Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
Encounters of the Esox Kind
Midwest Region, January 6, 2011
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STEP student Brandon Baumhoer with a rare Missouri River muskellunge. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
STEP student Brandon Baumhoer with a rare Missouri River muskellunge. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) - Photo Credit: n/a

Northern pike and muskellunge may be regulars in the Northwoods, but in lower reaches of the Missouri River they are about as common as little green men.  Which is why I was shocked when we collected both of these species on the same day this winter. 

On this particular day we were running gill nets near the State capital, Jefferson City.  The first five nets produced the usual suspects of sturgeon, gar, and catfish, but on the sixth net deckhand Clint Feger shouted, “Oh wow – It’s a big one”, as he heaved a hefty muskellunge into the boat.  For the first time in quite a while, I was genuinely excited about a fish capture.   I’ve been doing this long enough that the endangered sturgeon and seventy pound catfish we catch don’t get much of a reaction from me anymore – just another “day at the office” so to speak.  This was exciting because it was an especially rare catch and a species I never thought I would see in the Missouri River.  A handful of reservoirs within the Missouri River Basin are stocked with muskellunge, so it is possible that this individual escaped from a reservoir and found its way into the Missouri River.  Muskellunge are not native to Missouri.  The first introductions came in 1966 when Pomme de Terre Reservoir and Lake of the Ozarks were stocked with this toothy predator.  The current state record muskellunge is an impressive 41-pound fish caught from Lake of the Ozarks.  Wherever our particular muskellunge came from, it likely had a long journey before we caught it.    

After quickly measuring the muskellunge and snapping a few photos, we were on to the next net which produced, much to my amazement, a small northern pike.  While rare, northern pike are occasionally found on lower reaches of the Missouri River.  The state of Missouri is on the southern edge of the range for this cool water species.  This particular individual may have strayed from further upstream where pike are more common. 

Two Esox species collected within an hour of each other, less than a mile apart.  To put this in perspective, in the previous eight years of sampling the Missouri River, Columbia FWCO has never collected a pike or muskellunge, much less both in one day.  It was a memorable day, which reaffirmed the axiom, “You never know what you might catch”.    

Contact Info: Colby Wrasse, 573-234-2132 x30, colby_wrasse@fws.gov
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