While Muskies are the biggest and most dominant predator in the lakes they reside in, very special care is required to properly catch and release these big fish. In this weeks blog, we will discuss the proper gear to catch these fish, land these fish, and release these fish safely so they can become even bigger and be caught again.
A word you will see a lot in this weeks blog is "stress". We will stress the point how important it is to not stress these fish throughout the catch and release process. The first step in reducing those stresses is using the proper gear to catch and land these fish.
After working in tackle shops for so many years, the most commonly heard statement I've heard from customers is "I don't want that heavy Muskie tackle, I like to have fun with my fish and fight them on light tackle." That is the worst statement to hear ever! So many do not realize that an over played fish on light tackle seriously increases the chances of Post Release Death Syndrome. As a Muskie fights it's muscles produce a form of acid. Under a normal battle, on real Muskie gear, that acid is reabsorbed into the fish and everything is fine. However, when the battle lasts too long and that fish is over stressed, there is so much acid built up that it can not be reabsorbed by the fish, thus resulting in a fish that has swam off but odds are will die within 24 hours. I can not stress enough that true and proper Muskie gear should be used when targeting these fish. We can control the fish better and end the fight quicker to help insure a healthy released fish.
Now, don't get me wrong, I know bass fisherman, walleye guys and heck even a crappie guy or any other angler may accidentally hook a Muskie. It happens. You can't tell Mother Nature what to do and you can't tell a Muskie what it can and can't eat. While true, landing these fish on light tackle will cause much unneeded stress, I cannot deprive an angler a shot at landing what could be a fish of a lifetime for them, when a Muskie is hooked while fishing for another species. If you are specifically targeting Muskies, please, Please, PLEASE, use the proper gear to battle the fish properly.
So now that we have a Muskie hooked and we are about to land it we need a good landing net. The net also helps reduce stress to the fish as well as helps maintain the anglers safety. Beckman nets produces an awesome Muskie net. The bags are treated so they will not remove the fishes protective slime coat. This also helps reduce cuts and tares to the fins of the Muskie. Also once we have the fish in the net, the fish can remain in the water while we get out our tools for hook removal, tape measures and cameras ready. NEVER remove a Muskie from the net or take the net out of the water until you have everything ready to go. Also remember to remove hooks while the Muskie is safely in the net, in the water. If that fish should slip from our hands while we remove or cut a hook, the fish will gently fall back into the water in the net. Muskies can not take a blow to the head. If that fish was dropped in the boat or on any hard surface, a blow to the head could be devastating. The brain of a Muskie is literally about the size of a pea. Amazing since so many of these fish seem to outsmart us on a daily basis. While they do have a skull covering the brain, it doesn't offer much protection.
So we just mentioned having our tools ready. Those tools consist of Long Nose Pliers, Hook Cutters or Bolt Cutters, and if need be, on a deeply hooked fish, a set of Jaw Spreaders. If I can recommend a Hook Cutter or Bolt Cutter to anyone, Knipex is the top of the line in my opinion. With one hand I can cut through a 3X or 4X strong hook. These tools come in handy when a fish is really "Buttoned Up" or hooked in a way that using pliers to remove a hook will cause unneeded stress to the fish. Once a tine on a hook has been snipped they are easily removed by pulling the hook through away from the barb. When possible do not leave hook tines in the fish.
Now that the fish has safely been detached from the lure, we can lift the fish up for a quick pic. Some guys prefer using a fish handling glove for this. It is not necessary but it may help protect your knuckles from the gill rakers of a Muskie. The gill rakers are like small needles that are on the gills. When we grab a fish under the gill plate they may head shake a bit and those rakers may scratch up your knuckles a as they brush against them.
When we grab the fish from the net, slide your hand under the gill plate, keeping your fingers just inside the plate, NOT in the actual gills. Once your hand is up all the way, your index finger knuckle will be pressed up against a piece of cartilage. Your thumb will squeeze down on top of that cartilage. Lift the fish straight up and as soon as possible turn the fish horizontal and support the belly with your other hand. Also, always make sure you go for the gill plate grab with your dominant hand and support the belly with your other hand. Take a couple of quick pics. Think about how long you can hold your breath, that is the maximum amount of time that a Muskie should be held out of the water.
After pics, gently place the Muskie back in the water. Hold on to the tail with your dominant hand and gently support the belly of the fish in the water to make sure the fish stays horizontal. If need be you may need to slowly rock the fish back and forth to push water over the gills to help revive the fish. Gently hold the fish until you feel the tail kick as the fish begins to swim away from you. Make sure the fish has swam off strong before you start fishing again.
One last side note, when surface water temps hit the 80 degree mark, that is our time to hang up the Muskie Gear till the water temps cool below 80. While the Muskie will be very aggressive in those water temps they are most likely to succumb to Post Release Death Syndrome. Those acids that build up in the muscles during the battle cannot be reabsorbed by the fish in that warm of water. While they may swim off just fine, they will unfortunately die within 24 hours of the release.
So to all my fellow anglers out there, let's always remember these practices for the safe handling of these beautiful creatures. Practice CPR, Catch, Photo, Release and when done properly, you can help insure the future of Muskie fishing for generations to come.
As always if you have any questions or comments or if you would like to see a specific blog topic covered, drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading and Tight Lines everybody!