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Groups give anglers incentive to hang a print, not a muskie

Restoring the muskellunge in the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario


by M.B. Pell, Times Staff Writer
First published: Sunday, May 8, 2005

CLAYTON - Environmentalists and anglers hope the recently released Michael Ringer muskellunge print will have people putting the muskies they catch back in the water instead of on the wall.

Since 1985, Save the River, Clayton, and the College of Environmental Science and Forestry Foundation, Syracuse, have worked together to restore the muskellunge population in the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario by monitoring spawning grounds and giving copies of a muskie portrait to anglers who catch and release a fish above the legal limit, now 48 inches. Mr. Ringer has donated the use of his paintings, which are copied courtesy of Ande Monofilament, a fishing supply company from West Palm Beach, Fla., and then distributed by Save the River.

"The muskie population is a signature species for the St. Lawrence River and I think people in the area really identify with the fish, and when we first started the program the fish population was in decline," said Stephanie G. Weiss, executive director of Save the River. "This was a way to work with people in the community and the fishing guides to change the fishing ethics to catch and release."

Before the lucky fisherman or woman receives a print, he or she must fill out a questionnaire giving details about where the large fish was caught, what the temperature was and other details that help biologists studying muskie.

And according to some local experts, giving anglers a print to hang on their walls instead of the preserved remains of a trophy-size muskellunge, has helped create a healthier population of the carnivorous fish.

John M. Farrell, director of the State University of New York Environmental Science and Forestry Thousand Islands Biological Station on Governors Island, just off the shore of Clayton, said that since 1991, the average length of muskies has increased by 3 inches, indicating that the fish are living longer and therefore breeding more. While the migratory nature of muskellunge makes it difficult to determine population size, Mr. Farrell said observation of breeding grounds have shown "really good natural production."

"It's been tremendous," he said. "Most of the credit goes to the participants, the guides and the anglers who have embraced the new ethics."

Rick L. Rose, a fishing guide at Alexandria Bay, has a muskie he caught in 1980 mounted on his wall, but he said now, like most guides, he is strictly a catch-and-release man.

Mr. Rose said the fishing guides release their trophy fish almost religiously because they know that with proper management of the species, a world-record fish could be pulled out of the St. Lawrence River, and that would bring more anglers to the Thousand Islands.

He said: "I have a lot of people out on my boat who say, 'Is it big enough, is it big enough?' And I say, 'Well, I'd suggest we put them back and not keep any. I'll submit your catch to Save the River and we can get some quick photos and measurements.' We all practice catch and release. Most of us guides will practically jump in the water and cradle a fish in our arms to revive it."

Mr. Ringer has provided Save the River with three different muskellunge prints, and 500 copies of each print.

He said his paintings not only help strengthen the muskie population, but they educate people as to what the muskie looks like.

"Anything that improves the quality of the river, whether it be the scenery or the wildlife, interests me," Mr. Ringer said. "If we could say we've released another 500 muskies, I think that would be worth my time."

Ms. Weiss of Save the River said it is important to provide a different print every once in a while to keep fishermen interested.

"Because the muskie population is getting stronger we have people who have caught more than one and want a different image," she said.

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