Survival, movements, and sampling of wild and hatchery-reared age-0 muskellunge in the Collins River of middle Tennessee
July 2011 - July 2013
- Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency
Muskellunge were nearly extirpated from Tennessee in the 1970s due mainly to pollution by coal mining. A muskellunge stocking program commenced in 1976 in the upper Caney Fork River and its tributaries as part of a statewide effort by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) to preserve the species in the Cumberland River drainage. The Caney Fork River system now supports a trophy fishery, with some fish caught in recent years exceeding 1.3 m total length (TL). Objectives of this study were to identify and describe spawning and nursery habitats of wild Muskellunge in the Caney Fork River system, assess the extent of natural reproduction and growth of wild juvenile muskellunge, and describe mortality, dispersal, and habitat use by recently stocked muskellunge. Natural reproduction occurred in the Caney Fork River and three of its four tributaries. Vegetative cover and finer substrates were important habitat characteristics in spawning and nursery habitats of wild muskellunge. Wild age-0 muskellunge reached maximum lengths of nearly 400 mm TL by October 2012. Stocked Muskellunge suffered high mortality (43.4-98.3%) after two months and the cohort that dispersed the most suffered the highest mortality. Predation by great blue herons and river otters on stocked fish was documented. Because natural reproduction occurs in the system and post-stocking mortality is high, TWRA might be justified in discontinuing their muskellunge stocking program. Close monitoring of the muskellunge population in the Caney Fork River system should indicate within a few years whether it is truly self-sustaining.