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Great Lakes Researchers Study Musky Travels

Muskellunge, a prized sportfish, are known as the fish of a thousand casts because of the difficulty many anglers have in catching them. Their movements and behaviors are shrouded in mystery, but a multiagency team of researchers is using state-of-the-art technology to reveal patterns of muskie movements in the Great Lakes.

Scientists from the Michigan DNR, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Ohio DNR and United States Geological Survey began tagging muskies in the Detroit River in 2016, with subsequent batches of fish tagged in the Canadian and American waters of Lake St. Clair.

Muskies primarily were captured by local fishing group partners who caught the fish before tagging. Each fish was surgically implanted with an acoustic transmitter that emits coded pings unique to each fish and has a battery life of at least seven years. These signals can be detected by a network of listening stations throughout the Great Lakes as part of the Great Lakes Acoustic Telemetry Observation System.

Detections revealed broad movements of fish from Lake St. Clair into the Detroit River and even Lake Erie. One fish, nicknamed James because of his tag number 007, amazingly traveled from his original tagging location in the Detroit River all the way to Buffalo, New York, during the summer of 2016. By January 2017, James was back in the Michigan waters of Lake Erie, and in May 2017 was only a few hundred yards from where he had been captured the year before – a stealthy round trip of at least 620 miles! Remarkably, James repeated this movement in following years and is still providing scientists with data on his movements.

Tagging and tracking of muskies is ongoing, with researchers hoping to use fish movement patterns to identify unique groups of fish, which can inform overall estimates of population size and provide vital information to fisheries managers.

To learn more about this mysterious Michigan fish species, visit

Questions? Contact Jan-Michael Hessenauer at 586-242-8844.

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