My first tiger muskie trip
You need the right gear to catch Utah's most coveted sportfish.
A FEW WEEKS ago, I convinced a coworker (who has a reputation as a top-notch tiger muskie fisherman) to show me and my friend, Melissa, how to catch Utah’s most coveted sportfish.
We headed out super-early to Newton Reservoir in Cache Valley (north and east of Logan) and fished all day. (And by all day, I mean hours upon hours of casting — so much that I was worried about future use of my thumb!) It was work, but it was fun work.
Kent “Sorno” Sorenson, my expert-angler colleague, said that he generally finds fishing to be therapeutic. (Minus, of course, the time he spent freeing our lines from bird nests and brush.) His advice to having a good day on the water is to only share your boat with people you enjoy being around. We definitely had a good time! You can see proof in this short video of our tiger muskie adventure. For the record, my muskie was a feisty 33 inches long.
If you want to fish for tiger muskie, I suggest befriending someone (like Sorno) who knows what they are doing and who is already geared up. Maintain a good attitude and take lots of sunscreen — if you end up liking this game, you’ll spend many hours on the water.
Thanks for an awesome day, Sorno, and for sharing your passion, knowledge, gear and sunscreen!
More tips from Sorno
I asked Sorno for a list of equipment, lures and tips for first-time tiger-muskie anglers, and here are his suggestions:
Equipment you’ll need
Dabbling in the sport of tiger muskie fishing doesn’t exist — you are either in or you’re out. You have to be prepared both physically and technically to handle these fish safely. You can expect to work a bit harder for them, but the rewards are worth it.
The equipment required to safely catch and release these fish is specialized, which can be financially and technically challenging. Unlike angling for other fish, where the gear can be used for more than one species, many of the items I consider essential for muskies are single-purpose items.
A great place to start is with capture-and-release tools. (Don’t get in the game if you are not prepared to handle a large fish with teeth.) An over-sized, coated, knotless net will help ensure the safety of both the angler and the fish.
You’ll also need an assortment of tools to extract hooks. I would start with, at a minimum, a good pair of long needle-nosed pliers, a jaw spreader and a small bolt cutter (for cutting hooks).
For rods, reels and terminal tackle, here’s where I will step on a soapbox for a bit: There’s a huge difference in gear that is able to catch a muskie and gear that is appropriate for safely catching and releasing a muskie.
I use fairly long, heavy action rods capable of throwing baits up to eight ounces. (I rarely use baits that big, but the rods are capable of it.) And I use lines in the 50–80 lb. category.
I use bait-casting reels and spool them with 80 lb. no-stretch braided line. Yes, 80 lb. does seem like overkill, but with braid having such a strength-to-diameter advantage, I need the diameter more than the breaking strength to keep the line from digging into itself on the spool. (The strength of the line is probably irrelevant past about 40 lb.)
Good-quality steel wire leaders are a great place to start when you want to keep a hooked fish attached to your line. These fish have teeth designed to pierce and hold their prey so they can swallow it whole. Their teeth also happen to cut most lines very easily — even heavy lines. Personally, I currently use 100 lb. fluorocarbon for leaders, but I’m strongly considering moving back to wire.
Lures to use
There are literally more lures than most people can imagine, so I’ll break them into some of the more common categories. There are many others, but these will basically cover the common applications.
- Spoons and spinners (including spinnerbaits) — Extremely common and very effective, spoons are now generally overlooked. Spinners (in-line) have probably accounted for more muskies than all other lures (think Mepps, Blue Fox, etc.). Spinnerbaits are good choices always, but particularly shine in weedy conditions.
- Crankbaits — Very common and effective, these are available locally. Rapala seems to lead the popularity contest with some of their larger offerings. (Super Shad Rap and J-13 are personal favorites.) Some will need to have the hooks and split rings changed to match the strength of your tackle.
- Jerkbaits — These are more specialized, but still very effective. Side-to-side glide baits and dive-and-rise jerkbaits seem to elicit responses in muskies most of the time.
- Swimbaits — These are baits one just casts and reels. (They look like fake fish for the most part.) Additional action is imparted by rod twitches or reeling speed changes.
- Topwater — These are a traditional favorite for muskies. Personally, I can’t get confidence in them, but they work well for some.
Where to look
Tiger muskies are predators that stick close to food sources. Think of the perimeter areas where you might find perch or crappies, for example. Some of my favorite areas are shallow shelves or points that have access to deeper water and some attractive feature like weeds and rock.
Tiger muskies thrive in temperatures below 80° F. At warmer temperatures, they can easily become stressed, and a successful release is less likely. Casting and trolling are both effective means to catch these fish.