If you wanted to know the hardest species of fish to catch in North America, many would probably say the Muskie. Regardless if you call them Muskie (like in Wisconsin) or Musky (from out of state), it depends on your location and both are correct. Learning how to catch Muskellunge is a task right out of a fishing horror film.
There are rumors of a huge creature somewhat resembling a Northern Pike or Chain Pickerel in appearance in a local lake. It has a mouth full of teeth and it occasionally eats Northern Pike for breakfast. Few individuals have ever seen them let alone fish for them. They are about as elusive too. You need some very specific techniques, tackle, and patience for success. It will vary a lot too.
Once you catch one of these, it does not guarantee continued success. With practice, you can put more in the boat but you have to put forth the effort. This is not one of those species where you book a fishing trip in another state, stay one night in a hotel, and fill up the livewell. In fact, they are so incredibly difficult that many give up. Fishing for this fish can change your life for the better or for worse, depending on how you interpret success, fun, or value. The fish of 10,000 casts will test a new angler’s limits but it will be much easier once you know how to do it. This is a basic tutorial of how.
The Use Of Proper Muskie Fishing Equipment
Everything about fishing for these aggressive giants is a bit more complicated than catching Largemouth for example. You likely will not find anybody using lighter tackle at all. This is because light tackle is a no-go for these huge fish. You need a few essential items before you think about going after them. A great rod and reel are a must. You want to use tackle that is suitable for saltwater fish. We generally recommend using a professional Muskellunge rod and reel. When you spool your line on your baitcaster, make sure the line is incredibly thick, strong, and well suited to the situation.
Rod – A great rod is one that is made specifically for fishing this species. The fishing rods are generally long, thick, sensitive, and as tough as nails. Your best chance of success would be professional species-specific, casting rods. As for which one to choose, it just usually depends on the preferences of the angler and what they prefer. There are hundreds of thousands of fishing rods to choose from. What you should choose is dependent on what you want in features. Some rods are better than others.
Reel – Equally as important, a great baitcasting or multiplier reel is what you want to equip with your rod. It needs to be able to generate at least 15 pounds of drag at the absolute minimum. With that, it needs to have a lot of line capacity, strong ball bearings, and a very comfortable reel handle so your fingers don’t get tired. Your bet options would be species-specific, baitcasting or multiplier reels.
Line – You want a very strong, braided, fishing line. This is for a few reasons. First, is stretch. Stretching is unwanted in the trophy game. Second, is sensitivity. Braided line lets you feel every little nibble. Third, it provides you with the insurance you need to haul in the biggest ones with ease. still, a wire leader may be needed to prevent being bit through. Recommended breaking strength is at least 20 pounds.
Where To Look And Find The Elusive Muskellunge
First things first. Location is key. Since they do not have a huge population at all, you must never forget to look for them. You will not likely find the fish by accident either. The most common depth is anywhere from 1-4 feet deep. First of all, not everywhere has a population. They are not really like Northern Pike which can be found in many places. You need to first confirm that the water you want to fish in has some to start with. They are only native to certain places and have been introduced in others. Only around half the states in the USA have them. Of those that do, they are still hard to find.
You can find out if there is a thriving population by checking out the local fish and wildlife catalog. It never hurts asking locals either. If you really want to get started, it would be beneficial to target places that are known for producing the species. If you are thinking that you can go anywhere with Northern Pike to find them, think again. It just doesn’t work that way. Fishing popular lakes that are known to house the species is your best chance at success. Even then, be prepared for a lot of frustration because they will do their best to avoid you. They have likely been caught before.
They are only present in about half of the United States and are more common in certain areas. They are native to the Great Lakes, the Red River in Hudson Bay, and Missippi River Basins. Some states they inhabit include Georgia, Wisconsin, Virginia, and Iowa. When the water warms up, you can find them up near the surface. They will likely be tucked in near weed lines. Weed lines are usually the best place to look for them. Since they are ambush predators, they do not like to go out and hunt for food.
Instead, they like to sit in a certain spot, wait there, and sink their teeth into anything that happens to tread their perilous path. They love to sink their plates of razor-sharp teeth into their prey. I always suggest fishing shallow first before moving into deeper water. Also, make sure to hit the shorelines, especially in warmer water. When the sun starts to warm the water, they like to get very close to it for heat. For many species, it is just the opposite. When the sun fades, you can find them in slightly deeper water. They are a structure and cover oriented species. This is because they are masters of ambush.
Your best bet is to target weed lines and verticle structures. Over half of the individuals caught are very, very shallow. A great thing to understand is where the bait is. The way the fish feeds is hugely important. You have to understand that they do not eat every single day. They are ambush predators. They will bite a meal, swallow it, and not feed again until they are hungry.
