It takes practice and experience to learn how to properly handle musky. In todays fast paced and high-tech world the internet and social media can shorten the learning curve, but it can also be hard on the new anglers. Too many times we see on social media a new angler proudly post a picture of a fish, only for other anglers to jump all over them for the way they handle or hold that musky.
None of us were experts when we first started fishing. It took time and practice to learn how to properly handle musky. For those that are new to the sport, it can be very disheartening and discouraging to have people jump all over you, call you names and be disrespectful. It doesn’t matter if you are a seasoned tournament angler or new to the sport, fishing should be fun. It would be so much better to encourage and educate the new angler on proper handling, holds and release techniques.
Musky make up less than 1% of our freshwater fish population. To ensure future generation of trophy musky, it is imperative these magnificent beasts are released successfully. Known for their short yet intense and unpredictable battels, the musky is quite delicate and prone to stress when not handled properly. Over handling and time out of the water can be devastating along with improper holds.
The Proper Gear To Safely Handle Musky
When targeting musky, using the right equipment can lessen the stress on the fish. Being able to play a fish to the boat quickly will reduce the chances of lactic acid build up which can be deadly to a fish. Heavy action rods, 80 lb test line and steel or fluorocarbon leaders are a must. Once the musky is at the side of the boat, a big net is a valuable tool.
I prefer to net my fish and then leave the net in the water. Using the net like a live-well while removing hooks. A musky net should be wide enough so that a 50 plus inch fish has enough room to move around and deep enough so the fish and bag of the net is in the water while the handle rests on the gunnel of the boat.
You never want to start ripping and pulling on deeply embedded hooks. Do not hesitate to cut the hooks free if they don’t come out with relative easy when using needle nose pliers. I use a pair of knipex cutters which will cut 7/0 hooks with ease. Cutting hooks is quick and less stressful on a musky. Replacing hooks on your baits is inexpensive, especially considering that it takes years to grow a trophy musky.
Two Hands on Deck When Handling Musky
Once the hooks are out you probably want a picture. There are a couple things to keep in mind when removing your fish from the net and holding it. Always keep in mind that these are strong and powerful fish. A firm grip under the gill plate, avoiding the gills, will be step number one. As you bring the fish out of the net, slide your other hand under its belly to support the fish. Always use a horizontal hold. Never hold a musky verticial. Vertical holds can damage a musky in numerous ways. Vertical holds create a high risk of injury to the muscular and skeletal structure area around the head and the gills of a musky as well as ligament damage. This area is not capable of supporting the weight of the musky, especially on larger fish, it is not how to properly handle musky.
Have a Plan Before You Even Hook A Fish on How To Properly Handle Musky
I have a standard practice in my boat when landing a musky. First, when the opportunity presents itself, net the fish headfirst. I aim to get the head of the musky in the centre of the hoop. This helps to avoid getting hooks caught in the mesh of the net. Once in the net, I place the net handle into a rod holder. This allows me to work on the hook removal without having to worry about loosing my net or having someone hold it. This also keeps the bag of the net and the musky in the water.
Releasing the Musky Safely
Once the hooks are safely removed, firmly grip the gill plate avoiding the gills. Slide your other hand under the belly of the fish as you lift it from the net. Do not lift the fish out of the net and then place your hand under its belly. It is important to support the horizontal hold the whole time the fish is out of the water. If you are going to take a picture, make sure your partner is ready with the camera and start taking pictures right away. You can take lots of pictures in a few seconds. Then you want to continue to support the fish horizontally as you place it back in the water.
Once back in the water, make sure the fish your fish stays upright. Gently hold it by the tail if necessary and do not pull it back and forth. Hold the fish headfirst into the current when possible to encourage water flow through its gills. Water must pass forward through the gills for a fish to breath. When a fish is pulled backwards, it is not able to breath. After I the musky swims away, I like to stay in the area for 5-10 minutes. I usually resume fishing, but I am making sure that the musky does not resurface. Sometimes a musky will resurface and swim along the surface without diving back down. I will stay with a swimming musky on the surface to ensure it does not get hit by a passing boat or watercraft.
The Sport and The Fish
Next time you are on the water chasing musky, make sure you do your best to handle them safely and ensure a successful release. If you see someone online with holds that are not preferred, do not judge them or call them out. They may have not been educated on how to properly handle musky, simply try to educate and be positive. It will go a lot farther in the long run for both the sport and the fish.