Did You Know ??

Pre-Spawn Chomp

Originally published in the Muskies Canada Release Journal –  March April 2008

From many angler observations, it appears female muskellunge will usually feed up in April before spawning activities start in early May. This behavior is witnessed by their presence at perch, crappie and other panfish runs and aggregations during the month of April.

This anecdote is passed on by Rob Cruise, the coordinator of a Muskies Canada telemetry project on the Madawaska Reservoir in the mid 1990s.

“Late last April, one of the radio collared muskellunge, a bruising 44 inch female( nicknamed Bess), was tracked to a location near a walleye spawning site just below the up stream dam and she remained there until after May 8.

This seemed strange because there was no typical muskie spawning habitat within miles. Concurrently the Arnprior Fish and Game Club were carrying out their annual walleye spawning bed census usually at night with spotlights, visually counting walleyes using the known spawning reefs on the reservoir.

One night in very early May, they reported seeing a large muskie ( with the external tag) stationed on the middle of a spawning reef surrounded by dozens of walleye. My guess is that Bess wasn’t there to lap up fresh spawn, but more likely to chomp down an amorous walleye or two.

Shortly after May 8th, Bess gave the trackers the slip for about a week. When she was finally found again she had moved 6 miles downstream to a large shallow flat, where ironically one of the tagged males had been residing for some time.

Targeting Big Fish

By Jeff Gardner
Originally published in the Release Journal March/April 2010

Browsing across the various web forums or flipping through the pages of magazines, one might be led to conclude that trophy muskies are only accessible to those willing to pound it out in frigid, windy November and December conditions.

The fact of the matter is that the biggest fish in every body of water swim beneath the surface all year long, just like their smaller brethren.  While they won’t be at full winter weight during the summer and early fall, would anyone turn down a 30 or 40lb’er earlier in the year just because it wasn’t at peak late season weight?  What follows are my general thoughts on what it takes to target and catch the biggest fish in any particular body of water.

Pick Your Waters

If your goal is to catch a fish over 50”, you need to concentrate on bodies of water with a fishable population of them.  While the odd 50” might come out of numbers areas like the Kawartha chain of lakes, fishing there for a giant stacks what are already long odds even  more heavily against you.

There’s no secret about the bodies of water that routinely crank out trophies the eastern shores of Georgian Bay and the rivers and bays that connect to it, the North Channel, Lake Nipissing, the St. Lawrence River, the Ottawa River,Lake St. Clair, Lake of the Woods, Eagle Lake, Lac Seul,etc.

What makes these bodies of water so good?

Massive acreage, cover and structure options, forage base, and the strains of Muskies prevalent. Now, this doesn’t mean you should stop reading if you aren’t inclined to fish these waters.What will follow applies to catching the biggest fish in any system whether that’s a 40”er, 45”, a 50”, or bigger.

Right Place at the Right Time
Trophy Muskies are elusive beasts.You could be fishing the greatest piece of structure in town, but if you are there at the wrong time, you might as well be casting onto shore.  For a thorough explanation of structure favoured by Muskies on both mesotrophic and trout water, pick up a copy of Dick Pearson’s  Muskies on the Shield.  As a quick summary, you will increase your odds greatly if you focus on complexes.  Complexes are areas where multiple pieces of structure and cover intersect for example, a group of islands located in/near a neckdown, with points, saddles, reefs, cabbage beds, inside turns, current (wind or natural), bait, a feeding flat, and quick access to the safety of deeper water.

The more of these things you can put together, the more often big fish will be found.  No matter how good it looks, a lonely piece of structure might cough up a big musky only from time to time.  Complexes, on the other hand, hold fish consistently either right on them or off the edges, depending on conditions.

When it comes to the right time, particularly in summer and early fall, I am a firm believer  that big fish and smaller fish are distinctly different. The biggest fish will use the easily identifiable classic structures mostly under prime conditions. That means stable or  rising warm temps, some wind blowing, a cloudy sky, one of the majors imminent (sunrise, sunset, moonrise, moonset), and there could be a storm coming.

