March 2nd, 2017
“The ability of our future generations to enjoy Musky fishing is successful catch and release techniques today. The quality of our fisheries will depend on how anglers handle and release their fish.” –Chris Huskilson
As Musky fishing has evolved, so have the handling procedures of these fish. When fishing for Musky it is imperative that heavy action, Musky specific rods, reels, line, high quality snaps, swivels, split rings and leaders are used to quickly land these fish without unnecessary stress. This will also minimize the chances of a fish breaking off and swimming away with the bait in its mouth, or worst case scenario, its thorax or gills. A large net or cradle, long nose pliers, hook cutters, jaw-spreaders, cameras and measuring tape/board should be on deck at all times for easy access and less handling time, especially in the warm water throughout the summer months.
Preparation is key in reducing the amount of time a Musky is in your possession. Always minimize the time spent out of water. If possible, remove/cut hooks and measure the fish while still in the water, which can only be achieved with the use of a large net or cradle. In fact, most cradles have a measuring tape built right in. Chris explains “Never lift a Musky vertically by its gill plate, as this will cause severe injury to the fish, especially if it is 34” or longer. When holding a Musky for a photo or any other reason, hold it horizontally making sure to support the fish’s body”.
Always revive a Musky before release. “Hold the fish by the tail section before the caudal fin with one hand, while using your other hand to gently balance the fish under its midsection behind the pectoral fins”. Chris continues to explain “gently roll the fish side to side to ensure the gill covers are moving slightly which will force water through its gills, thus increasing oxygen intake.”
When the Musky is strong enough to swim away upright, mortality is far less likely. “If the fish has problems maintaining its balance, the revival process must continue.” Never leave a fish until it can swim away under its own power. Also, keep this in mind – during the summer months, water temperatures can reach high 70’s to low 80’s with some bodies reaching even higher. “With temps this high, Musky are subject to much higher mortality rates due to angling stress. In these situations, simply avoid Musky fishing ”.
Chris prefers the “Shadzilla” super-sized swimbait by Water Wolf Lures when water temps are in the low 70’s, then Handlebarz Musky Lures bucktails when water temps hit the mid 70’s. In cold front situations or in the fall his go-to bait of choice is always the mighty, un-weighted, 11-13” Water Wolf Lures “Gator Tube”. “When the blade bite has tapered off, during cold fronts or in the fall, 69 degrees or less the Gator Tube will out fish any other bait in my box when a slow presentation is called for”.
On the other hand, some situations call for speed. On a recent outing with another Musky obsessed angler, Kevin Browne (pictured below), we observed the opposite of what we had pre-determined. Just when we thought slow rolling, or a slow twitch-pause cadence was the ticket, Kevin burned a bucktail (Indiana style blades) as fast and erratically as he could. Sometimes not giving these predators a good look can really benefit you, especially on heavily pressured/traveled waters as was the case this day and location.
Shimano Compre 8’6” XX-Heavy Musky rod is a great choice. I also love the GLoomis XX-Heavy 8’6” Musky rod for big tubes and swimbaits; while the Compre is my go-to for blades. Shimano Curado 300 series reels are a staple for many Musky anglers. Whether it is the 301E or the 300EJ, the Curado is a great choice. As far as line, 65 to 80-lb Power Pro braid gets it done. Also, Shimano has a full line up of tools that feature high grade carbon steel for extra- long life of cutting edges and a black nickel finish for added resistance to corrosion. Chris prefers the size and shape of the Frabill “Big Kahuna” landing net. This knotless mesh is easier on the fish’s sensitive eyes, scales, slime coat and fins. High quality fluorocarbon leaders and top notch fail-safe snaps are very important. For these, Chris recommends 100 to 150-lb Husky Musky leaders. Another thing to consider is quality polarized glasses. Musky are notorious followers, so it is important to be able to spot them as they track your bait during a retrieve or a figure 8 beside the boat. Chris explains “a seen fish is more likely to eat a figure 8 boat-side than a fish that went unseen due to unnecessary glare”. Chris counts on Smith Optics for this important aspect.
Now let’s talk a bit about how to target Musky. Current breaks/break lines and secondary slack waters are great places to start. Musky are ambush predators, so these areas along with weed lines adjacent to deep water can be typical haunts for big opportunistic fish. A Muskies diet will consist of (depending on your area) Walleye, Perch, Cisco, Sucker etc, so employ a “match the hatch” presentation when patterning them on your favorite lakes. That’s not to say that burning a gaudy bucktail that looks like nothing you’ve ever seen in nature before isn’t correct; but a natural presentation such as a Walleye patterned swimbait, tube or a firetiger bucktail are just a good place to start.
Obviously, experimentation is ultra-important when trying to pattern Musky on new waters. When you do get a follow, but find the fish to be non-committal, return to that exact spot at dusk. The Musky that scoffed at your offering earlier in the day may be more agreeable.
Really, the point here is not the catch but the clean release of these fish. The right baits, tactics and location may be important to you the angler, but what is most important is good stewardship. Ethical catch and release practices are paramount in protecting and ensuring a healthy fishery for future generations of Musky anglers.
Have fun, see you out there!
Chris is an avid lifelong angler who has been fishing competitively in recent years. In just the last five years, he’s placed in six top-tens and two top-fives. He has also consistently qualified to fish the National CSFL. Chris is a promoter, seminar speaker and successful sales representative, working for several tackle manufacturers and organizations within the fishing industry, including:
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Jamie Wilson is a passionate lifelong multi-species angler specializing in both smallmouth and largemouth Bass. He is a writer for such online publications as of course, Angling Authority, Rahfish, Exist to Fish, ODU Magazine and Fishulo/Scout. Along with being a tournament angler, Jamie comes to us representing the Canadian Bass Angler Fan Page, and he is a staff member/promotional team member for Rage Fish Attractants,Lake Fork Tackle, Rod Sox, Fizards, Easthill Outdoors, Riverrun Tackle, Musky Innovations, Bumblelure, Kamooki Lures ltd. and Bill's Bait and Tackle. Jamie is also the owner of J.W. Media.More by Jamie Wilson