There have been a lot of pictures going around the news and social media of some very large muskies being caught in Minnesota over the last several years. After all, Minnesota is one of the top destinations in North America for muskie hunters. Why wouldn’t you want to catch one? They are big, ferocious and a challenge to pursue.
When you do finally decide you want to give it a try, first you have to make some preparations. These fish are large and will test your equipment to the max. You need to have a stout muskie rod and reel with at least 65 pound test braided line and a quality leader to land these fish safely. The large rod not only helps you get the fish to the boat, but it helps you throw the large lures you’ll undoubtedly be casting.
You’ll also need an array of release tools. Muskies are very susceptible to over-handling and die very easily, so you’ll need to take extra precautions to not kill them. Catch and release is what has made Minnesota the best place to catch muskies more than 50 inches and each fish counts.
First, purchase a large net, long needle nose pliers and small bolt cutters. Then, when you do catch a fish, have your boat partner net it and leave it in the water over the side of the boat so its whole body is submerged. That way you can take your time unhooking the fish while keeping it alive in the water. Sometimes, the hooks may be deep in their toothy mouths and you’ll have to use long pliers and bolt cutters to remove the hooks. Jaw spreaders can also help with this process. Take care not to damage the gills or the fish’s mouth in the process.
Next, I’m sure you’ll want a picture with your trophy catch. Reach into the fish’s gill plate and grip tightly, while gently pulling the fish out of the net. Support the belly of the fish with your other hand and hold it horizontally for a picture. Never hold the fish vertically. This will damage the fish’s internal organs and gills causing delayed mortality.
Use a large measuring board to get the length of the fish, or place it in the water and use a measuring stick alongside it. Avoid laying the fish on the carpet of your boat, or on a hot surface. This removes the protective slime from the fish which increases the risk of infection. Most seasoned muskie anglers do not weigh fish. They are generally trying to catch a fish over 50 inches and the weight doesn’t mean much to them.
Between taking the picture and measuring the fish, you should have it out of the water for less than 30 seconds. It seems fast, but it’s more than enough time if you are prepared with a camera and measuring board.
Put the fish back in the water and hold the tail of the fish until it is ready to swim off on its own. Never pump the fish back and forth. This only causes further stress. The fish will breathe on its own once it is in the water.
Muskie season opens the first weekend in June and fish will be biting. Go ahead and give it a try this season and don’t hesitate to hire a guide. As a former muskie guide, I can tell you that just one morning out with a seasoned professional will cut your learning curve down to size and you’ll be having fun in no time. And take care of the resource. It can take 20 years to grow a musky to 50”. Protect them so the next person can enjoy the catch as well.
Kirby Budrow is a local fishing enthusiast and native of Grand Rapids. He’s a former muskie fishing guide, public speaker, and a forester with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Fishing runs deep in his blood and he spends most of his days and nights on the water pursuing all species of fish with friends and family.