The list of northern Indiana waters where muskies can now be found continues to expand — a trend DNR biologists say is not necessarily a good thing.
Although muskie fingerlings are stocked each year into eight lakes in the region to provide muskie fishing, muskies are now showing up in waters where no DNR stockings or legally permitted private stockings have occurred.
Not all lakes are suitable for muskies, a large predatory sport fish. The DNR stocks them in lakes with an overabundance of forage fish, such as gizzard shad. In lakes where forage fish aren’t abundant, muskies could outcompete native sport fish such as largemouth bass and Northern pike for food.
“Our biggest concern is that some fish may find suitable spawning habitat, reproduce, and eventually compete with other fish,” said Jeremy Price, northern Indiana fisheries supervisor. “So far muskie reproduction has been limited in Indiana. We would like to keep them where they are.”
In March biologists captured a 37-inch muskie in Lake Wawasee in Kosciusko County while sampling for Northern pike.
Last month an angler caught a 46-inch muskie at Simonton Lake in Elkhart County.
Another muskie was spotted moving through the South Bend fish ladder on the St. Joseph River near the Bodine State Fish Hatchery in Mishawaka. Hatchery personnel say this is a rare occurrence.
So where are these muskies coming from?
“There are two possibilities,” Price said. “Some may be moving from waters where stockings occur and others may be the result of illegal transfers by fishermen.”
Given the number of muskies now present in the St. Joseph River, Price thinks the bulk of them may be coming from Skinner Lake in Noble County at the headwaters of the Elkhart River. Skinner is a lake that the DNR stocks with muskies.
The muskie, or muskies, now in Lake Wawasee also may have come from Skinner Lake.
“Wawasee drains through Turkey Creek into the Elkhart River, so a fish may be able to swim downstream out of Skinner, make a left turn, and then back upstream to Wawasee,” Price said. “It’s possible but not likely.”
Instead Price thinks muskies may be caught by anglers in nearby Webster, Tippecanoe or Barbee lakes, hauled in a livewell, and then released into Wawasee. The DNR has stocked Webster, Tippecanoe and Barbee lakes with muskies for several decades.
A separation between watersheds, however, does not allow fish to swim directly from these lakes to Wawasee.
Likewise, the outlet of Simonton Lake is small and not conducive to fish migration.
Transferring fish from one lake or stream to another is illegal in Indiana. The regulation is designed to prevent introductions of fish that may have adverse effects on the native fish population.
Price says a variety of other fish species are showing up in waters where they could only get there by illegal stockings.