This is a story about everything going right. About four reel cranks into your cast, a mid-forties musky plows into your bucktail and the trebles bury right into the corner of the fish’s mouth. She’s locked up, and the fight commences. You’ve done the hard part by finding the musky and getting it to eat, but now the real work begins.
CPR- Catch, Photo, Release. It’s a staple creed of the Wisconsin musky angler. The musky is a top predator and a vital resource to both the health of the lake and the economy of the state.
Fishing for muskies makes you a steward of this resource. Following a specific set of guidelines will increase both your ability to release a healthy fish back into the lake, but also will create a photo memory for you to share with friends and family and get a ton of likes on Facebook and Twitter.
Musky Centered Action
Land the Fish
Attempting to land a musky in a net that’s too small can be either a death sentence to the fish, or will decrease the chances you actually land it. Make sure your net is at least 32” by 40” and has a bag depth of 48”. The bigger the better, as long as you have enough boat space to safely store it. Frabill’s Big Kahuna is an industry staple. It boasts both a huge net rim and a modest price point.
After a successful netting, leave the net bag and fish in the water. Use the net like a boat side livewell. That fish can hang indefinitely while you remove hooks and organize your gear, thoughts and self after the fight.
Along with your baits and terminal tackle, make sure you bring mouth spreaders, needle nose pliers, and a set of hook cutters. Often, you can grab a section of the treble hook that’s connected to the musky and use the fish’s weight to dislodge the hook by a simple lift and shake. If that is not effective, you’ll need to snip the hooks. The mouth spreaders can save hands from dangerous teeth, but should only be used in the most dire of circumstances. Try the easiest methods like the lift and shake and hook snips before resorting to the invasive items like mouth spreaders and yanking hard with pliers.
Grip, Release, Revive
Once your musky is unhooked, slide your hand under the lower mandible and gill plate and lock down hard. This is called the Leech Lake Lip Lock. Your hands are away from the delicate gills. This will also keep you from sliding up into the mouth area, which is full of razor sharp teeth. Lots of release gloves are available on the market, and offer enhanced grip on the slimy musky, as well as protection should that fish thrash and your hand slide into places it shouldn’t. Lift the fish from the net, and get ready to smile for the camera. More on that later!
Return the fish to the water as soon as possible. With your Leech Lake Lip Lock intact, slide your off hand down to the meat just below the tail, and gently set the fish back in the water. Release your hand from the gill plate put hang on to the tail meat. Make sure that musky can remain in the upright position at the surface. Water should be moving over the gills. The musky will revive quickly and swim away under its own power. This is also a great time for your boat partner to take pictures!
Picture Perfect Muskies
Boat Organized, Background
While the fish is safe and comfy in the net, take some time to organize the boat. Put items away, organize the rods, make the footing safe. Big muskies that decide to give you a hard time once you pull them out of the net can be a handful. Make the area safe to wrangle. Clean backgrounds and a clean boat also make for a clean picture of a big fish. Rods laid across like pixie sticks and empty Pepsi cans set on the motor cowling detract from your finished product. You’ve worked hard to make that musky picture happen, so take some time to take a good picture.
Direct sunlight into the camera will wash out your picture. Ensure this doesn’t happen by using your trolling motor to swing the boat so the sun is behind the camera. Muskies caught at night need a little extra set up. Point a headlight or flashlight at the fish for additional light, and make sure that camera flash is on. Take many pictures from many angles so you get at least one without strange shadows altering the scene.
Muskies require significant time, money and effort to catch. After all that work, don’t mangle the only evidence you have of a successful fishing trip with an awkward photo. Take your sunglasses off. Straighten your hat. Make sure you don’t have any spinach in your teeth. Just do a quick self-care check before pulling the musky out of the net. When the fish is up and out and posing nicely for the camera, you should do the same. Feel free to tell your boat partner “Take another one” at least 3 times. You can always delete the pictures in which your face gives the impression someone stepped on your toes or you’ve bitten into a lemon. Take a bunch, and select one or two of your favorites.
Since you’re still in the Leech Lake Lip Lock, one hand is already busy. The other has the choice of holding the fish vertically by supporting about midway down the body, or utilizing the horizontal hold just before the anal fin. Whatever you do, just make sure that fish is supported to avoid damage to mouth parts and internal organs.
A pro tip here is to make a fist to support the fish. This will keep the fingers of your support hand out of the picture and off the body of the musky. Everyone wants to see the musky, not know if you’re married. Make that fish the center of attention.
A gentle reminder here in closing. After pictures and a successful and safe musky release, go back over your gear and make sure everything is correct for another go-around. Check leaders, connections, line frays etc. Put away your release tools and stow the net. Immediately get back out fishing once your gear is taken care of. You just caught one musky, which is awesome, but catching two or three would be even better. Those pictures can wait until you’re back home or at the watering hole to be perused. Go catch more muskies instead of looking at your perfect musky picture!
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