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Created by Scott McKee Oct 31, 2018 at 1:09pm. Last updated by Scott McKee Oct 31, 2018.

Thank you, Jay!

This site is sponsored by NMA Member Jay Nannen.

Maybe it's just me, but it seems like there are just not as many muskies as in the past in the upper river. 

I usually contact a fish every eight to ten hours, with a follow or a weak nip hit on a tube or a hit on a trolling lure.   

This year I have landed one fish and had two for a few seconds on tubes and that is it. 

Not a single follow. 

I am fishing the same way in the same spots as I have for years.  

I am mixing it up, trolling, casting, slow tubing, fast tubing, slow swim shad, fast swim shad. 

Yet is seems like the fish are just not there. 

Is it just me?

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Scott, you are correct! By my estimations at least. Less fish now but, big fish opportunities.

A lot of variables to consider when trying to answer why. Is increased angler effort in the last 10 years a likely culprit? I don't know.

I'm having a struggle catching a fish a month although the time on the water is being spent doing the same thing that has produced in the past years. Last night made it seven trips without a hookup. Tommy is also putting in as many trips as usual but has only managed to land one fish so far. Definitely wondering what's up..

My catch rate is the lowest it's ever been. This has some similarties to 2006, when the club caught a record low number of fish. I believe the culprit in 2006 was VHS virus. The difference between then and now is that in 2006 is it seemed like all the bigger fish also died off. This year there are as many big fish as small fish. Also, following 2006 we had several very large year classes.

We've seen this progression for the past ten years. As the fish got bigger the numbers got less and less. I believe that in my experience we are at record low numbers. This may be a natural progression. As long as there are a fair number of larger fish, and I believe there are, it's unlikely that we'll have a good year class to increase the overall population. These big fish are also likely to be eating the younger one and two year olds. They don't discriminate as to what they eat. 

In years past I've hooked up with fish using tubes almost every time out. This year I'd say that I've gone biteless/toothless about 3 out of 4 trips. Anibal and I went out yesterday and we did get hit by four fish, three casting and one tubing. We didn't hook any of them. 

One of my favoite spots is the area I call Staley's. In the past few years I could hook into fish there almost every time I tried. Haven't hooked one there yet this year (about four times there this year). Louis did have one take a big chunk out of a tube. 

Is it time to worry? As long a there are big fish in the system I don't think it is. Either they'll die off and we'll have good year classes to replace them, or the system has somehow morphed into a "trophy" fishery, where there are enough smaller fish to continually maintain a big fish population. If the latter, we'll never have the numbers as we've had in the past. 

I don't think that fishing pressure is an issue as I believe that the fishing pressure is significantly less than it was during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, when the muskie populaiton was high. 

I still have concerns regarding loss of habitat and the effect of zebra mussels and gobies. In regards to habitat, I took a drift along the shoreline above the International Bridge, which I haven't really done in a few years. I recall that the weeds used to be quite lush up to 8 or ten feet. I couldn't find the weeds. That used to be a major spawning/nursery area.

So it's hard to understand exactly what's happening, and it's impossible to predict the future, but I'm hopeful (?).

Good day but a sad topic
I have limited time out but did not see a fish opening week and night trip?
I believe the biggest problem is the cormorants and whatever is causing the lack of weed grow. Which makes it easier for the cormorants and harder for the Muskies to breed and grow?
Jojodontknow

I have had the pleasure of fishing with Scott 3 or 4 times this season. To say he fishes hard is an understatement. His bait is in the water 100% of the time. He covers more water than you can imagine. He'll even croon his "here musky, musky" to entice a bite. I share his concern.