In these conditions you may find the biggest girl in town up on the spot-on-the-spot, and possibly even in five or fewer feet of water. For many musky hunters, fishing skinny water is a piece of cake; it’s where they spend much of their time regardless of conditions. The problem is, in less than prime conditions, this usually results either ringing the doorbell when no one is home, or only contacting the smaller fish.

So, what about cold fronts, bluebird cloudless days, and other less favorable conditions?

I  curse these days, but fish whenever I can and try to make the best of it.  Remember, they haven’t vacated the lake, and while it may be more of a challenge, they can still be caught. Based on experience, my most successful approach under tough conditions is to fish the outside edges and a cast length or two off the edge, where classic structure that forms complexes drops off quickly into deeper water.
Depending on the body of water, this could be a drop to anywhere from 5-15′ into 25-90′ of water in a matter of a few boat lengths.  In my experience, 40-60’seems to be best.

The key is that whatever the depth of water, fish your lure at the same depth the structure dropped off. If a saddle dropped off at 5′, fish your lure 5′ down. If a shelf dropped from 15′ into 50′, work your bait in the 10-15′ range.  Some will argue that under cold fronts  Muskies might be predisposed to drop vertically when they do slide off the edge. That may be the case, but a fish that negative (dropping vertically in the water column) is not likely to be persuaded by any means.

I think for the most part we’re pretty good at knowing what kinds of structure and cover  Muskies like.  The key to finding big ones lies in knowing when to fish what.
Big fish call for stout tackle.
When it comes to line, 80 or 100lb braid is the bare minimum.  It’s required to cast large lures, eliminates line breakage, and keeps the fight short, which is a must for successful and responsible release.  You should be able to put every fish – whether it is 24” or 60” – in the net in a matter of a couple of minutes at most. The epic tales of half hour battles may sound glorious, but the end result of that is a dead musky (either at the boat, or near certain post-release mortality).

Heavy and extra heavy musky rods in lengths over 8′ help hook big fish and keep them  pinned. They are also much less fatiguing than shorter rods through the course of the day, and are easier to figure eight with. I wish I’d found that out when I first started. One thing I wish more manufacturers would do is make an action slightly slower than ‘fast’ or ‘extra fast’. While stiffness and backbone are critical for hooksets, your rod must maintain bend while fighting a big fish.  Most of us know all too well that a split second of slack line  results in a tail-waving goodbye and a stream of obscenities. Rods with the right amount of bend during the fight eliminate the possibility of slack.

Stout rods will also take the fatigue out of throwing big baits all day long.

Match durable well built reels to the stout rods. The reel is going to take the brunt of abuse  from throwing big baits.  Preferences vary greatly on this, but some popular choices include Abu 7000, Shimano Trinidad, Daiwa Saltist, Abu Revo Toro, and Shimano Calcutta 400TE.

Leaders and terminal tackle:
It is up the individual what kind to use – solid wire, seven strand, fluorocarbon, etc.  Personally , I prefer solid wire in heavy gauges (140lb or more), tied in a haywire twist, in lengths of 12-18” for casting, and up to 36-48” for trolling.  I fish a lot of rocks, and after seeing a 130lb fluoro leader nicked after landing a fish a few years ago, I made the switch back to wire. These fish are not leader shy , and I believe solid wire gives me the best chance of no break off, and standing up to pounding rocks.

Whatever your choice of leader material, remember that your setup is only as strong as the weakest link.  Pairing heavy wire or fluoro with undersized rings or snaps doesn’t cut it.  Stick with 150lb-400lb terminal components. Some will contend such tackle is overkill, but the fact is that insufficient terminal tackle can result in near certain death for a fish that swims off with a lure pinned in its mouth.
There is no such thing as a magic lure. Big muskies eat everything – surface lures,crankbaits,jerkbaits,bucktails, spinnerbaits, and so on.  I pick something I believe in, that has a high hook-up ratio, and follow the guidelines below.

