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It is important to remember that anytime you get a muskie in the boat - treat it with care. Even more important are the big muskies. Any muskie over 30 pounds is usually 15 years of age or older. Whenever one of these great fish is mishandled or over stressed and can not recover after release - it takes years to replace that fish in our waters.

Big muskie are the hardest to handle when in the boat. Not only do they have a powerful kick, they come complete with massive teeth and slippery coats. Handling these fish requires the proper knowledge to make sure they are successfully released.

First and foremost, keep that muskie in the water as much as possible. Every second that muskie is out of the water makes it that much more difficult on it its release. If you can, practice wet releases - catching, unhooking, photo and release all without taking the muskie out of the net that is still in the water.

If you do grip the muskie, do so by gripping the fish over the back, right behind the gills. Do not squeeze it too hard and try not to use the gills or certainly not the eye sockets when holding a muskie.

Additionally, if you remove the fish from the water for measurement or a photo, try to keep the muskie as horizontal as possible. Keeping the muskie vertical puts a stress on their body that they are not accustomed to or built for.

Try not to "hug" the fish or get let it rub against you if at all possible. This causes the muskie to lose its valuable "slime" and makes it more susceptible to disease.

When you release the muskie, do not worry about swashing it back and forth in the water. Either hold it by the tail and let it breath on its own, or move it slightly forward and slowly back to create some movement through its gills.

Following are some additional basic muskie tools that can help make the job of landing your muskie easier and help to ensure proper and healthy releases.

  • Barbless hooks
  • In recent years muskie fishermen have started going toward the barbless hooks. Most muskie fishermen report no significant loss in cached. More importantly - these barbless hooks are easier to set in the muskies mouth and easier to get out of the muskie or your hand.

  • Quick catches
  • The longer we keep a fish on during the fight - the more enjoyable to catch. However, for the muskie, this can be the kiss of death. As the muskie fights longer and longer, their lactic acid levels begin to build in their muscle tissue. The longer that fight lasts, the higher the level of lactic acid. Once that level of lactic acid reaches a certain point - the fish cannot recover. The muskie will often be released healthy, however, an hour or two later - they are floating inverted on the top of the water. This is even more important on hot days or when fishing warm water lakes. The warmer the lake water - the less oxygen is available to the muskie. As muskie endure the higher lactic acid buildup after a fight - the best tool for their recovery is to get oxygen rich water flowing over their gills fast. For this reason many anglers try to keep the muskie in the net throughout the release.

  • Muskie nets and cradles
  • While cradles are good tools in theory - they often provide obstacles to overcome. The most obvious is to the lone fisherman. These cradles are reliant on having on man net the fish while the other steers it. The second obstacle is to the man handling the cradle. If that muskie gets lose inside the cradle - the man holding it may be in for a ferocious experience.

    Nets are one of the best options for landing muskie but getting the right net is important to the overall ease of unhooking and managing the muskie, and to ensure the muskie is successfully released. Deep wide nets are best, but make sure they are knotless nets and they have the proper coatings. Nets using knots or which have no coating on them are terrible for the muskies hide. They often cause split fins and can tear up the sides of fish, remove slime, and leave that muskie in bad shape at release.

  • Muskie tools
    • A good set of gloves is a handy thing to have for both the fisherman and the muskie. Many options are available but try to get a pair that is puncture resistant, flexible, and easy on the fish. There can be nothing worse then being hooked through the hand and connected to a 35 pound muskie thrashing about on the floor of the boat.
    • A good hook cutter is essential to make removing deeply or hard embedded hooks easier.
    • A tool called the hook pick is available that can extend your reach inside the muskies mouth and make extracting hooks much easier.
    • Jaw spreaders can be great when those hooks are deep and your staring down a line of razor sharp teeth.
    • Pliers with a long extension are essential when getting a deep hooks, it makes your grip that much tighter and allows for a quicker freedom for that muskie.
    • Bump boards offer a great way to quickly measure that muskie in the water or out. Make sure to get those boards wet before laying the muskie on top so as not to remove the slime.

Watch this video on proper muskie landing, handling, and release techniques

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