By Andrew Slette
With water temperatures now in the low 80s, I have had to reschedule all my fishing trips until early August to avoid harm or even possibly killing the fish that we catch. You can still go fishing when the weather and water temps are this warm, but there should be a few precautions that should be taken to minimize harm.
You can start by leaving the net at home. This will help with making the release of the fish less stressful. The net rubs on the fish when it is thrashing around causing its slime to be rubbed off. The fish feels tacky afterward and I have noticed that those fish have been hard to release. Bass fisherman have not been using nets for years and in most bass tournaments, they aren’t allowed to use nets, for the very same reason, as it causes harm to the fish. Do not get me wrong, I still use a net for much of the muskie season and getting a hold of a muskie in the water is a whole different story than a largemouth bass, but it is still doable.
A second precaution that can be taken is by playing the fish out in the water longer until you are able to grab it. A smaller Muskie can be grabbed by the tail and a bigger one can be grabbed by the gill plate. Remove your bait, take a picture, and then release the fish without ever taking the muskie out of the water. This is the best way to handle fish in the summer with high water temperatures. Leaving the fish in the water avoids a lot of stress and harm for these amazing creatures. You may not get that fish picture you were wanting, but it is better than leaving the lake knowing that fish you just caught is floating belly up. Better safe than sorry, so allow the chance to catch that fish again and getting that perfect picture another time.
The last thing you can do to help is keep all your releasing tools close by, so when the time comes the muskie is released as quickly as possible. The best tools to assist with a fast release are a needle nose pliers, knipex hook cutters and a release glove. These three things are the essentials for a speedy release and to help keep that fish in the water. One thing is to never be afraid to cut the hooks on a fish if it is the easiest way to get the bait out. My boat cuts several hooks over the course of the year. I typically will cut hooks if they are caught in a bad location such as in a gill, close to an eye or even if the hooks are buried so deep you can’t seem to get ahold of them.
The one question I get asked is if it harms the fish? I have caught the same exact fish I cut hooks on a month later, with no sign of that fish ever being caught and the hooks being cut. I would probably have wanted to remove the entire hook but sometimes cutting is the best option to take. Following these steps will help preserve the fish’s life allowing them to be around for another season.
The water temps should be back to safe levels here shortly. The days have already begun getting shorter and the nights getting longer, allowing the water temperatures to cool.
Andrew Slette is a Dakota Edge Outdoors contributing writer, a muskie guide in west-central Minnesota and a previous catch-and-release record holder for the species in that state.
Featured Photo: While it may not have the glory of a hero picture, snapping photos at boatside of muskies will limit their out-of-water exposure and having tools to facilitate a netless release will reduce stress on the fish during hot times of the year. DEO Photo by Andrew Slette.