Capture Efficiencies of Two Hook Types and Associated Injury and Mortality of Juvenile Muskellunge Angled with Live Baitfish
Strict harvest regulations and a strong catch-and-release ethic among recreational anglers of muskellunge Esox masquinongy have led to interest in developing strategies for reducing injury and mortality of released fish. With many anglers using live baitfish to capture muskellunge, the use of circle hooks may reduce deep hooking and hence mortality. We contrasted the performance of circle hooks and J-style aberdeen hooks when capturing juvenile muskellunge with actively fished live baitfish. The J hooks performed better than circle hooks in terms of capture efficiency. The J hooks were more efficient at hooking muskellunge than were circle hooks, but landing efficiency was similar between the two types. Interestingly, injury was judged to be low regardless of hook type. Neither anatomical hooking location nor hooking depth differed significantly between fish captured on J and circle hooks. No fish were hooked in potentially lethal locations (e.g., gullet or eye) during the use of either hook type. Ease of hook removal did not differ between hook types, and hooks were generally categorized as easy to remove. Bleeding was considered minor and did not differ between hooks. We observed no initial or delayed mortality for fish captured on J or circle hooks. Given that J hooks have a higher muskellunge capture efficiency and that the use of circle hooks did not provide any compelling conservation benefits, anglers will probably continue to use J hooks and avoid circle hooks. Nonetheless, use of circle hooks could be advantageous for other fishing styles (e.g., still fishing, where baitfish are often swallowed), other species, or different sizes of muskellunge.