On this Fish’n Canada program, I (Pete Bowman) had the honour of traveling to New Brunswick to cover the Muskies Canada St. John River Chapter Muskie Challunge. Yes, you read that correctly. It’s spelled C.H.A.L.L.U.N.G.E., which of course is a derivative of the word Muskellunge.
THE MUSKIE CHALLUNGE
What’s so special about this event (and the muskie fishery in general on the St. John) is that the almighty Muskellunge—the top of the freshwater food chain—is classed as an invasive species here. And that puts this Chapter of anglers in the uncomfortable position of fighting for what they feel is right: changing the status of this great creature and putting it on the map as the magnificent sport fish that it is throughout the rest of the world.
Sounds simple, right? Wrong.
In my opinion, this all boils down to the St. John being one of the top Atlantic Salmon rivers in the world. Or at least it used to be. The local powers-that-be are desperately trying to save what’s left of a diminishing Salmon fishery. Very commendable, but here’s the deal…
Through time, and especially through global warming, a high percentage of the waters of the St. John River have become, let’s say, “less than perfect” for Salmonids and Trout, and much more ideal for fish like Smallmouth Bass, Striped Bass and Muskellunge.
Several locals in the area feel muskies are the reason for the demise of the Atlantic Salmon population on the St. John. They feel the muskie population is eating the Salmon population. And because of this, our prized Canadian Muskellunge needs to be killed!
When I talk to scientists, biologists and the Muskies Canada New Brunswick chapter, they disagree. The muskies are, in fact, eating the local baitfish called Gaspereau. And with millions of these high protein munchies in the river, there’s really no reason for the muskie to show interest in Atlantic Salmon. Especially when its stomach is full of this never-ending supply of baitfish.
To this day—at the end of 2018 and into 2019—the mandate still stands to kill any and all muskies in the St. John. What a shame.
Muskies Canada New Brunswick based this event out of the Riverside Resort in the Mactaquac area of the river, a central location for anglers to choose whether to travel up or downstream. There are muskie in both areas.
With this Challunge being a club event, the participants can choose any boat launch they want within the event boundaries. With so much water available, there are lots of great launching facilities to choose from.
The uniqueness of an event like this is that it is up to the contestants to measure and record their catches. It’s all on the honour system. This is ultimately the best method to ensure fish survival—something every contestant here is adamant about!
I had heard several participants would be launching at Nackawic on a section of the Saint John above the Mactaquac Dam. I decided to start filming the event by dropping the Princecraft in around that area; it was perfect to take in some of the spectacular New Brunswick scenery, and to hopefully encounter a few of the tournament participants. I was really hoping to chance upon some live Muskie action.
In driving around checking out as many boats as I could, I only found one boat out there casting… every other angler chose to troll. That says a lot about trolling as a Muskie technique… it puts and keeps a bait in the water much longer than casting, it covers a much larger area in an allotted amount of time and it has been proven time and time again all over the range of Muskie, that it works!
In our scouring of the area, we did encounter Frank Thruston (of Thursty Lures) and his partner Chuck Vandermeulen, as they fought and boated a small but chunky St John Muskie, and eventually gave Chuck a few battle scars before recording the measurements and then the release.
TOURNAMENT DAY END
With only a couple hours left of the tournament, I got word that a bunch of muskies had been caught near Fredericton, below the Dam and some sixty kilometres away. Without wasting a moment, I loaded the boat and crew at Nackawic and quickly drove to Fredericton (it’s quite a stretch of river), hoping to catch a glimpse of the action. Rumour had it Matt Myers and his team had boated a few of these elusive beasts!
It didn’t take long to find the Challunge participants in the Fredericton area. The main population of muskie seem to be within eyeshot of the city.
This is our second trip to the St. John River for muskie and we most definitely recognize the fact that this fishery is very fragile! A small population of anglers are taking advantage of this blessing-in-disguise and a much larger group are still devastated that muskie have invaded their waters.
Will the officials ultimately turn over the invasive status on the east coast Muskellunge? Only time will tell.
OTHER ATTRACTIONS IN THE AREA:
Historic Garrison District, Legislative Assembly Building, Christ Church Cathedral, Fredericton City Hall, Mactaquac Provincial Park, The Fredericton Playhouse, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton Geocaching Tour, NB Military History Museum, Fredericton Region Museum, etc.
Click here for more details.