Have you ever killed a musky? I’m not talking about bonking one on the head 30 or 40 years ago before release was the norm, either.
So has Carrie.
I killed mine because I over handled it in order to get photo evidence that I had caught a 50” musky casting in the river (which had never been done before) while fishing solo. I got my evidence and Marc and Roddy found her floating a day or two later. It was a shot in the gut for me I can tell you. I thought about quitting when I found out. I was an emotional wreck. I promised myself in the days following the discovery of my dead fish that I would never over handle a musky again. I avoid looking at the picture of my 52” casting fish because it brings back the shame of my stupidity and greed.
Carrie’s came in swimming dead. If I remember correctly it was a 35” or 36” and it hammered a 10” Believer. Two trebles were buried in its gills and gill plate. It fought like the devil at first, but then came in limp. As soon as I saw it I knew it was a goner. I released the fish perfectly, but It was bleeding like a Quintin Tarrantino’ western gunshot victim. We tried for almost an hour to resuscitate the fish, but I knew it was academic. Carrie being the less experienced angler held out hope, but the fish was dead as soon as it hit the lure. I remember Carrie tearing up as I let the fish just drift away. We cut our trip early immediately afterward. Nothing takes the wind out of your sails like a dead musky.
There is a big difference between our two dead fish. I killed mine because I was selfish. Carrie’s was the unfortunate result of big lures with big hooks latching on to sensitive areas, which just happens sometimes in this sport.
What am I getting at? Killing a musky sucks. It really, really, really, really sucks. It ruins the whole experience of musky fishing. If you care about them as much as I do, it will ruin your day, week, month and season. The lousy feeling will stick with you for a very long time if the fatality is your fault.
Please remember to keep your egos in check this season. If you want to take a picture of a meaningful fish please do so. I encourage this all the time for the newsletter after all. But, and it is a BIG BUT, make sure you endanger the fish as little as possible. Fight your fish quickly. Make sure your equipment is up to the task. Keep the fish’s head under the water during the release process. Never flop a musky onto the floor of your boat. Cut hooks, don’t rip them out. Never drop a musky. Limit yourself to one picture and only take pictures of meaningful fish. Try to get the whole process down to under a minute. Remember, a musky that is never removed from the water has a much higher rate of surviving the angling event than one that isn’t.
How about this one, have you ever caught a musky that was hooked in the gills or gill plate or eye and still took a picture of it because it was big? Fish hooked like this bleed a lot. After you released it and looked at the picture and saw all of the blood I bet your enthusiasm was dampened immensely. I bet you were hesitant to show the image to your friends or fellow club members. That feeling is a step in the right direction. It is a feeling that can be easily avoided. Leave the fish in the water and avoid that uncomfortable, sickly feeling in the pit of your stomach altogether.
As the season approaches, one look at the lake temperature should tell you we are in for a very warm opener. I’d bet it will be around 70 degrees when we first get our lures wet. That’s not too warm to fish by any stretch. (I stop musky fishing when the surface water temperature in the river reaches 75 degrees.)
There will be some fish still spawning, but I bet most of them will be done with their ritualistic rough sex dance. Muskies beat the hell out of each other during the spawn and they are weakened afterward. There will be some muskies caught opening week that will look like they were road hauled. If you land a musky that looks really beat up don’t remove it from the water. A release shot looks better in the newsletter as far as I’m concerned anyway.
Keep you egos in check. Keep the muskies interest over that of your own. Do both of those things and you and the muskies will be all the better for it.
Excellent article Scott!!! I think most of us can remember an instance when our egos got the better of us while handling a fish for that "must have" photo. Just a week ago, I was fishing for trout with my almost 2 year-old son. I hooked a small brown trout and then put the rod in his hand and helped him bring it in. After which I really wanted to get a picture of my son's, sort of, first fish. I tried to have him hold the line up with the fish dangling but it just wasn't working, the line kept slipping through his hand. So then I tried to hold the fish in front of him while simultaneously taking the picture.... that wasn't working well either. In my desperation to get this "must have" picture, I had neglected to think about how long the fish was out of the water.... that is until my 23 month old son said "Da Da, fish ouch, wawa", which roughly translates to, "hey Dad, the fish is hurting, put it back in the water". I was instantly both embarrassed with myself and very impressed by my young son's wisdom. The fish took some reviving but swam away and is hopefully still alive. This was a 6" brown trout, which are far more plentiful than muskies, but the same principle applies. It was actually a great reminder for me that pictures are not that important, and certainly not worth jeopardizing the life of the quarry we spend so much time professing love and respect for.
Great article!! Everyone's stories remind me of the legend of Walt Disney & the owl. Supposedly it dramatically changed him.
I did find a TU article that I read a few years ago that was a study of C&R & examined things like time out of the water, use of barbs/barbless, length of the fight, etc. It's on trout but the stresses that any fish goes thru are the prob the same, just to different degrees.
Just another thought... All of the musky flies I tie are on either barbless hooks, or hooks that I have debarbed. Since going to barbless hooks (2 years now), I have not noticed any increase in lost fish and I have not had any issues getting one out of a fishes mouth. Cutting the hooks works great, but a barbless hook makes a smaller hole to begin with and is less likely to cause issues when fish get hooked in precarious places like eyeballs, gills, etc... All of my flies have either 1 or two hooks, no trebles. I actually think that a larger single hook holds a fish better than smaller trebles, I think the bigger hook gap makes the difference. Albeit I may miss a fish now and then that a treble may have hooked (additional hook points). I wonder, have the casters/jiggers and trollers ever considered going barbless?
Great article. All I can add is that your Knipex is a great first aid tool for that precariously hooked musky. That is, it's a great tool IF it is handy. It has to be "right there", at arm's length, ready to be put in use -immediately. It doesn't do the musky any good if you have to search for your knipex, wondering where the heck it is. I assume that when you go into surgery, you want the doc to have his scalpel available, right???? Come to think of it, if anyone is in need of surgery, let me know and I will put shock cord on a few scalpels for your surgical team.
Good point, Frank...and I'm guilty as charged. Good thing I haven't had to look around for it yet. Like you said, I'll make sure they're "right there."