Trophy-sized muskies are so prevalent that Governor Mark Dayton signed legislation last month that will increase the minimum keep-size for muskie on most inland waters from 48 inches to 54 inches.
Anglers are flocking to Minnesota seeking another season of trophy-sized muskellunge, but Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officials are saying that fishermen might find fewer fish this time around. An unexpected phenomenon has cropped up in the state’s waters: muskies are growing larger, but the overall population appears to be declining.
According to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press, a recent survey in Lake Bemidji found only 500 to 600 adult muskies—a low number for the 6,581-acre lake.
“There are a lot of ‘em, a lot of really big muskies,” said Gary Barnard, the DNR fisheries supervisor for Bemidji. “A lot of fish over 50 inches.”
Barnard said that one in four of the female muskies caught in Bemidji last month measured over 50 inches, and even the males were exceedingly large. Biologists first took note of the phenomenon last year and subsequent study showed that the decline of smaller fish was unlikely to be caused by disease or overfishing. Instead, officials believe that the larger muskies are eating too many of the smaller ones. It is now suspected that about two-thirds of stocked fish do not survive to adulthood in Lake Bemidji alone.