How long depends on which meal they had. A huge meal means you will never catch that fish. Smaller meals mean it is possible but it takes patience. Finding them is only the first step too. Not only do you need to find them but you also need to find ones that are hungry. Chasing bait around is a great choice because you can specifically target the ones which are feeding. The natural forage varies from place to place too. Live bait can be effective too if you have the natural forage in the right place at the right time.
Selecting The Right Fishing Lure For Success
The main thing to remember when you want to choose a lure is to select one stick with it. You want to try and avoid a ton of lure changes. You may have the right one on but you may need to throw it more or work it differently. It is not like other types of game species where a simple lure switch can make the difference instantly. You need to use the right bait for the right situation but the rate at which you change lures becomes much less. Do not go switching baits to another after a couple of minutes.
There are a few different lure options that are currently used to catch them. They are all very basic and they are likely much bigger than what one would normally be used to tying on. These include deep diving crankbaits, rubber baits, bucktails, swimbaits, topwater spooks, spinnerbaits, and buzzbaits. These are your most basic and arguably most effective options. The main thing to remember is that you need to choose one based on the conditions. Really big baits push a lot more water. Smaller ones are more subtle and push less water. Either of them may be more effective than the other.
You want to try different options based on water clarity, time of day, as well as on other conditions such as current, structure, and water depth. Ultimately, there is no best lure and they all can be very effective. The main thing to remember is the color. Throw natural colors in clearer water and throw very bright colors in dirtier water. Consider your depth and use it as a starting point.
The Fish Of 10,000 Casts – A Legendary Predator
The Muskellunge has been coined by many as “the fish of 10,000 casts”. This is no accident either. Fishing for them can be extremely fun especially when you are successful. Before that happens, you will likely be casting again, again, again, and again. That number seems like an exaggeration and it is. These fish are renowned for their ability to avoid the angler at all costs.
You will have to spend incredible amounts of time on the water before you get a hit. When you get a hit, you are often so surprised that you forget to set the hook on it. Understand this beforehand. You will require a ton of patience on the water. It is not like fishing for them and catching them is easy. To be fairly honest, they are actually very hard to catch. Once you do catch one, it will get a little bit easier.
You may find yourself casting, retrieving, popping, stopping, and everything else before any action happens. Many times too, you will not even catch anything. Unlike the Northern Pike which is extremely common to find, these huge monsters have an almost legendary status. You may find yourself frustrated and impatient. Before throwing your rod down, understand that this is just a part of it.
Expecting The Unexpected – Setting The Hook
Although the old saying goes “there is never a dull moment”, this is never the case when you’re after fish that are this rare. Pretty much every moment is a dull moment. There is a very small amount of time periods when you can get a bite on the first cast. These opportunities are far and few in-between though. Most of the time, it will take quite a while before anything happens. When it does though, you better be ready for it. Even if you get a hit, it does not mean that you will land a fish. Now you have to set the hook. Remember how tough their mouths are too. You want your hooks to be very sharp.
When you try to set that hook, do not ever be gentle. You want your rod to load up, once. They have a very tough, boney mouth. Once it is your time to act, reel into that fish until the line straightens out and give it a very strong, abrupt, hook set. Always make sure to use a lot of your strength when doing it too as this will lessen the chances of them throwing the hook. If you didn’t do it right the first time, you can give it a couple of extra pulls to ensure that the hook seats itself. You need to expect the unexpected action. They have a habit of acting oddly as days continue to pass. Expect something interesting.
You need to be always ready for anything. They tend to strike when you are not paying attention. If you are paying attention all the time, you have a lot of bigger opportunities to land it. Do not be surprised when you are giving up on a cast and a trophy fish pounds the surface. Quite a few individuals are caught right next to the boat. Many anglers even take this and use it to their advantage by working the lure near it at the end of the cast. They do what is called a figure 8 with their bucktails.
How To Fight Fish Without Breaking Your Line
Almost all fights with these fish are less than 2 minutes in length. Still, it may feel like the longest 2 minutes in your lifetime. The fighting capabilities of this swimming torpedo is nothing short of incredible. To battle them correctly, it helps to have your drag set a little loose. You do not want to have it tightened all the way down. Setting your baitcasting reel’s drag properly is imperative.
It is usually always better to keep your rod tip down for the battle. Try not to raise your rod tip much more than necessary. They have a natural predatory tendency to start thrashing when they get near the surface. If you can, try to have the battle take place underwater. The longer you can keep it in the water for the battle, the better. Don’t attempt to bring it up to the surface until you’re ready to use a landing net. This is because water makes things weightless. The force of gravity is very huge on huge catches.
