SPIRIT LAKE - The next crop of Iowa muskies are nearly finished hatching beginning their one year tour of hatchery life before being stocked as foot-long fish in the spring of 2013.
These newly hatched fry came from muskies collected from the Iowa Great Lakes during the walleye gill netting effort in early April.
“Muskies are pretty amazing fish,” said Donna Muhm, hatchery manager at Spirit Lake who cares for the fish during their first seven months of life. “The adults we bring in here are spectacular; they’re big, gorgeous specimens.”
Muhm said they striped 10 females and 31 males this year, which is a typical female to male ratio. Each female produces are large amount of eggs and each male produces very little milt.
“Muskie fertilization, in general, isn’t the greatest,” Muhm said. She said it is better when the fish are naturally ready to spawn and do not need any help, like this year. Of the 1.2 million eggs taken this year, 40 percent were viable and of that 35 percent actually hatched, both excellent percentages.
Iowa hatcheries produce 4,000 muskies each year that are stocked in 10 Iowa lakes. The lakes rotate and are stocked in alternating years.
Excess fish are traded with other states once they reach four inches. “Very few states can raise them on dry feed like we can,” she said. “They either lack the facility, the expertise or both.”
States considered regular customers for Iowa muskies are Missouri, South Dakota, Nebraska, and, occasionally, Michigan. In exchange, Iowa receives channel catfish, walleye, smallmouth bass and yellow perch.
Iowa muskie diet is dry feed until they reach five inches when it switches to minnows. In October, muskies leave Spirit Lake for the Rathbun hatchery where they will live until spring when they are stocked an 11 to 14-inch fish.
Muskies are known as a fish of one thousand casts among their loyal anglers, adding to their mystery and appreciation. With a 40-inch statewide minimum length limit, these trophies do not come easy.
Target the 2012 class in 2020
How long does it take for a muskie to grow to 40 inches? Females can make it in seven or eight years, but Muhm said males may never reach it. “If they do, they would likely be in their teens,” she said.
The hybrid tiger muskie was stocked across Iowa lakes until the idea was scrapped in 1989. The hope behind the hybrid was to have the muskie size and the pike aggressiveness to offer a trophy that was more commonly caught than muskies and larger than pike.
But the reality was tiger muskies took on the pike trait of intolerance to warm water and many did not survive. While rare, the mixing of the species does occur in nature.
Iowa Muskie Lakes
West Okoboji Lake
East Okoboji Lake
Brushy Creek Lake
Big Creek Lake
Three Mile Lake
Pleasant Creek Lake