Washington's Tiger Muskies

by Don W., September 16, 2003

Tiger muskies are a hybrid of muskellunge and northern pike. They are large fish that can grow to over 4-feet in length and 30+ lbs. The game dep't stocks them to control squawfish and carp, and provide an exciting sport fishery. Tiger muskies are sterile and can't reproduce. Lakes can only support a very limited number (less than 1 adult fish per surface acre), so all tiger muskies should be released.

Mike's 30 pound Lake Tapps Muskie

Tiger muskies are extremely difficult to catch. They are the pinnacle of freshwater sportfishing, and catching them consistently is a great challenge. Muskie anglers are specialists in this species. Being successful requires becoming proficient in tactics, learning the lakes you are fishing, and spending a lot of time on the water. One fish for every 40 hours spent fishing is a good success rate. This sport requires dedication, and is physically demanding.

Tiger muskies like warm shallow water. In lakes lacking structure, they live in weeds. If a lake has underwater stumps and logs along its shorelines, those are also good areas. They also relate to docks, cribs, rock piles, and underwater points and humps where this structure is available, but most of Washington's tiger muskie lakes lack structure, so you will mostly fish weeds and wood.

Tiger muskies have three moods: Inactive, neutral, and active. The inactive fish are all but impossible to catch. A tiger muskie fisherman tries to locate active fish ready to feed, but these fish feed infrequently and are inactive or neutral most of the time, so he also will devote effort to locating neutral fish, then try to trigger them with an enticing lure presentation.

Tiger muskies are most catchable during the summer months. After mid-October, they scatter into deep water and become dormant, and are nearly impossible to locate or catch during winter.

Warm cloudy days are the best time to fish for tiger muskies. I prefer to fish at mid-week when boat traffic and fishing pressure are less. Early morning and evening are key periods, but it is worthwhile to fish throughout the day if the skies are even partly cloudy. Bright clear skies are not in your favor, and if a cold front has gone through within the last couple days you may be wasting your time. But tiger muskies follow no rules, and sometimes are caught when conditions seem least favorable.

Tiger muskies strike lures because they're hungry. They want a meal requiring little effort to catch. For this reason, you should use an erratic retrieve so your lure imitates an injured, weak, or confused baitfish. They are primarily sight feeders, so it's important they can see your lure. Tiger muskies are attracted by flash, vibration, and motion. Whether they are finicky about color varies by lake. Use natural colors in clear water, and bright colors in muddy or stained water. Black is good in low light conditions. Most of Washington's tiger muskie lakes have very clear water.

Bucktails should be retrieved quickly in a straight line. Don't let it stop during the retrieve, or the fish will instantly lose interest. Tiger muskies often follow the lure to the boat. Wear polarized glasses to spot followers and always figure-8 the lure alongside the boat, which may trigger the fish into striking. If this tactic fails, leave the area and come back a few hours later to work that fish again with a different lure.

Tiger muskie fishermen also use crankbaits, jerkbaits, pull baits, gliders, and jigs. Work these lures with a jerking or snapping motion to create the erratic baitfish action mentioned above. These lures also should be figure-8'd at the boat, even if you don't see a fish. You don't always see the followers.

Although fishing with topwater lures is popular in the midwest, they don't seem to work on Washington lakes. Night fishing doesn't work, either. Our tiger muskies feed only during daylight hours, and shut down after dark.

Washington prohibits live bait, but you may be allowed to use dead fish as bait (check regulations for the lake you are fishing), and this may be worth a try when artificials aren't producing. Catch a squawfish on a crawler rig, and fillet one side (discarding the meat). The reason for filleting it is to give it better action and more scent in the water. Rig it on a two-hook herring rig, or a muskie quick-set sucker rig, and cast it like a lure, with a swimming-like retrieve. This tactic may draw an inquiry from a wary customer who has seen too many bucktails and plugs to buy the standard fare.

I use a salmon net to land tiger muskies. Handling tiger muskies is dangerous because of their teeth and razor-sharp gill rakers. Don't leave lures laying around the boat unless you want to pull hooks out of your legs, because a landed tiger muskie typically thrashes in the boat and is very capable of creating havoc with any loose equipment. You will need pliers to get the hooks out of the fish, and out of yourself if you failed to heed the above warning.

Release tiger muskies by gently placing the fish in the water upright and holding it by the tail until it swims away. This may take a few minutes. It's very important to get the fish back in the water as quickly as possible. When tiger muskies are competently handled and promptly released, their survival rate is very good, and you can come back to catch that fish again.

Frank Harwood with a real beauty!

For more detailed information about fishing for tiger muskies in Washington State, e-mail me at dwitt546@aol.com. -- Don W.


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