Research sheds light on muskie catchability

by Jeff Helsdon | May 29, 2023
baby muskie measurements

A University of Illinois study published in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management provides insight into why muskie are so hard to catch.

Professor Cory Suski and graduate student John Bieber’s study, called “Capture is predicted by behaviour and size, not metabolism, in Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy)”, set out to find out why muskellunge are called the fish of 10,000 casts.

Muskie behaviour

They started with 68 young fish in a laboratory tank and evaluated the fish for traits like aggressiveness, activity levels, boldness, and how exploratory the fish were.

All fish were then transferred to a pond and the researchers went fishing. They fished the pond for an entire month, trying various baits and times of day. Only seven fish were caught, most in the first few days.

The fish caught were the larger, less aggressive, and less exploratory ones.

“They’re very tough sit-and-wait predators, which means they’ll just camp out under a log or at the bottom of the river until something comes right by,” Bieber said in a press release. “Then they’ll burst out to take the prey. More exploratory muskies won’t strike because they are roaming around the lake trying to find shelter or get more comfortable.

“If you’re an angler going around the lake, just casting randomly won’t necessarily mean you’ll catch a muskie. You have to get your lure perfectly in the face of a muskie of the appropriate behaviour type, likely that is sedentary and poised to attack, to be able to initiate a strike.”

Catch and release important

Since fish behaviour can be passed on, the researchers said catch and release is important in order to pass on the traits which allow anglers to catch fish.

“Our results clearly show capturing muskies is not random. There are behavioral traits that predispose these fish to capture. We need to use best practices to try and protect those traits and keep those individuals around so we can keep fishing long term,” Suski said.

“Catch and release is key,” he added. “And then there are best practices like handling fish quickly and releasing them in a way that minimizes impact on the fish; keeping an eye on water temperature and those kinds of things.”

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