When it comes to Musky lures in general, I believe bigger is better; all the more so when it comes to targeting big fish.  I know , I know – lots of big incidental Muskies are taken on little walleye lures and jigs. On St. Clair it is practice all season long to catch big fish on 6” baits, etc.  But, I’ve caught so many big bass and small pike on 10” lures that when it comes to targeting four foot plus beasts, very few lures under 10” get the nod for me these days, regardless of conditions.

On speed – I spent a couple of my first years starting each day with my best one or two  lures, regardless of conditions.  This typically meant throwing a jerkbait or crankbait all day to hopefully catch one fish when I could have been throwing fast moving lures and catching multiple fish.   I ultimately stumbled across an article that suggested the best approach was to always fish the fastest that the prevailing conditions would dictate.

For example, with a warm summer storm pending, the sky clouding over , and wind starting to kick up a

Above: necessary terminal tackle – 100lb line, 140lb solid wire, and swivels, snaps, split rings and solid rings in the 200-400lb range

bit, I would highly recommend you throw something you can run back to the boat as fast as possible -inline blade baits, spinnerbaits, tail prop topwaters.  Or, if it is dead-calm bluebird skies at mid-day, think more along the lines of low and slow.

Fishing as fast as conditions warrant allows you to make contact with the maximum number of catchable big muskies on any given day.  Don’t make the mistake of  thinking big fish are fat and slow either; they are explosively fast. No matter what reel you are using or how fast you crank, I guarantee you can’t reel too fast for a big Musky (or any Musky) to catch and annihilate your lure.
To illustrate, let’s say you are a machine and you can reel 10′ per second (that is five full cranks in 1 second on a reel that picks up 24” of line per crank) – that converts to 6.8mph.
Most of us have seen fish easily cover 20′ in one second; that’s 13.6mph. You simply   cannot reel (or troll) faster than they can swim.

Big lures for big fish. A selection of baits from 10-18”, covering the water column from top to bottom. Don’t worry about going ‘too big’. Many big bass and small pike ar e caught on 10” lures, and the author has caught Muskies down to 36” on 14” lures.

We are already targeting the apex predator , and therefore lowest density fish, in the system.  When you take that a step further and target not just any musky you can catch, but the biggest one that swims, you have to accept that you are going to spend a fair bit of time not catching.  While some bodies of water carry larger numbers of big fish, by and large it is a trade-off; numbers for size.

You could go days without even seeing a fish. You could also hit conditions right, make the right choices about where to fish, and catch (or at least see) several fish over 50” in one day.

Some guys have the trophy bug so bad they will fish all year for the sake of a couple of   bites from 50+”ers.  Some guys are happy to land a 30”something on most of their trips.

Some like to mix it up between the two. Just make sure you know what you’re getting into with targeting the big ones, because that first rod buckling behemoth might change you forever.

Spend some time before the season thinking what camp you want to fall into this year and gear up accordingly.

John Anderson Talks Ottawa River Muskie

Paul Shibata talks with Ottawa River muskie guide John Anderson about the 2015 season, keys to success and how new gear helps make you a better angler.

We’re still a couple of months away from getting on the water, but listen in and get your self ready (like you haven’t been ready since the day after the season closed last year …..)

This was originally aired on Renegade Bass Radio in October 2015.

Distribution and Management of Muskellunge in North America: An Overview

Kerr, S. J. 2011. Distribution and management of muskellunge in North America: An overview. Fisheries Policy Section, Biodiversity Branch. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Peterborough, Ontario. 22 p. + appendices.

Click here to view summaries from all archived OMNR publications.

