I was listening to Lets Talk Fishing on Wednesday and was glad to hear Craig caution those fishing for musky to be aware of the increased physiological stress placed on the musky during the peak heat of the summer. I have been meaning to post a note about this topic for some time now, for those who are just starting out and who have not been hit with the addiction as bad as we in our Musky Club have; discussing musky fishing at our monthly meetings and through email and text messages, reading musky magazines and online articles, watching every video on musky fishing that comes out, going to musky expos, and living and breathing everything musky 24/7, 12 months of the year.
Craig’s caution is consistent with the conclusion reached by the most recent study on musky fishing. The study concluded that physiological stresses increased if musky are caught in the peak heat of the summer. However, it also indicated zero mortality even during warmer temperatures if catch and release stressors were minimized and proper Catch Photo Measurement and Release (CPMR) was practiced.
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS TO MINIMIZE TIME OUT OF WATER.
In the case of the scientific study, time out of water was no more than 90 seconds but 90 seconds is way too long. When fishing alone I set my tripod up at the front of the boat with the camera set on the 10 second delay. I have 10 seconds to pick the musky up out of the net before the photo is snapped. Another few more seconds for a measurement and the musky is back in the water. When fishing with a buddy a few seconds can be shaved off your time provided he/she is ready with the camera. Some musky anglers even take the measurement in the water, if they are not concerned about an accurate measurement. Those forgoing a photo op, that I admire but cannot yet match, can actually bring the time out of water to zero.
LAND THE MUSKY QUICKLY
As enjoyable as it might be to lengthen the fighting time, don’t. Studies on other fish species indicated that if the angling time is lengthened there is a dramatic increase in physiological stress. Shorten the fight by using at least 80 pound test and netting as soon as possible. In this regard, in response to the question regarding trolling over casting at this time of the year, I believe that it is less stressful to the musky if it were caught casting as opposed to trolling (note: for all I know, casting is equally as stressful to trolling in the summer). Guys sometimes troll as fast as 6mph. Imagine the jolt to the musky, and no doubt increased lactic acid build up, as comparison to setting the hook while reeling in a cast or figure 8ing at boat side. Moreover, the fighting time is generally shorter with a fish caught casting, especially one that hits on a figure 8.
THE IMPORTANCE OF AN APPROPRIATE NET CANNOT BE OVERSTATED
My favourite net to use is the Big Kahuna with the fin saver coating. Unhook the lure as quickly as possible while the musky is still in the water, in the net, cutting the hooks with a good quality bolt cutter like the knipex, if needed.
Some guys like to use nets that are not as heavy as the Big Kahuna but I find that the musky doesn’t roll as easy in the Big Kahuna and in the rare instance that it does roll it is easier to untangle.
I use to go through a lot more hooks, which are the least expensive item in our tackle boxes, until I started fishing barbless. I still have my knipex bolt cutters handy and cut at will when necessary but it is rarely necessary. Although a lot of musky anglers haven’t made this leap yet, I highly recommend it. I have put many big muskies in the net and have not lost any more than guys I know who fish with barbed hooks, if anything I have lost fewer. Another really good thing about fishing barbless is that the hooks come out of MY body real easy, saving another trip to the Kenora hospital...lol.
LEARN HOW TO HOLD THE MUSKY PROPERLY
Practice holding dinker pike underneath the gill plate. Be careful not to touch the gills, they are sharp and will hurt you and the fish. Some musky anglers wear gloves when handling a musky. I have always avoided it because it seems that you are taking up more space under the gill plate and creating a greater risk of damaging the gills. But I know other musky anglers, whom I respect because of their knowledge and respect for the musky, that use gloves and swear by them. I might give it a whirl because the proper glove is almost skin-tight and it might allow me a better grip.
Never hold the musky (especially the big ones) in a single handed, unsupported vertical hold. It is potentially extremely damaging to the musky. No study has been done on this for the same reason they don’t study whether or not a musky would be injured if you shoot it in the head with a shotgun. Those who study fish physiology feel that there is no need to study the obvious. Note that the single handed, unsupported vertical hold is different than the supported vertical hold, which is deemed acceptable, that you see Ryan Marlowe demonstrating in his avatar.
RELEASING THE MUSKY
When you put the musky back in the water, after your photo and measurement, hold it by its tail until you feel it ready to swim away and let it go. If you landed the musky and unhooked it quickly and minimized its time out of water (10-20 seconds), then it is almost certain to swim away strongly, almost immediately, even in the hot summer months. There are times when, for whatever reason, you have to spend more time with the musky holding it in the water before it swims away, it happens sometimes. I will talk to the musky in a soothing voice and rub its belly. I don’t know if this is effective but it seems to work and it is unavoidable to someone like me who anthropomorphizes and ascribes a spirit and personality to the musky. Don’t worry, I am seeking therapy. We are having a group session (aka Club outing) at Wiley Point Lodge next week...lol.
Anyways, I’m not intending to take jabs at or judge anyone for their techniques. I am always trying to learn how to better improve my own musky fishing behaviour, which certainly has its quirks and imperfections. I just wanted to share some thoughts from a musky nut obsessed with minimizing stressors on the musky without giving up musky fishing.
Canadian Esox Association