Distribution, Growth, and Movement of Elk River Muskellunge

Tuesday, September 10, 2013: 10:40 AM
White Oak (The Marriott Little Rock)
Jeff Hansbarger , West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (WVDNR), Pt. Pleasant, WV
Scott Morrison , West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (WVDNR)
The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (WVDNR) conducted a five-year investigation of the Elk River muskellunge population beginning in 2008. The objectives of the project were to assess the distribution, growth, and movement of Elk River muskellunge from Sutton dam to the mouth (162-km). During spring and fall surveys, 194 muskellunge were captured and tagged. Nineteen anglers contributed 81 recaptures to the project, more recaptures than were obtained electrofishing (67). Muskellunge were encountered throughout the study area, but were more concentrated in the upper sections of the river during the spring spawning period. One hundred thirty two Elk River muskellunge were assigned age estimates using fall collected pelvic fin rays. Sectioned pelvic fin rays proved to be an accurate non-lethal alternative to cleithra. Movements of 100-kms were documented between recaptures. Movement was greatest in the spring (spawning-related), with a less pronounced fall peak that coincided with the annual drawdown of Sutton Lake, a flood control reservoir. This minor peak can be explained as a re-distribution of individuals based on changing flows and habitat downstream of Sutton dam. Derived information will help manage this important sport fish in the Elk River and statewide into the future.