The New River, Virginia, muskellunge fishery: population dynamics, harvest regulation modeling, and angler attitudes

  • Travis O. BrendenEmail author
  • Eric M. Hallerman
  • Brian R. Murphy
  • John R. Copeland
  • Joseph A. Williams
Original Paper
Part of the Developments in environmental biology of fishes 26 book series (DEBF, volume 26)


Although muskellunge, Esox masquinongy, fisheries in northern US states and Canadian provinces are increasingly being managed by introduction of restrictive harvest regulations (e.g. 1370-mm (54′′) minimum length limits), many southern US muskellunge fisheries continue to be managed with comparatively liberal regulations (e.g. 762-mm (30′′) minimum length limits) that are implemented statewide. We studied the population dynamics of the New River, Virginia, muskellunge fishery and used predictive modeling to determine whether restrictive harvest regulations also might prove beneficial for this southern latitude fishery. A creel survey was also conducted to learn more about angler attitudes to the New River muskellunge fishery. Muskellunge grew quickly, with fish reaching harvestable lengths (762 mm, 30′′) in 2–3 years. Muskellunge fishing pressure, harvest rates, and voluntary release rates were low compared with reports for more northern areas. Most anglers, irrespective of how often they fished for muskellunge, defined “trophy” muskellunge to be approximately 1050–1100 mm (41–43′′) in length. Although angler support for restrictive harvest regulations was low, abundance of memorable-length (≥1070 mm, 42′′) muskellunge was predicted to increase under all evaluated length limits. Muskellunge yield would remain static at 914-mm (36′′) and 1016-mm (40′′) length limits, because of the rapid growth of fish, but yield would decline dramatically with a 1143-mm (45′′) length limit, because male muskellunge rarely exceeded 1100 mm (43′′). Because of rapid growth and low release rates, implementation of higher length limits (e.g. 965–1067 mm, 38–42′′) may indeed prove beneficial for augmenting “trophy” muskellunge production on the New River. Angler support for higher minimum length limits might be increased by educating anglers about the rapid growth rates of muskellunge and the expected size structure changes that will result from a length-limit increase. Size structure changes resulting from an increase in the minimum length limit may be difficult to detect because of potential increases in fishing pressure or reduced fish growth as a result of competition for food resources. Long-term monitoring of muskellunge growth and angling pressure may therefore be needed to ensure that new regulations are indeed benefitting the fishery.


