Landing & Release of Muskies

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Pete Maina discusses the importance of proper
Catch & Release practices for Big Muskies.

There are still folks out there, who it appears... will never learn... but the value and effectiveness of catch and release angling is continually becoming more evident and accepted as a valuable tool in maintaining or improving the quality of fishing. Whether it be voluntary, or mandatory via regulation, seemingly endless examples of rebounding fisheries with respect to a variety of species are available.

In the northern zone, musky fishers were the first to really practice release in force. And this was in part due to necessity, since fish at the top of the food chain are present in the lowest densities; evidence of over-harvest shows up quickly, while rebounding generally requires far more time than the damage period. Catch and release fishing with selective harvest is necessary for all species though, especially if any "quality" (larger fish) is to be maintained. Simply put, larger, adult fish need to be protected.

So catch and release is good... and necessary. Taking things a step further though, there’s the issue of whether or not release is actually effective all the time. Simply putting a fish back in the water... sometime following its capture, doesn’t assure survival. It’s a simple conclusion: if the fish doesn’t live, nothing is gained. Knowledge and execution of proper release practices is vital.

First realize the major handling factors that contribute to unintentional mortality: deep hooking or hooks in vital areas (stomach, throat, gills or eyes), slime removal, time out of water and stress. Stress is the final factor mentioned, and while the previously mentioned issues all contribute to it in some form, minimizing stress is ultimately the most important. The "fight time" is a huge contributing factor in stress; one that few fishers consider in the big picture. If release is the intention, it is of tremendous importance to minimize the period of time between strike and release.

Too many folks still like to have "fun" with the fish they are fighting, allowing it to flounder around far longer than is necessary to land and release it. It is also common for folks to use tackle that is basically too light to handle the target species, resulting in extended battles.

Switching topics here for a second, many folks go out angling without the necessary tools to properly handle releasing (a mere pittance in comparison to the price tag total on the other gear they tote). These tools are absolutely necessary to properly release large esocids (musky/pike): long-nose pliers and heavy-duty hook cutters are a must; not absolutely necessary but advisable are: spares of the aforementioned two, a "hookout" tool, a landing device, split-ring pliers and spare pre-sharpened hooks.

Pliers should be used when hooks are easily removable and not located in any vital area. When hooks are near vitals or deeply embedded (requiring time and possibly ripping/deforming),

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