This report has been prepared to document current muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) distribution in North America as well as summarize and compare management approaches used in various jurisdictions.
This is not the first survey, regarding muskellunge management activities in North America, to be conducted. A similar agency questionnaire was carried out by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in 1985 (Ragan et al. 1986). The Esocid Technical Committee, Northcentral Division, American Fisheries Society, compiled information on esocid research and management in 1992 (ETC 1992), esocid angling regulations in 1995 (ETC 1997a), and esocid stocking in 1996 (ETC 1997b). I am also aware of a mail survey conducted in 1981 (Miller 1983) but was unable to obtain results from that undertaking.
Information contained in this report was derived from a number of sources including a survey of state/provincial staff (conducted during the fall of 2010), an internet search of muskellunge regulations in various jurisdictions, and a review of published literature. Completed surveys were received from 59 individuals (see Appendix 1) representing 56 different North American jurisdictions. In most instances, a single response was received from an individual jurisdiction. In other cases, several responses were received and combined to form a provincial or state response. Survey responses were not received from Alabama, Delaware, Idaho, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and South Carolina. Much of the outstanding information (e.g., number of muskellunge waters, numbers of fish stocked, etc.) for non-responding jurisdictions was obtained from agency websites.

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Distribution and Management of Muskellunge in North America: An Overview_2011

Trophy-Sized Muskellunge Angled from Ontario Waters, 1917-2010

Kerr, S. J., A. Kirkpatrick, and T. J. Haxton. 2011. Characteristics of Trophy-Sized Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) Angled from Ontario Waters, 1917-2010. Fisheries Policy Section, Biodiversity Branch. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Peterborough, Ontario. 7 p. + appendices.

Click here to view summaries from all archived OMNR publications.

Executive Summary
An effort was made to compile a listing of trophy-sized muskellunge which have been angled from Ontario waters. A trophy-sized muskellunge in this study was defined as a fish exceeding 114 cm (45 inches) in length or 10.0 kg (22 pounds) in weight. Information was obtained for a total of 9,708 muskellunge which were angled in Ontario between 1917 and 2010. The majority of records originated from volunteer angler diaries maintained by members of Muskies Inc. and Muskies Canada Inc. Most trophy-sized muskellunge were angled early in the season and numbers decreased as the season progressed. The geographic distribution of trophy-sized muskellunge was spread well over their Ontario range. There was a significant positive trend in the maximum size of muskellunge reported annually. There was also a significant increase in the maximum size of muskellunge reported after the changes to minimum size limit regulations in 2001.
An increase in the catch-and-release angling ethic in conjunction with the implementation of new minimum size limit regulations is believed to be responsible for the increased number of trophy-sized muskellunge being angled in Ontario. Based on the number of Ontario waters producing trophy-sized muskellunge and the increasing number of trophy-sized fish being reported annually, Ontario’s muskellunge management strategy appears to be achieving the objective of providing a diversity of trophy angling opportunities.


Des efforts ont été faits en vue de créer une liste des maskinongés-trophées pêchés à la ligne en eau ontarienne. Dans cette étude, pour être considéré comme un trophée, la longueur d’un maskinongé doit dépasser 114 cm (45 pouces) et son poids dépasser les 10 kg (22 livres). Des renseignements ont été obtenus concernant 9 708 maskinongés au total pêchés en eau ontarienne entre 1917 et 2010. La majorité des données provient des registres de pêcheurs bénévoles membres de Muskies Inc. et Muskies Canada Inc. La plupart des maskinongés-trophées ont été pêchés à la ligne tôt en saison et les nombres décroissaient progressivement pendant la saison. Les maskinongés-trophées se répartissent bien sur l’aire géographique ontarienne occupée par l’espèce. Les rapports annuels concernant la taille maximum des maskinongés révèlent une tendance positive marquée. Il y a aussi eu un accroissement substantiel de la taille maximum des maskinongés rapportée après les changements aux règlements de 2001 concernant les tailles limites.
On croit que l’accroissement du nombre de maskinongés-trophées pêchés à la ligne en eau ontarienne est attribuable à des facteurs conjugués, soit l’augmentation de la popularité du principe éthique de remise des prises à l’eau conjuguée et la mise en oeuvre de nouveaux règlements concernant les limites de taille. En se basant sur le nombre de plans d’eau ontariens produisant des maskinongés-trophées et le nombre croissant de maskinongés-trophées rapporté annuellement, la stratégie de gestion du maskinongé de l’Ontario semble répondre à l’objectif de procurer une gamme de possibilités de pêche à la ligne de poissons-trophées.

