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A muskie is a muskie is a muskie. That's one of the very earliest findings of Project Green Gene, a 10-year study by the Illinois Nature History Survey and the Department of Natural Resources to determine which of three genetic strains of muskies will survive and grow best in Illinois.

In the past 30 years, all but one similar study were done in Wisconsin, Minnesota or Ontario. The perception that muskies are "the king of the north" drew most research money to those areas, INHS biologist Curt Wagner said. The other dated study was done in Iowa.

However, the muskie range has been extended southward through stockings, and the top predator of freshwater thrives very well in states like Illinois, Ohio, Iowa and Kentucky.

In the project funded in part by the Central Illinois Muskie Hunters based in Bloomington and Muskies Inc., scientists chose three small lakes where muskies from three different genetic strains could be stocked and easily monitored over time. They originally included Pierce Lake in the north, Lake Mingo in the central region and Forbes in the south. But survival issues led scientists to switch from Forbes, which was shallow and larger than the others, to the more comparable Sam Dale, Wagner said.

Fish are also stocked in three small rearing ponds in each area.

The muskies came from three genetic strains.

w One group was classified as the Mississippi Drainage strain from Leech Lake, Minn., and the Minocqua chain in Wisconsin.

w A second group came from the Ohio River drainage system and the states of Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.

w A third group came from Spring Lake in Illinois near Pekin, which has been used for years as the holding area for Illinois' musky brood stock. Originating from several genetic strains, the parentage of those muskies is mixed.

In a related study, some fish were implanted with small radio transmitters so Wagner and others could track their movements over the course of a day and during spring, summer and fall.

Initial findings reveal interesting results

w Though Leech Lake muskies grow to be trophies in the north, they exhibit the slowest growth rates so far in the first two years of the Illinois study. Depending on which lake or pond is looked at, the Ohio strain and Illinois' mixed strain are closely matched in terms of growth rates.

w The survival of the Mississippi Drainage muskies has not been good.

w Regardless of their genetic origin, muskie movements do not vary much from one another from season to season or during the course of a single 24-hour period.

"A muskie is a muskie is a muskie," Wagner said.

w Muskies move most during spring. Fall is the next most-active season. They are least active during summer. Muskie movements did not vary much by time of day during spring and fall. Fish were more active at night than at dusk or dawn or during the day during the summer.

w Fish were more likely to be found in open water in spring. Next popular place was wood cover such as fallen timber and brush; then came plants; and finally bare shoreline. In summer, they used open water, wood and plants equally.

w As might be expected, movement decreases as water temperature rises. Movement increases as water temperature decreases.

w But what Wagner did not expect is that during the summer, muskies moved to the warmest, shallowest water of the lake. He explained that fish are typically forced higher in hot weather as oxygen levels in deeper water become too low to support life. Yet, even though cooler water with enough oxygen for them was available slightly deeper, the muskies chose to stay higher in the water column. Wagner does not know whether they were there to chase food or to use cover, such as weeds and rocks.

Stay tuned.

Banquet

Support the good work of the Central Illinois Muskie Hunters by attending the club banquet at 5:30 p.m. March 11 at the Staywood Inn, formerly the Holiday Inn, 8 Traders Circle, Normal. Speaker is Mike Conlin, director of the office of resource conservation for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Conlin, the former head of the division of fisheries, will speak on the "Status of Fisheries in Illinois."

Cost for adults is $17 in advance, $20 at the door. Children ages 6 to 12 are $8 in advance, $10 at the door. Event includes dinner, silent and live auctions and raffles. Phone Jeff Gillis at (309) 264-3730 or Lorin Nevling at (217) 762-8070.

Seminar

Midwest Marine in Rantoul hosts Steve Heiting, editor of Musky Hunter magazine, at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. Seminar is free and open to the public. Food, drinks and door prizes are provided. Phone (217) 892-FISH.

Scott Richardson is Pantagraph outdoor editor. Call (309) 829-9000, ext. 227, or e-mail srichardson@pantagraph.com .

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