Don’t allow them to jump out of the water if you can help it. The sheer force of gravity can work against you and it is much easier for them to shake that hook loose. The one thing that you should remember is to always keep a tight line. Never allow the fish to pull any slack out. Is the fishing line goes limp, start reeling some more. You’re much more likely to lose your potential catch without a tight line.
If it is taking longer than 2 minutes, tighten your drag down, or reel faster. You are not doing it right if this is the case. You do want to wear the fish out. What you don’t want to do is fill its flesh so full of stress enzymes that it has a hard time swimming. Get it on the hook, get it in the net, get it in the boat, and get it back in the water. You can even kill it if you’re not careful.
How To Land Big Fish – It Is Better To Use A Net
If you think it is a good idea to stick your hand near the gill plate of an angry predator with sharp hooks sticking out of its teeth plated mouth, your emergency fishing kit contents should include medical supplies. It is not a good idea. It is always better to use a landing net if you can. It puts a lot less stress on the fish and a lot less stress on the angler. Not only are they more convenient, but they are safer.
Even better still, is having a buddy with you on your fishing trip to net it for you. Landing nets are ideal specifically because you can let the fish relax in the water before bringing it on the boat. This reduces stress. They are especially good for big fish when you don’t want to go anywhere near those teeth. A lot of the smaller ones can be landed by grabbing it under its gill plate. If you do this to an old and heavy one though, its weight can cause damage if you hold it this way. You can damage the gills.
Bring it to the surface within reach of the landing net, get the net under it, and raise it up. It will start to thrash but should calm down very soon. If possible, connect the landing net to your boat in a way the fish cannot escape. It is always beneficial to let it rest a few minutes inside the net before you take your picture. Once it has regained most of its energy, you can bring it on the boat and get its weight.
Remember To Practice Ethical Catch And Release
Before you even think of harvesting an individual for a fried fish dinner, remember how valuable one is. It is extremely difficult for any ecosystem to replace an adult Muskie. They grow extremely slowly. So slow, in fact, that a 50-inch female is a full 17 years old! They are a very low-density fish that have been wiped out in many places by common, angler harvesting. With that, they are just too valuable to eat too many people. It is generally allowed to do so as long as the fish is in the right size range.
It is certainly not recommended though. The meat tastes exactly like Northern Pike or Chain Pickerel for obvious reasons. The meat itself is nice but it is extremely unsustainable. On a huge lake that measures around 500 acres, you will only typically find 50 or fewer adults inhabiting it. Pair the very slow growth pattern with how many eggs they lose to predator fish and birds, you have a species that relies on responsible anglers to harvest correctly. Anglers help the population grow.
You are only allowed to keep them within a certain size. Even if you abide by those size restrictions, harvesting a single individual a day can wipe out the entire population in less than a couple of months. They retain their status as legendary specimens because people catch and release. A lot of the fun in this sport would be removed if they were as populated as Northern Pike or Walleye. As long as an angler wants to catch them, you should let them go. You can only continue to fish for them if they are there to catch.
This is not to say that you cannot harvest fish to eat. Consider harvesting a legal size Northern Pike instead. The meat tastes identical and you will likely hook into way more of them before you actually catch the targeted species. This applies to areas where the fish is native and regulated. Not every place is regulated. In some waters, they have an open bag limit as well as an open size range. As long as you know the local laws, feel free to harvest Muskie from waters that do not protect them. In waters where they are protected, catch and release is the right thing to do. In waters without protection, keep them.
Putting The Entire Process Together In Practice
In summary, learning how to catch Muskellunge is no simple task. There are so many hiccups and potential annoyances that you will run into along the way. First, you need to have gear that is strong enough to stand up to these monsters. It usually has to be professionally made specifically for it too. Once you have this in hand, you have to go where the fish are. Only some places have a thriving population and you need to be certain that they exist where you want to catch them.
After that is done, you need to find out exactly where they are hiding regardless if it is near the shore, in cover, or something else. Once you know this, you need to choose a bait that will fit the current situation well which can take a lot of trial and error on your part. After all of this is finally completed, you need to cast so many times that you may even give up altogether. They love to be elusive and it is not always your fault. Often times, you are so surprised when you finally get a bite that you forget to set the hook on it.
Once you finally have the hook set assuming you don’t miss it, the fight of a lifetime will test your limits as an angler. Be prepared to hold on tightly. You will hear the drag screaming, Once you finally get one to the boat, you want to land it using a net. You do not want to immediately stick your hand near a toothy fish with huge hooks sticking out of the mouth. All in all, it is complicated and you should never expect it to be easy. They are arguably the hardest fish to catch in North America.