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OMNR_Characteristics of Trophy-Sized Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) Angled from Ontario Waters, 1917-2010

Muskellunge of the Ottawa River

Kerr, S. J. 2010. Muskellunge of the Ottawa River. Biodiversity Branch. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Peterborough, Ontario. 21 p. + appendices

Click here to view summaries from all archived OMNR publications.

Ecology of Ottawa River Muskellunge
Muskellunge Habitat
Generally, the habitat preferences of muskellunge may be described as heavily
vegetated lakes; stumpy, weedy bays; and slow-flowing river systems (see Appendix 1). They have the ability to withstand water temperatures as high as 32º C as well as low dissolved oxygen levels. Larger muskellunge may also be found in deeper, less vegetated waters.
There is considerable evidence to demonstrate reproductive homing in muskellunge (Crossman 1990, LaPan et al. 1996). Muskellunge spawning habitat generally occurs in shallow (38 – 51 cm deep), vegetated flooded areas at water temperatures between 10-15ºC (Scott and Crossman 1973, Cook and Solomon 1987, Zorn et al. 1998). Construction of the Carillon dam in 1964 flooded large areas of low lying land mostly on the Québec side of the lower Ottawa River. This resulted in the creation of spawning and nursery habitat for a number of fish species including muskellunge.

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OMNR_Muskellunge of the Ottawa River_2010

Guidelines for Competitive Fishing Events for Muskellunge in Ontario

August 2007. Guidelines for Competitive Fishing Events for Muskellunge in Ontario. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Peterborough, Ontario.

Click here to view summaries from all archived OMNR publications.

Competitive fishing is a growing industry in Ontario (Kerr and Kamke 2003, Kerr 2004). Bass (Micropterus spp.) are the most commonly targeted species at these events. Although competitive fishing events for muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) have been relatively uncommon to date, there apparently is increasing interest in organizing these events on some of Ontario’s trophy muskellunge waters. There are already several large muskellunge tournaments in adjacent U.S. jurisdictions.
Muskellunge are subject to physiological stress associated with capture and handling (Miles et al. 1974, Beggs et al. 1980). With the unique nature of wild muskellunge stocks in Ontario, their vulnerability as a low density predator, and a strong desire to protect the fishery, there was the need to develop best management practices for tournaments specifically directed toward muskellunge.
While it is believed that large prize tournaments for muskellunge should be strongly discouraged due to the unique characteristics of the species (low density populations and high susceptibility to post-release mortality), the following guidelines have been developed for tournament organizers who may still choose to hold a muskellunge tournament in Ontario. These guidelines endorse a varying or “tiered” approach for different events depending upon the magnitude of the event, characteristics of the muskellunge population in that water body, and the minimum size limits which are in place. It is proposed that a more cautious approach be taken in those events being held in low population density, less sustainable fisheries (e.g., trophy waters) and where fish are being retained for longer periods of time in order to verify size for entry into the event. Appendix 1 provides an outline of the Tiered Approach to Tournament Guidelines.
Guidelines on good catch-and-release practices for one species may not be appropriate for other species (Tufts 1999, Cooke and Suski 2004). These guidelines are not intended to apply to tournaments involving other fish species although there may be some practical application of these practices to other fisheries.
Key Principles
There are a number of key principles which form the foundation of these guidelines.
1. Competitive fishing is recognized as a legitimate activity in Ontario with many
social and economic benefits.
2. At catch-and-release events every effort should be made to ensure fish
experience minimal stress in order to maximize post-release survival. Catchand-
kill events for muskellunge should be discouraged.
3. Competitive fishing events should not threaten sustainability of the resource.
4. Competitive fishing events must comply with the Ontario Fishery Regulations and
the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act.
5. Safety sho

