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Handle that Esox to Fight Another Day
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Pete Maina holds a huge muskie for the camera. Be quick if you decide to take a photo like this. (Courtesy of Pete Maina)

 

 

 

 

Handle that Esox to Fight Another Day

 

By David A. Rose

 


It’s an unfortunate fact, but I’ve come upon many a muskie belly up on the surface within some of the inland lakes near my home in Michigan’s Northwestern Lower Peninsula. If the fish is freshly departed, I’ll grab my boat hook and roll the fish around to see if I can conclude what may have been the cause of its demise.

More often than not, two unconcealed hints usually give away its death: Torn lips and gums, indicating the fish had been caught, and fins and tail tinted bright-red, signifying a high level of stress.

Although the muskies caught in my neck of the woods grow enormous—the state record, for example, a whopping 58-pound Great Lake strain landed in October of 2012—their populous is low; The Michigan Department of Natural Recourses’ surveys showing a population of one fish per square mile in one of the most popular chain of lakes for targeting them. To say just a single dead beast is distressing for such a small population is an understatement.

 

But there’s also no doubting that landing such a large fish is one of the most exhilarating moments in any angler’s lifetime, whether it was muskie being targeted or if the fish is an accidental catch. But there’s no more important time for anglers to calm down than once the fish is netted, making sure it’s safe from harm well before high-fives are given overhead.

Catching breath

 

One of the most notable Esox anglers in the United States is Seaguar Pro Pete Maina. A resident of Hayward, Wisconsin, Maina is not only surrounded by waterways teaming with muskie and northern pike, but he travels the country and Canada in search of trophy fish, as well.

“Any fish losing its life when there is no need for it is a big deal,” says Maina. “It just isn’t necessary. And the possibility of a pike or muskie dying can be reduced a lot by just following a few simple steps.”

First off, Maina makes it clear he’s learned the most about releasing fish unharmed from the very mistakes he made early on in his career. And then there are those times when a fish literally fought to its death, expiring before it was netted. Hearth attack? Perhaps. But just the extreme stress of being hooked and landed can build up enough lactic acid to do it in. However, keeping fish out of the water too long for photos and TV spots were one of the main things Maina admits was an avoidable lesson learned.

“It’s the fishes face that breaths,” Maina maintains. “A fish’s head needs to be under the surface as much as possible. And I’m not just talking about for photos and the like, but while the fish in is the net, too.”

Oftentimes, in the excitement of the moment, anglers don’t realize the fish may be curled up in the net with its head out of the water. Detrimental if it takes several minutes before the anglers are ready to remove hooks. All this time not getting oxygen is really tough on a fish, especially during this time it needs it most - after battle.

 

 

Photos like this, where an Esox’s head is out of the water for mere seconds, is best for the fish. (Courtesy of Pete Maina)

 



Measuring up

 

Social media might be one of the worst things to ever happen to muskies when it comes to being released without harm. But it’s also a great way to get concerns out and get fellow anglers thinking about how they go about things might also be wounding fish.

The many photos we take of a trophy muskie or pike so that we can post them for all our so-called friends to see, again, is about holding the fish’s head out of the water too long and suffocating it. And don’t even get folks started about horizontal fish holds verses vertical, with the former being easier on the fish. (Although, Maina states he’d rather see someone hold a fish out of the water vertically for a quick three second photograph than he would a fish being held out for three minutes to get the perfect horizontal shots. After all, a big fish will be vertical for a few seconds, anyways, as you prepare to get it into a horizontal position.)   

But a post by Maina on Facebook this fall really got die-hard muskie anglers commenting on proper fish handling, and that was on the use of bump boards within a boat to measure length.

Maina’s suggestion is to measure the fish in the net or cradle with either a tape measure or bump board over laying the fish on the floor of the boat. A lot of damage can be done to a big fish as it flops around; its protective slime will be removed, and it can be injured if it flops and whacks its body against the floor, seats, equipment… you name it.

“I got hammered for that post,” says Maina. “But it’s all good because it really got people thinking… And that’s the important thing.”  
         

