If you plan to pursue muskies this summer and fall, it’s critical that you understand how to properly release a hooked fish. Even though you might be an avid bass or walleye angler, the techniques and tools used for muskies are a little different.
So, just how important is it to properly release muskies?
Let me use Wisconsin – my home waters – as an example: Muskies must be recycled often (i.e. catch and release), and it’s up to us to keep them going. A Muskies Inc. club member recently caught a 46-inch muskie and it had my tag in it from our tagging study. I’d tagged the same fish in November 2012 as a 43-incher, meaning it grew only 3 inches in 5 years.
Knowing that it takes a long time for muskies to reach large size, great care must be taken in releasing them so they can continue to grow and provide fantastic fishing opportunities. Below are seven guide-proven tips for properly releasing these amazing fish.
- Keep muskies in the net over the side of the boat; don’t bring them in the boat to remove hooks.
- Have the right tools handy: long needle-nose pliers, heavy-duty hook cutter and jaw spreaders.
- Never be afraid to cut hooks. Hooks are cheap compared to a muskie’s health.
- Once the hooks are out, allow the muskie to swim in the net while you get everything ready for a photo.
- Most important, take only a couple quick photos. I have a 10-second rule in my boat (the fish can’t be out of the water longer than 10 seconds at a time) and even quicker or not at all when water temps are high.
- Support a muskie with two hands for photos; never hold it vertically by the gills. If the fish begins to twist and torque during photos, it’s better to drop it into the lake than into the bottom of the boat. If you have enough people in the boat, someone can hold the net in the water to catch the fish. Tip specific to beginning muskie anglers and young kids: Instead of standing for photos, drop down to your knees and hug the muskie tightly. That way, if the muskie escapes your grip, it’s not a far drop to the floor of the boat. Laying down wet towels on the boat carpet will also help prevent slime removal if a fish should contact the floor. Of course, if there are two adults in the boat, one can hold the muskie for the group photo.
- Hold a muskie by the tail to ensure it is strong enough to swim away on its own. Gentle move the tail side to side, but don’t pump the fish forward and backward. If the wind is blowing your boat, hold the muskie so it’s pointed in the direction the boat is drifting.
Editor’s note: If you’re ever in west-central Wisconsin and want to book a day of muskie fishing with Jason, check out the Jason Smith’s Guide Service Facebook page, or give him a call at 715-577-6236. Jason pursues muskies on the lakes and flowages in Chippewa and Rusk counties.
P.S. To watch a video on how to properly hold a muskie, click here.
Images by Jason Smith