An Adventure to the Hackettstown Fish Hatchery – Musky Spawning!

Yesterday was one of the most enlightening learning experiences that I have encountered in quite sometime, so I thought it would be nice share it with all of you. 
Craig Lemon, the Hackettstown Hatchery Superintendent for New Jersey Fish and Game kindly invited me to see how they spawn Muskies at the Hatchery, as he said he thought I would find it very interesting. 
 
And boy….. was he ever right. As I had no idea as to what they actually did here. 
 
I arrived to the Hatchery at 10am and as I strolled in the building, I saw Craig and his team had already induced several Muskies and were preparing the tables were they would extract the eggs and semen from the fertile fish.
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It was absolutely amazing to see these massive predator fish that close up as they cruised about rather slowly in their suspended groggy state in the large holding tanks. Craig explained that the spawning period is only for a week or two, so between setting traps out(These Muskies were caught at Greenwood Lake which is about an hour & fifteen minutes away from the Hatchery), checking the traps, then bringing the fish back to the Hatchery and deciding which fish are ready to be spawned and which ones need to be induced, timing is everything. The traps that they use to capture the Muskies are like huge, over-sized minnow trap. You know the kind……… with two holes where the minnows simply swim in and are captured. Same exact idea with these large Musky traps. Craig said, “The trapnets capture hundreds of fish daily, but we only bring back the species we are spawning to the hatchery. Nets are checked daily when spawning is at its peak, so we don’t stress the fish were they might spawn in the net. When water temps are colder we can let the nets fish for 48 hours before checking” –
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Trapnet markers set up on Greenwood Lake to catch the Muskies.
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Trapnet full of Muskies ready to be spawned!
Craig told me, “The Muskellenge Broodstock Collection over the past 20 years has taken place every year between March 27th and April 27th. The Muskies generally follow the Walleye collection and also when Lake temperatures reach the Magic 50 degree mark. The females typically “ripen” at 50 degrees” –
 
I observed that the majority of the muskies had been tagged previously and those that weren`t got tagged at the spawning that day.
The Spawning procedure;
 
Craig explained “Common Carp Pituitary is injected into the females to induce spawning. We use it under the Federal INAD Program. Walleyes and Northern Pike will spawn on their own back at the Hatchery. Muskies won`t.” Craig said they aren`t positive what causes this in the Muskies, but he said they speculate that it may be possibly the stress of transporting them, causes them to be unable to do this naturally at the Hatchery. Possibly.
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Working in pairs, Craig and his team started the spawning procedure. Craig extracted the semen from the males through a sort of suction apparatus while the other two massaged the eggs from a large female. One held the large Musky towards to back of the fish while the other held her front and gently worked the eggs from her belly. It was an amazing process to witness as the eggs streamed into a small silver type of bowl, Craig would then disperse the extracted Musky semen into the bowl with the eggs. Now this was really interesting; they actually have their own “pond of Muskies” at the Hatchery. More or less for back-up if they can`t/don`t capture enough males in the wild, they have their own “stable” in order to spawn the fertile eggs. 
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Then I had the opportunity to lightly stir and mix the Musky “batter” with a goose feather. After stirring for several minutes, one of the guys took over for the next step. He added a cup or so of plain ordinary corn starch to the Musky “baby-batter” and continued stirring. The corn starch keeps the eggs from sticking together. He then took the bowl over to another station where he sort of trickled water ever so lightly in the bowl as he continued to stir in order to clarify to mixture. 
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Stirring the Musky “Baby-Batter”
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Eventually the “batter” would be placed in one of these clear cylinders and monitored. The gentleman explained to me that the cylinder I was looking at, had 149,000 Musky eggs in it! He also showed me several holding tanks full of baby Northern Pike that they had spawned back in April that they were raising.
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You`re looking at 149,000 Musky eggs in this one container! 
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A tank full of baby Northern Pike that they spawned last month.
Then he showed me a tank full of Tiger Musky Fry. A Tiger Musky is a cross between a Northern Pike and a Musky. These beautiful fish are “created” right there at the Hatchery. Craig explained that with a Tiger Musky they can spawn either a female Northern Pike with a male Musky or vice-versa, a female Musky with a male Northern Pike in order to “create” the Tiger Musky. They showed me a holding tank that had Walleyes just on the brink of hatching and told me in a day or so, there would be thousands of baby Walleye fry in there. It`s also very interesting that the Hatchery trades/supplies other states with various species as well. For instance Craig told me that they ship Northern Pike to Massachusetts in exchange for land-locked Salmon fry to raise and stock in New Jersey. 
About an hour after the completed the spawning process, the truck came in with more freshly captured Muskies from Greenwood Lake. The fish were carefully placed in a smaller holding tank, the measured, weighed and tagged accordingly then put in the larger holding ponds until they were ready to be spawned in the upcoming days.
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The muskies are then returned to the Lakes immediately after the spawning at the Hatchery.
I never knew till now, how many different species of fish that are actually raised at the Hackettstown Hatchery. It was so interesting to see and learn about the spawning process. 
 
They do have an Open House to the public and I would highly recommend taking the tour of this facility to learn more about what they do there. You will be amazed.  
 
 I can`t thank Craig and his team enough for graciously showing me around and explaining their various processes and procedures of the Hatchery. 
 
A very, very enlightening day indeed! 
Till next time…..
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