Esox masquinongy Dynamic pool model Creel survey Minimum length limit Exploitation Voluntary release angling 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Axon JR (1981) Development of a muskellunge fishery at Cave Run Lake, Kentucky, 1974–1979 North Am J Fish Manage 1:134–143CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Axon JR, Kornman LE (1986) Characteristics of native muskellunge streams in eastern Kentucky. In: Hall GE (ed) Managing Muskies. American Fisheries Society, Special Publication 15, Bethesda, MD, pp 263–272Google Scholar
  3. Bevelhimer MS, Stein RA, Carline RF (1985) Assessing significance of physiological differences among three esocids with a bioenergetics model. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 42:57–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bimber DL, Nicholson SA (1981) Fluctuations in the muskellunge (Esox masquinongy Mitchill) population of Chautauqua Lake, New York. Environ Biol Fish 6:207–211CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brege DA (1986) A comparison of muskellunge and hybrid muskellunge in a southern Wisconsin lake. In: Hall GE (ed) Managing Muskies. American Fisheries Society, Special Publication 15, Bethesda, MD, p 203–207Google Scholar
  6. Brenden TO, Murphy BR, Hallerman EM (2005) Predatory impact of muskellunge on New River, Virginia, smallmouth bass. Proc Southeastern Assoc Fish Wildl Agencies 58:12–22Google Scholar
  7. Brenden TO, Hallerman EM, Murphy BR (2006) Sectioned pelvic fin ray ageing of muskellunge Esox masquinongy from a Virginia river: comparisons among readers, with cleithrum estimates, and with tag-recapture growth data. Fish Manage Ecol 13:31–37CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brewer DL (1980) A study of native muskellunge populations in Eastern Kentucky streams. Fishery Bulletin 64. Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Frankfort, p 107Google Scholar
  9. Casselman JM, Robinson CJ, Crossman EJ (1999) Growth and ultimate length of muskellunge from Ontario water bodies. North Am J Fish Manage 19:271–290CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Copeland JR (2005) New river creel survey key findings. Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Performance Report F-111-R-14, Richmond. 5 ppGoogle Scholar
  11. Cornelius RR, Margenau TL (1999) Effects of length limits on muskellunge in Bone Lake, Wisconsin. North Am J Fish Manage 19:300–308CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Crossman EJ (1986) The noble muskellunge: a review. In: Hall GE (ed) Managing Muskies. American Fisheries Society, Special Publication 15, Bethesda, MD, pp 1–13Google Scholar
  13. Fayram AH (2003) A comparison of regulatory and voluntary release of muskellunge and walleyes in northern Wisconsin. North Am J Fish Manage 23:619–624CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gabelhouse DW Jr (1984) A length-categorization system to assess fish stocks. North Am J Fish Manage 4:273–285CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gasbarino P (1986) Catch and release of muskellunge––philosophy and methods. In: Hall GE (ed) Managing Muskies. American Fisheries Society, Special Publication 15, Bethesda, MD, pp 300–308Google Scholar
  16. Graff DR (1986) Musky management––a changing perspective from past to present. In: Hall GE (ed) Managing Muskies. American Fisheries Society, Special Publication 15, Bethesda, MD, pp 195–199Google Scholar
  17. Hanson DA (1986) Population characteristics and angler use in eight northern Wisconsin lakes. In: Hall GE (ed) Managing Muskies. American Fisheries Society, Special Publication 15, Bethesda, MD, pp 238–248Google Scholar
  18. Hanson DA, Axon JR, Casselman JM, Haas RC, Schiavone A, Smith MR (1986) Improving musky management: a review of management and research needs. In: Hall GE (ed) Managing Muskies. American Fisheries Society, Special Publication 15, Bethesda, MD, pp 335–341Google Scholar
  19. Harrison EJ, Hadley WF (1979) Biology of muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) in the upper Niagara River. Trans Am Fish Soc 108:444–451CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hightower JE, Jackson JR, Pollock KH (2001) Use of telemetry methods to estimate natural and fishing mortality of striped bass in Lake Gaston, North Carolina. Trans Am Fish Soc 130:557–567CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hoff MH, Serns SL (1986) The muskellunge fishery of Escanaba Lake, Wisconsin under liberalized angling regulations, 1946–(1981). In: Hall GE (ed) Managing Muskies. American Fisheries Society, Special Publication 15, Bethesda, MD, pp 249–256Google Scholar
  22. Jenkins RE, Burkhead NM (1993) Freshwater fishes of Virginia. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, MD pp 1,079Google Scholar
  23. Johnson LD (1971) Growth of known-age muskellunge in Wisconsin and validation of age and growth determination methods. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Technical Bulletin 49, Madison pp 24Google Scholar
  24. LeBeau B, Pageau G (1989) Comparative urogenital morphology and external sex determination in muskellunge, Esox masquinongy Mitchill. Can J Zool 67:1053–1060CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Margenau TL, AveLallemant SP (2000) Effects of a 40-inch minimum length limit on muskellunge in Wisconsin. North Am J Fish Manage 20:986–993CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Margenau TL, Petchenik JB (2004) Social aspects of muskellunge management in Wisconsin. North Am J Fish Manage 24:82–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Mielke PW Jr, Berry KJ (2001) Permutation methods: a distance function approach. Springer-Verlag, New York, pp 352Google Scholar
  28. Miles RL (1978) A life history study of the muskellunge in West Virginia. In: Kendall RL (ed) Selected coolwater fishes of North America. American Fisheries Society, Washington D. C, pp 140–145Google Scholar
  29. Monaghan JP Jr, Borawa JC (1988) Recovery of riverine muskellunge populations in North Carolina. Proc Annu Conf Southeastern Assoc Fish Wildl Agencies 40(1986):258–265Google Scholar
  30. Oehmke AA, Stange D, Ogden K, Addis JT, Mooradian SR (1986) The role of anglers and private organizations in muskellunge management. In: Hall GE (ed) Managing Muskies. American Fisheries Society, Special Publication 15, Bethesda, MD, pp 323–334Google Scholar
  31. Parsons JW (1959) Muskellunge in Tennessee streams. Trans Am Fish Soc 88:136–140CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Quinn TJ II, Deriso RB (1999) Quantitative fish dynamics. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 542Google Scholar
  33. Simonson TD, Hewett SW (1999) Trends in Wisconsin’s muskellunge fishery. North Am J Fish Manage 19:291–299CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Slipke JW, Maceina MJ (2000) Fishery Analyses and Simulation Tools (FAST). Auburn University, Auburn, ALGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Travis O. Brenden
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  • Eric M. Hallerman
    • 1
  • Brian R. Murphy
    • 1
  • John R. Copeland
    • 2
  • Joseph A. Williams
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Fisheries and Wildlife SciencesVirginia Polytechnic Institute and State UniversityBlacksburgUSA
  2. 2.Virginia Department of Game and Inland FisheriesBlacksburgUSA
  3. 3.Quantitative Fisheries Center, Department of Fisheries and WildlifeMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA

Personalised recommendations