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Tiger muskies arrive in south central Montana

Headlines - Region 5

Fri Nov 12 00:00:00 MST 2010

Jesse Sanchez (right) of Billings and his uncle, Danny, display a state-record tiger muskie they that Jesse caught at Deadmans Basin Reservoir

State record tiger muskie

BILLINGS — A new batch of tiger muskies has arrived in south central Montana for the first time in four years. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologists planted 799 of the predator fish in Deadmans Basin Reservoir northwest of Ryegate Oct. 20.

FWP regional fisheries biologist Mike Ruggles said tiger muskies last were transplanted to Deadmans Basin in 2006. But disease showed up in the source hatchery in Minnesota, so Montana discontinued the imports. This fall, Montana biologists found a hatchery in South Dakota that was certified as disease-free, so it bought 1,400 small tiger muskies. About 600 went to ponds and lakes elsewhere in Montana. All 799 fish set aside for south central Montana went in Deadmans Basin Reservoir.

The tiger muskies averaged 8.86 inches long when they were planted on Oct. 20, Ruggles said. Scientific sampling early in November at Deadmans Basin revealed an average length of nearly 11 inches, indicating that the fish were growing at more than a tenth of an inch per day.

FWP started transplanting tiger muskies in the late 1990s in an attempt to biologically control burgeoning white sucker populations. Suckers, they surmised, were competing with more-desirable rainbow trout and kokanee salmon for food. As a result, trout and salmon were not growing as fast or as large as biologists expected.

Tiger muskies are a cross between a muskellunge and a northern pike, both of which are large, voracious predators. Because they are a hybrid, tiger muskies are sterile and will not reproduce and overrun the trout and salmon populations. They tend to feed on white suckers and leave the sports fish alone. Two of the new tiger muskies captured during sampling on Nov. 4 had inch-long sucker and carp frye in their bellies, indicating that they are targeting the right food sources, Ruggles said.

FWP put some 4,500 tiger muskies in Deadmans Basin Reservoir in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Biologists added 500 more for the predator fish in 2006. They also were added to Lake Elmo and Lake Josephine in Billings.

Earl Radonski of Billings, FWP’s fisheries technician, said scientific surveys showed that the big predator fish are doing their job. The number and average size of trout and salmon increased in Deadmans Basin Reservoir while the number of white suckers – particularly the younger suckers targeted by smaller predator fish – decreased, he said.

Some anglers also like to fish for tiger muskies. Fishermen may keep one tiger muskie longer than 40 inches per day. They must release tiger muskies shorter than 40 inches.

Radonski estimated that it could take 10 years for the new tiger muskies to grow to keepable size. They grow quickly during the summer months, he said, but they only maintain their size and weight when the water is cold. After they reach about 34 inches, much of their growth is in girth and weight instead of length, he said.

Biologists have captured fish more than 50 inches long and well over 30 pounds from Deadman’s Basin. The state record tiger muskie – 48.38 inches long and weighing in at 30 pounds – was caught in Deadmans Basin by Jesse Sanchez of Billings in May. To qualify for a state record, fish must be caught legally on a hook and line, so those netted by biologists during surveys do not count.