deposited around 150,000 eggs this spring.”
“Growing from 5 to 34-inches in just six years demonstrates that we have the potential to develop a really great recreational fishery for muskie here in Vermont,” Good added. “We have great habitat and ample food resources. Muskie have the potential to reach 60 inches in length and provide a truly amazing recreational fishing opportunity. We just need to give them a chance to grow and reproduce. The ultimate goal is to have a fishery that can support some level of angler harvest in the future.”
Fish & Wildlife enforcement and biological staff remind anglers that unidentified fish should be returned to the water immediately.