Minnesota outdoor writer and avid muskie hunter Cory Schmidt suggests forgoing measuring a fish’s length altogether in favor of weighing it.

“Weighing a fish is the one true way of measuring a muskie’s size,” Schmidt states. “There can be a huge weight difference two 52-inchers, for instance.”

 

Schmidt’s suggestion? Hook your scale to the net and weigh both fish while it’s in it; that way you never even have to touch the fish, and it’s only out of the water a few seconds. Once the fish is released, reweigh the net, and then subtract that from the total. It’s as easy as that.

 

He adds that weighing fish shouldn’t be done in just any old muskie net. “You need to use a net with nice soft mesh and with a broad, flat bottom that supports the weight of the fish rather than contorting it in unnatural angles. Frabill's Big Kahuna is an excellent choice.”


“Anglers in Europe have been weighing monster northerns in nets or weigh sacks for decades,’ Schmidt adds. “And you know it’s easy on the fish when they have been weighing the same pike a dozen-plus times over the years, with the fish no worse for wear.”

 

 

 

Field tested by professional tournament anglers, guides and charter captains, Frabill’s PowerCatch® Big Kahuna sets a new standard for strength, durability and performance. PowerCatch's strength lies in its Brute Hoop design and revolutionary PowR-Lok yoke system. Frabill’s special knotless mesh caters to a fish’s sensitive scales, eyes, slime coat and fins. Consider this the ultimate landing net for mega sportfish.  

 

 

 


Make a Boy Scout proud

 

Being prepared well before the first cast is made is other thing Schmidt says anyone targeting muskies should be. Your net should be ready to go, as well hook removers, heavy-gauge wire snippers, fish-handling gloves and the like need to be in place before you start fishing. Every second counts when it comes to releasing a fish unharmed.

Being prepared means rigging with the right gear for Maina, as well. He uses Seaguar’s AbrazX Muskie/Pike Leaders exclusively as fluorocarbon leaders are much easier on fish than wire.

 

 

 

 

When trolling, for example, Maina uses up to six feet of 100-pound-test of the fluorocarbon leader, attached to a main line of 80-pound-test Seaguar Threadlock. Muskies tend to roll, especially in fall, and the line inevitably wraps around the fish. Steel leaders have a tendency to remove the fish’s slime coating, or worse yet, can scrape off scales and even slice into the fish’s skin, while fluorocarbon will just slide right over the its skin.

Last but not least, even weather conditions can upset the health of a muskie or pike. Releasing a fish on calm days is much is a less tense situation than when the water’s roiled.

Maina says big waves make it much harder for a muskie to get its equilibrium right than calm days, as well your boat’s rocking and it’s harder for anglers to be as agile. This means when the wind’s howling you need to have your act together and be able to release that fish faster than ever.  

 

 

 

 
Can do

Overall, releasing an Esox unharmed so that it can fight again boils down to just a few simple steps.

Make sure your boat’s in order before fishing. Once hooked, get the fish in the net and keep it there with its head submerged. Remove or cut the hook and measure and weigh the fish without touching it. If photographs are necessary, take your pictures while the fish in the water. If taking it out is a must, make it a quick, smooth procedure.   

 

 

 

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Illinois Outdoors TV Show and Outdoor News by Don Dziedzina. Fishing, Hunting, Outdoor Reports For All Illinois including Illinois River, La Salle Lake, Braidwood Lake, Heidecke Lake, Tampier Lake, Lake Michigan, Calumet River, Rend Lake, Shelbyville, Fox Chain, Illinois Forest Preserve Lakes, for catfish, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, bluegill, lake trout, salmon, kings, coho, muskies. Hunting Illinois Information reports, news TV Show for upland game, waterfowl, deer in Illinois hunting. Fishing and Hunting TV Show for Illinois, photos, tips and articles, lake and river maps for Illinois, rod covers, Great fathers day, birthday gifts and Christmas gifts from Illinois Outdoors TV Show hosted by Don Dziedzina and Don DZ.

 

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