How to Hold a Musky (and other info)

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Toothy, not tasty (muskies)

Interesting article about Muskie preservation.

By DAVE WOLF

Muskies are an elusive fish. While pike seem to be angry and aggressive, so much so that when they miss a lure or are even “stung” by a hook, they often hit the same lure with a vengeance.
Pickerel, being the smaller of the triple toothy critters, can be found in some of the ugliest and least expected waters found.

In the past, anglers wishing to catch good numbers of pike headed to Canada. Ontario and Quebec where arguably the pike fishing providences of the world.

However, because of their insatiable appetite and liberal limits imposed on pike, the traveling anglers, it’s assumed, soon took their toll on the species. The reason for such an assumption is because the locals frowned on pike, calling them “water wolves,” a fish that was accused of eating the preferred walleye and members of the panfish family that were more pleasing to the palate.

Anglers once had to simply cross the border, drive an hour or so north and find pike in good numbers. Today, however, anglers are not only driving but flying deeper into the wilderness to find a fish that will weigh 20 pounds or more.

Small northern pike, often referred to as “hammer handles,” simply do not fight as well as their larger brothers, nor do many of the northerns who seek deep water when the summer’s heat comes bearing down.

My best adventures for pike north of the border have taken place a week after ice-out — usually sometime in late May. It was then that both walleye and northerns could be found in shallow water, and it was rare to catch a walleye without a northern shadowing it to the boat.

Perhaps, the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission has paid close attention to the happenings up north and with the knowledge that any one of the three toothy fish aren’t all that good eating but sure can test the limits of your tackle.

Maybe the PFBC has realized that big fish are often something anglers seek, and if not to be hung on the wall, are something anglers may be willing to release. Currently they are quizzing anglers to see if they’re willing to release more fish in order to catch bigger fish.

The commission claims that muskies are among the largest of all freshwater fish.

“In Pennsylvania, muskellunge can exceed 50 inches and pounds,” according to a recent commission news release.

The state record muskie is the longest standing state record, one that avid muskie anglers believe can be broken even though the mammoth fish was taken from Conneaut Lake, Crawford County, in 1924. The fish taken by Lewis Walker Jr. of Meadville weighed an amazing 54 pounds, 3 ounces.

The state record taken by Karl Stoltz of Bradford tipped the scales at 35 pounds when taken in 2003 from the Allegheny Reservoir in McKean County. A 35-pound northern is considered a huge northern no matter where it is taken.

Although they’re a scrappy little fish in comparison, the pickerel has found its way into the big three on the Fish & Boat Commission’s list. The current state record taken by Dave Wilson of Honesdale was netted from Long Pond in Wayne County, weighing 8 pounds and 14.8 ounces.

According to the FBC’s book entitled Pennsylvania Fishes, “Chain pickerel are the most abundant and widely distributed member of Pennsylvania’s pike family. They are also the most often caught, biting the angler’s bait or lure readily.

“The chain pickerel’s original range was Atlantic and Gulf Coast tributaries, but the fish has been introduced elsewhere. In Pennsylvania, chain pickerel are restricted to the Delaware, Susquehanna and Potomac River watersheds. They are most common in the glaciated Pocono northeast.”

Obviously there is a big size potential between the pickerel, northern and muskie, but the commission would like to lump pickerel and northerns into the same set of regulations, perhaps thinking there may be an identity problem for anglers.

Changes are proposed for northern pike and pickerel. The commission is seeking comments on opening the season for both on a year-round basis, with a daily creel limit of four fish 18 inches or larger.

According to the commission, it’s in the midst of refining its management of muskellunge to create more opportunities to catch large fish. As part of that effort, the commission has proposed a year-round musky fishing season with a one-fish, 36-inch minimum size limit for inland waters.

The commission is also considering the creation of a special regulations program aimed at maximizing musky fishing at select waters. Waters designated into the proposed Musky Enhancement Program would have a year-round musky season, with a one-fish daily creel limit and 45-inch minimum size limit.

Examples of waters to which the program may be applied include Lake Arthur (Butler County), Rose Valley Lake (Lycoming County), Cowanesque Reservoir (Tioga County), Marsh Creek Lake (Chester County), Susquehanna River (Fabridam to 1.3 miles downstream) and Loyalhanna Lake (Westmoreland County).

Additionally, the commission is soliciting angler input on an alternative approach: eschewing a special regulation program and setting the statewide limit for muskellunge and muskellunge hybrids at 40 inches for all inland waters.

According to the release, the changes, if adopted later this year, will not go into effect until 2007. It should be an interesting comment period if anglers indeed offer their opinions, something they seldom do until after the “dealing’s done.”

I’ve been fortunate enough to capture all three, although none came close to becoming the next state record. They all fight well when taken in shallow waters, especially during the fall, spring and winter, and although I did taste northern pike prepared by top-notch Canadian cooks, I dare say they weren’t my idea of good eating.

All three of these bigger fish eat little fish, and for years I’ve heard complaints about the stocking of these fish in waters that contain “preferred species.” Of course, considering that most traveling to Canada in the past found a plentiful supply of both walleye, smallmouth and panfish in the same lakes or rivers where muskie and pike were found in abundance may be a counter-point.

Credit is due to the commission for an extended comment period, allowing time for anglers to chew on the proposals.

Wolf may be reached by e-mail at wolfang418@msn. com.

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