CHAUTAUQUA LAKE – A group of concerned anglers are worried about how people handle muskellunge once they catch them and say improper handling is a danger to the fish and the sport.
With that in mind, New York State Muskies Inc., is in the first phase of a five-year project to educate anglers on the best methods to protect and handle the fierce freshwater predator.
Clint Nicholson, NYSMI President, spoke with WNYNewsNow about the project.
“We noticed anglers were going out fishing before the season starts or after the season ended, keeping fish that weren’t proper length,” Nicholson said. “So we wanted to protect the fisheries a little better so we created these signs to try to inform anglers of season lengths, size limits and proper holding techniques. It was a little tough to get all that info on a smaller sign like that.”
The group is posting educational signs on lakes all across the state to help anglers learn the seasons, bag limits, and most importantly, how to safely catch, handle and release muskies, Nicholson said.
“The hold technique is crucial for their survival rate. Once you catch the fish, it’s important to hold it horizontally and not vertically so that way when you put it back in the water it swims away and the next guy can catch it,” he explained. “It’s important to see these fish grow larger. It’s a trophy fishery for the Muskies. You can catch a world record fish in New York State for muskies.”
The anglers are responding to years of seeing fish mishandled.
“We noticed over the years a lot of floating muskies, smaller floating muskies from guys who are catching them on smaller baits maybe not properly holding them, maybe water temperature were too high,” Nicholson said. “We want to protect these fish as much as possible, we want to see then grow so we can catch them over the years as they get bigger, bigger, bigger. They’re just incredible creatures. They’re the ultimate predators for New York State, that’s for sure.”
Anglers who give chase to muskies will tell you they are a special fish.
“The other thing that makes these fish special is you can take a pike out of water, take a picture of it, put it back in the water and it swims away perfectly fine, like a bass or anything like that, well these fish they don’t stay out of water very long without suffocating themselves,” Nicholson said. “When you catch them, they fight all the way to the boat side and when they see the net come out they go even crazier. So by the time they get there, a good analogy is running a 2-mile race as fast as you can and then at the end of it someone holds your head under water. That would be the equivalent of the fish fighting all the way to the boat and your holding it out of the water to take a picture of it or measure it.”
Nicholson said education is the key and if the word is spread far enough, the impact on the state’s Lunge fishery will be positive.
He advised new muskie anglers to “use your judgement.”
“Use bigger hooks, have a bigger net ready, have your pliers and hook cutters ready. Make sure you have pliers to take the hooks out because they have big teeth. Use your judgement on high water temperatures. If it is above 70-75 closer to 80 degrees surface temps, it’s probably not a good idea to fish the Muskies because that’s going to make it even worse for them when they’re fighting all the way to the boat and to get a good release on them.”
Most important for a healthy release is how the fish is handled during its capture and release, he said.
“The proper holding, that’s a real big thing. We see a lot of pictures from our muskie lakes where they’re holding it (the fish) vertically. That’s putting a lot of pressure on them and not supporting their neck, you can break their neck,” he said. “And try not to hold it out of water too long, get a quick pic and put it back in the water and try to get a good release.”
On Chautauqua Lake, signs were posted at all seven major launches and other locations where anglers assemble. He said the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has been “awesome” in allowing the posting for the signs and that a set of pamphlets may be in the works to further spread the word.