Tools and Traits for Properly Releasing Muskie

With more anglers pursuing these predators every year, the need for proper releasing techniques is crucial to ensure the survival of post-release fish and sustain the sport fishery.

Muskie fishing is one of the fastest growing areas in sport fishing today. Ask any long-time muskie angler if fishing pressure is increasing, or look at the growth of muskie lure manufacturers, and you’ll be convinced that muskie fishing is on the rise. With more anglers pursuing these predators every year, the need for proper releasing techniques is crucial to ensure the survival of post-release fish and sustain the sport fishery.

A muskie recuperates prior to returning to its watery haunts.

The Right Tools and Gear
When muskie fishing, you need the right tools to fish, to play and to release a muskie without exhausting or over-stressing the fish. The right tools begin with your fishing equipment. Your set-up should include heavy action rods, and reels with high ratios and large spools to quickly retrieve line. Spool reels with quality line with a minimum rating of 65-pound-test. The terminal end should have steel leader with strong snaps and ball bearing swivels.

You will need the right tools to land and release these big predators. Opinions vary on the best device to land a muskie, but nets and cradles (large enough to comfortably hold, or pen, a muskie) are two popular options. You will also need tools to help cut and remove hooks from the fish’s mouth, including: long-nosed pliers, hook cutters, jaw spreaders, and hook-removers. Remember, cutting hooks can be faster than removing them with pliers, but it is critical to remove all the hook pieces. Pieces left in the fish can lead to infection and, potentially, death.

Pictured left to right are some common tools for releasing muskie: hook cutters, measuring tape, long-nose pliers, and jaw-spreaders.

Have the Knowledge
You’ve just spent a couple hundred dollars on a quality net, a rod and reel combo, a dozen lures, and the latest release tools. Better yet, you’re on a beautiful lake and have a hefty muskie at the boat. Adrenaline rushes through your body, but are you prepared to safely land this fish? This is an important question anglers new to muskie fishing need to ask themselves before fishing. Lipping a trophy bass, or netting a fat walleye, requires skill and confidence, but handling big, aggressive fish is more demanding. The good news is there are many ways to learn how-to land and release muskies properly.

One of the best ways to learn is by doing. I’m thankful to the experienced anglers that I’ve fished, and continue to fish, with who have helped me learn how-to properly release fish. Joining a club like Muskies Canada or Muskies Inc. will connect you to a wealth of muskie information. Hiring a credible guide is another way to gain first-hand experience. Reading publications specific to muskie fishing and attending seminars at fishing shows are two other ways to boost your release know-how.

Confidence and Patience
“Zen and the art of muskie fishing?” you ask. No, but these two traits will go a long way to ensure you properly release fish. When working in close quarters with muskie, you must be confident in your actions; this is where the right tools and knowledge will really pay off. For example, if you’re leaning over to grab a shovelhead and you hesitate just as the fish thrashes in the net, the situation could quickly get dangerous to both you and the fish. Most multi-season, muskie anglers know stories of hooks in hands and fish freak-outs. Being confident when handling muskie will likely save you a hospital visit, but it can’t guarantee it – that’s part of the allure of muskie fishing.

Being patient comes into play on many levels in fishing, but let’s focus on how it relates to releasing these toothy brutes. After hooking a muskie you intend to release (which should be almost always) you’re responsible to do it properly. Muskies may battle hard during the fight, but require time to recuperate before swimming away. Maybe it only takes 10 minutes, some fish may take 20, and some can need more than an hour of boat-side support. As a responsible angler, you must be patient enough to hold and support that fish as it regains its strength before being able to strongly swim out of your hands. If you’re not prepared to spend the time to properly release a fish, you shouldn’t be fishing in the first place. It’s that simple.

Be Organized
Being organized is more than just having the right tools and gear accessible in a tidy and hazard-free boat. It’s fishing with a partner and knowing your responsibilities once a fish is hooked. While one battles the fish, the other should ready the release tools, camera, measuring tape and landing device.

Having a plan for playing and releasing fish, and keeping all tools needed within reach, reduces handling time and overall stress to the fish. Furthermore, a planned and properly executed process for landing, handling and releasing fish will ensure the fish is kept in the water as much as possible. Key to any successful release is keeping the fish (especially its head) in the water at all times, and only removing it for a quick photo if necessary. Some anglers let the fish recuperate in a net or cradle after the hooks are removed before handling the muskie again to take a picture. When photographing fish, a good rule of thumb is to hold your breath as you lift the fish out of the water. When you need to breathe, so does the fish and it should quickly be returned to the water to minimize harm.

Release methods for muskie can spark debate among anglers concerned with preserving the fishery. I’ve tried to stay clear of any controversial topics in this article, providing some best-practices for releasing muskies. Try these tips the next time your on the water for proper muskie releases

Thanks to Ben Beattie – Lac Seul Fishing Guide for the photos on this page!