JoJo:  Mike Crehan and I fished the north and south gaps last Friday for 5 hours. Four baits so that is a lot of presentation with no fish. But we saw I would say about 500 cormorants on the breakwall, maybe more. 

jojo wilczewski said:

Good day but a sad topic
I have limited time out but did not see a fish opening week and night trip?
I believe the biggest problem is the cormorants and whatever is causing the lack of weed grow. Which makes it easier for the cormorants and harder for the Muskies to breed and grow?
Jojodontknow

There have been quite a few studies on the impact the Goby has had on fisheries in the last few years…..and in particular the impact on Musky. Musky are one fish that do not protect their nests/eggs from predators and the goby is devastating the eggs. 
I believe this to be the main culprit. I had heard of the goby and how their numbers were exploding, but did not fully appreciate it until I took up scuba diving a few years back. I have done a couple dives on Lake Erie, and I was honestly shocked at the number of gobys I saw. 
They were everywhere, the numbers were unbelievable. 
I have not been able to find any reports that suggest a solution. While gobys are becoming staple diet for many other fish, apparently the reproductive rate is such that this is likely to not an have an impact. 
Hopefully I am wrong

Yes they will eat the eggs of multiple species. I have seen video of them descending on a bass nest as soon as the bass is off the nest, and they can devour the eggs in a very short time. With musky it is worse because they don't guard the nest. Dr. John Farrell of SUNY ESF and Supervisor of the Tibbs Biological Research station at the St Lawrence has come to the conclusion that gobies are a huge problem in regard to successful musky reproduction in the SLR. He had performed lab experiments to verify that gobies are eating musky eggs. And he has already verified that gobies are present in large numbers in musky spawning areas. He as been raising and stocking muskies on a limited basis by collecting and using eggs and milt from native muskies. Maybe that is the only way to support the fisheries for the time being until the gobies go away or some other solution is found. Dr. Farrell has been doing a pilot program on the SLR for the past several years. But ultimately, he wants to see natural reproduction improvement.

In a quick search where I was trying to find some latest info on Dr. Farrell's research efforts, I found this podcast that is interesting. Dr. Farrell and PhD canidate Anna Conklyn are discussing the history and impact of the round gobies. She has a lot of background on and interest in the gobies.

Here is a link to an article from Outdoor Canada where you can listen to the podcast.

It is clear that a lot still needs to be learned through research in order to find good solutions. I am just wondering if stocking will need to be considered at least to help sustain the population until then. With increased musky fishing pressure in recent years, the issue with the gobies and VHS in the Niagara and St Lawrence rivers, Waneta lake going down hill and the recent push to kill vegetation in Chautauqua Lake I am beginning to wonder if enough is being done to help protect the future of muskies in NYS. I would like to see the state work at improving tiger muskies in Conesus and Onandaga Lakes and consider expanding the tiger musky program to a few other inland waterways and a the same time, expand what Dr Farrell is doing with stocking the native strain in the SLR and The Niagara River to at least provide life support until other solutions can be found. They might be able to tap into funds available for the US Great Lakes and native fisheries restoration. They could justify expanding the tiger musky program to take some pressure off purebred muskies.

I probably still haven't come close to surpassing Tony yet for the longest post?

Peter McConnell said:

There have been quite a few studies on the impact the Goby has had on fisheries in the last few years…..and in particular the impact on Musky. Musky are one fish that do not protect their nests/eggs from predators and the goby is devastating the eggs. 
I believe this to be the main culprit. I had heard of the goby and how their numbers were exploding, but did not fully appreciate it until I took up scuba diving a few years back. I have done a couple dives on Lake Erie, and I was honestly shocked at the number of gobys I saw. 
They were everywhere, the numbers were unbelievable. 
I have not been able to find any reports that suggest a solution. While gobys are becoming staple diet for many other fish, apparently the reproductive rate is such that this is likely to not an have an impact. 
Hopefully I am wrong

What I've seen through the decades is that muskie population trends seem to occur in regional and even national geographic areas. That is that muskie populations seem to rise and fall in unison across the muskie's range. When i see and hear what's happening on the Niagara, the St. Lawrence, Chautauqua Lake, and Waneta, it seems to be they're all experiencing a decline in the musky population. So it seems to be more of a regional and not a lake or river specific trend.

This type of pattern has happened before in regional/national cycles through every decade I've experienced. Whatever effects year class success and failure seem to be common region wide, and it seems that that has always been the case. The huge year class of the late 1970s provided tremendous populations throughout the entire muskie range for a couple decades. This dynamic appears to also apply to the survival of stocked muskie fry.

