- Muskellunge Management on Sugar Lake
Sugar Lake is a highly developed, 1,015-acre recreational lake located five miles north of Maple Lake, MN in Wright County. In 1967 Sugar Lake was designated for muskellunge management. Sugar Lake was chosen as a muskellunge lake because of its large size and good water clarity. The fast growing Mississippi Strain of muskellunge fingerlings had been stocked annually from 1989 to 2004. Since then stocking has been reduced to ever other year.
In Minnesota, the management goal for muskellunge is to have a low-density (0.2 - 0.4 adults/acre) population of high quality (larger) individuals. Benchmarks for measuring these population goals are spring trap net surveys and population estimates. The first population estimate was conducted in 2007 and repeated in 2012 and now in 2016. April trap netting followed by night electrofishing produced an estimate of 0.15 adults (> 30")/acre. Based on our population estimate the adult muskie population is estimated to be somewhere between 95 and 250 adult fish. In 2012, the population was estimated to be between 105 and 513 adults fish.
When Minnesota raised the statewide minimum size limit of muskellunge to 40 inches in 1993, smaller fish were conserved and this helped increase the overall size structure of the muskellunge population. In 2015, the statewide minimum size limit was increased to 54 inches further increasing the overall size structure of the population. Based on size structure indices, the Sugar Lake muskie population continues to grow and the average size has increased for the fifth survey in a row (see table below).
201691761144.5"20128757242.4"20078437241.0"20036242039.0"19984821037.0"Size structure indices such as relative stock density (RSD) is the percentage of muskellunge sampled that are longer than 20 inches and are also longer than a specified length. For Sugar Lake we were interested in the percentage of fish longer than 38 inches (RSD38), 42 inches (RSD42), and 50 inches (RSD50), respectively. For example, in 2016, 91% of the muskellunge sampled that were longer than 20 inches were also longer than 38 inches. This year we recorded our largest fish to date at 52 1/2"!!! The first reported angler caught 50-inch fish was in 2005.
Sometimes muskellunge are the victims of controversy and Sugar Lake was no exception. So, we conducted creel surveys in 1984 and 1998. Over the years, one of the biggest changes was the number of anglers seeking muskellunge. Twenty-nine percent of angling parties sought muskellunge in 1998 vs only three percent in 1984. During the 1998 survey, lake residents were asked - "Do you support muskellunge management?" 68% indicated support (87 of 140 respondents).
Improvements are still needed in the overall fishery of Sugar Lake. A large population of small northern pike is still impacting the fishery. In 2007, the northern pike population was estimated to be 15,000 adults. To help manage the northern pike population, new regulations were placed on Sugar Lake in 2007. The current regulation is a 24 - 36 inch protected slot, with only one fish over 36 inches allowed in possession. It is hoped that the size structure of northern pike will improve, that anglers will enjoy quality northern pike angling, and that the entire fish community will be brought into balance.