Catch and Release Angling: A Review with Guidelines for Proper Fish Handling Practices

Casselman, S. J. 2005. Catch-and-release angling: a review with guidelines for proper fish handling practices. Fish & Wildlife Branch. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Peterborough, Ontario. 26 p.

Click here to view summaries from all archived OMNR publications.

 Executive Summary

The use of catch-and-release practices by anglers is increasing. This increase is a result of both anglers viewing the process as a conservation technique and also because catch-and-release practices are being mandated by fisheries managers. Despite the widespread use of catch-and-release, there is generally a lack of understanding regarding the mortality caused by the practice and how variation in catch-and-release techniques may affect the level of mortality.
Fortunately, the increase in catch-and-release practice by anglers has coincided with an increase in research examining catch-and-release practices. While most of the studies to date have been species specific, there are general recommendations that can be made based on the available information.
While catch-and-release is physiologically stressful, stress and therefore mortality can be minimized by following some general catch-and-release guidelines. Gear should be appropriate for the species being angled, allowing for quick retrieval. The use of barbless hooks and circle hooks should be considered to reduce the amount of time required to release fish. Air exposure should be minimized and fish should be released quickly. Depth of capture, hooking location and bleeding should be taken into account when deciding on whether or not to release a fish.
When performed correctly, catch-and-release can be successful with minimal harm to the fish and should be encouraged. However, due to the variation among species in response to catch-and-release techniques, it is recommended that further research is needed to create species-specific guidelines.


Les pêcheurs pratiquent de plus en plus la prise et remise à l’eau du poisson vivant. Cette augmentation a deux raisons : les pêcheurs considèrent que la technique va dans le sens de la conservation et les gestionnaires des pêches la prescrivent. Malgré le recours très fréquent à la prise et remise à l’eau, il existe en règle générale un manque de compréhension concernant la mortalité qu’elle engendre et l’incidence que peut avoir la variété des techniques sur le taux de mortalité.
Heureusement, l’élargissement de cette pratique par les pêcheurs a coïncidé avec des recherches poussées dans ce sens. Quoique la majorité des études à ce jour aient porté sur des espèces particulières, il est possible de faire des recommandations d’ordre général en fonction des renseignements disponibles.
Bien que la pêche avec remise à l’eau soit psychologiquement stressante, ce stress et par conséquent la mortalité peuvent être minimisés si on respecte certaines directives générales. Les pêcheurs doivent posséder du matériel de pêche approprié à l’espèce pêchée, permettant ainsi une capture rapide. L’usage d’hameçons sans barbe et d’hameçons circulaires devrait être envisagé afin de réduire le temps de remise à l’eau requis. Le poisson devrait passer un minimum de temps hors de l’eau et être relâché rapidement. Il doit être tenu compte de la profondeur de capture, de l’emplacement de l’hameçon et de la quantité de sang perdu avant de décider si un poisson doit être remis à l’eau on non.
Le poisson sera blessé le moins possible si l’opération de prise et remise à l’eau est effectuée correctement. Cette pratique dans ce cas devrait être encouragée. Toutefois, en raison des différences existant entre les espèces relativement aux techniques de prise et remise à l’eau, on recommande la poursuite des recherches afin d’élaborer des directives particulières aux espèces.

Read/download the full report by clicking the link below (PDF – 323 KB)

OMNR – Catch and Release Angling: A Review with Guidelines for Proper Fish Handling Practices_2005