Whatever the common factor may be, it must be something common for all those fisheries. It may be that gobies may be more of a bogeyman than the true culprit. And it may be just a natural phenomena. Afterall, I don't believe that gobies are common in either Chautauqua or Waneta, yet both those fisheries are appear to be experiencing the same low catch rates as the Niagara and St. Lawrence.   

I may be wrong, and I don't want to downplay the potential adverse effect of the gobie, but I think they've been here in large numbers for over 20 years ( I remember easily catching them almost 20 years ago with my nieces and nephews). Yet, we've experienced some large year classes since that time, most recently about 10 years ago.

Maybe I'm overly opimistic, but if history repeats itself, we will have good year classes in the next several years. If we stop catching big fish and there are no small fish to replace them, then we'll know we have a real problem.

 

One condition I can think of, but certainly not the only, that could affect population regionally is macro-climate. It would be interesting to check if a correlation exists.
For years walleye year classes were thought to be affected by the winter air temps and corresponding ice cover. Don Einhouse had an interesting theory on that with some supporting evidence

I haven't heard about any decline in Chautauqua Lake but they have only been treating weeds there for a few years and they stock high numbers of muskies there. I would think there would be a decline in other species there before you see any decline in muskies.

Each fishery has its own issues but I think you can draw some similarities between the Niagara and the St Lawrence and also between Waneta and Chautauqua.

At the Muskies Inc. tournament on Waneta yesterday, a total of 36 anglers caught 9 muskies. So that is not too bad considering the fall season hasn't really taken hold yet.

One thing all these fisheries have in common is increased fishing pressure. The number of musky anglers in NY has been steadily increasing. With that in mind, I think the state needs to seriously look at providing more support for the fisheries we have and providing additional musky fishing opportunities in order to help relieve the pressure on the few purebred musky waters we have as a multi pronged approach. More eggs in more baskets because it takes too long to do one thing at a time and then wait to see what the results are.

I would like to see them enhance their tiger musky program. Muskies Inc. Chapter 70 is working with the DEC on a small lake in central NY with a pen stocking project where the fingerlings are placed in a pen (which Chapter 70 members built) for a day and then released at night. It gives the fingerlings a chance to calm down and acclimate somewhat to the new location and they are much more calm when released. When releasing them at night, which Chapter 70 members do, they are much more calm and protected from immediate predation by birds and larger fish. I would like to see them team up with us do the same thing at Conesus Lake and Onondaga Lake and maybe one or two other small inland waters. And maybe at the same time, they can expand on Dr. Farrell's native fish stocking program in the St. Lawrence and also in the Niagara and Buffalo Harbor to prop up the population while also working on measures to try to improve spawning and nursery habitat.

Doing all these thing together as a STATEWIDE APPROACH might pay bigger all around dividends while still allowing each measure to be monitored for effectiveness and impact.

As far as Waneta and Chautauqua, that is a whole other discussion.

Anybody who fished the niagara in 2008 to 2013 got to see an amazing class of low 30 inch fish in action. I didnt begin musky fishing the upper until 2011 and we had crazy action every day but even encountering a fish over 35" was tough. We had 8 and 10 fish days with 20 follows and none over 35 inches those first years. The weedbeds at the shores were loaded. A single drift from strawberry to beaver marina would always provide action from multiple fish. It was amazing to experience and anyone who was there had to be wondering what we would get to experience with big fish 10 years down the line. Well 10 years is here, and all those babies have grown up. Some didn't make it through tough spawns, some didn't make it through the massive hooks we jammed through their skulls or the unlucky encounters with unprepared anglers, but some became giants. All we can do now is hope and prey that these adult fish can put together a decent spawn to give us another crop of fish like we had 10 years ago. A new super class of babies that will keep us going for another 20 years. There's a lot stacked against the Niagara right now. We've got cormorant population like never before that breeds right where our muskies do. We've got gobies that are certainly taking thier toll as studies are showing on the St. Lawrence. We've got zebra mussel shell beds that area reaching depths that are preventing weed growth further and further into the river. Nature always finds a way but we certainly need some stars to align or its going to be a rough go in a few years.

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