I’ll start this topic off with a strong opinion that I have – there is no reason to keep a muskie. If you’re looking for a meal, there are easier fish to catch to put food on the table. If you want a mount for the wall, get a replica. Today’s replica mounts look better and last longer than skin mounts do and they cost about the same.
Muskie are difficult enough to catch, and killing them just doesn’t make sense. Today’s muskie fishermen are by-and-large catch and release advocates. Through education we’ve come a long way from the catch-and-keep mentality that was practiced by past generations.
A successful muskie release starts before you even hit the water. Stout rods and heavy no-stretch (braided) line minimize the length of the fight, keeping fish fatigue to a minimum. Proper tools such as long needle nose pliers, hook cutters, jaw spreaders and a large landing net are ready in the boat.
When a muskie is netted, keep it in the water. Don’t hoist it onto the floor of the boat. Unhook it with pliers or by using hook cutters as quickly as possible while trying to keep its gills submerged. Once unhooked, leave the fish in the net and let it revive while you get ready for a quick photo. Minimize time out of water for photos.
If water temperatures hit 80 degrees, consider giving the muskies a break. Successful catch-and-release becomes difficult with warm water temperatures. If you do catch a muskie in warm water conditions, photos should be in-water shots only.
Stay with your fish until it’s ready to swim away by holding it above the tail. Don’t pull it back and forth to ‘run water through its gills’ – the fish will breathe on its own.
In the words of the late Jack Burns, a pioneer of modern muskie fishing, “Catch a big one and let it go. Let them all go.”
Ben Beattie is an outdoor writer and full-time fishing guide based in Sioux Lookout, ON. For more information, visit Ben’s website at www.benbeattieoutdoors.com