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Learning lessons from landing tiger musky: Tom Shank's Woods & Waters

Posted 5/22/19

“Got one,” came from the front of the boat.

As I looked over, I could see my cousin, Don Manning, with a bent rod. He was in the typical fighting fish stance — upright with the …

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Learning lessons from landing tiger musky: Tom Shank's Woods & Waters

Don Manning holds up his prize, which was quickly and safely returned to the water. The tiger muskellunge measured about 44 inches.
Don Manning holds up his prize, which was quickly and safely returned to the water. The tiger muskellunge measured about 44 inches.
photo courtesy of tom shank
Posted

“Got one,” came from the front of the boat.

As I looked over, I could see my cousin, Don Manning, with a bent rod. He was in the typical fighting fish stance — upright with the rod held high, allowing the fish do its thing without being forced.

Leaving a fish fight is important to allow it to tire. Just leave the rod to do its job, with no unnecessary reeling. I was told many times by veteran fishermen that you must “play the fish.” Don’t force them. In their words, “don’t horse ’em.”

Don was doing what we have done many times. In fact, the number of hookups on smallmouth bass probably would number in the thousands. Take each time you have fished on the Susquehanna River, in our case more than 60 years. You can get the picture of how many fish we have fought, caught and released.

This fish was doing some strange things for a bass. It kept deep, never breaking the surface. It was unknown what Don had on the end of his line. It was a very heavy fish, according to the sound of the drag that would indicate a run.

On each of these runs, the line held and the drag was set with just the amount of pressure not to allow it to break. The reel, the rod and my cousin were doing all the right things, but still the fish didn’t appear.

I grabbed the large metal landing net and got ready to attempt to net what was on his line if it showed. Suddenly, next to the boat, a large head appeared and we got our first glance of what was on the other end.

The distinctive head and markings with a mouth full of teeth revealed its true identity. It was a tiger muskellunge — and a mighty big one.

A tiger muskellunge is a cross between a muskellunge and a Northern Pike. It’s a result of getting the best of both species into one. The tiger musky is a fitting name for this large, predatory fish. It has been said that the musky is the fish of 10,000 casts. Well, on this March day, we were two against the tiger.

Our chances of landing such a fish was slim to none. Bass tackle doesn’t match musky fishing. These fish are big, nasty and with razor-sharp teeth that can cut a fishing line with ease.

So far, so good, however. At least it didn’t break off yet. I got into a ready net position, if the opportunity came for it. Well, it did, and it came fast.

I saw the head and made a scoop. Remarkably, half the fish slid into the net. I lifted the net over the side of the boat. Immediately the small plastic grub came flying out of its mouth.

The hook held just long enough for the netting until it pulled from the bony mouth of Don’s musky. We did it as a team. Never did we think we were going to land this trophy, at about 44 inches long.

Some very important factors came into play on that day.

• Make good fishing knots to attach your lures to your main line. If you don’t know how to tie specific knots, just research on the Internet and practice them at home. There are many out there. Use one that applies to your specific fishing.

The knot is essential, as well as good fishing line. Don had braided line with a fluorocarbon leader leading to his jig. That meant two knots were made. Both knots he used did their job (uni knot and the surgeon’s knot).

• Let your rod and reel do its job. Play the fish. Know when to reel and when not to reel. The drag on your reel needs to be in the right position to allow the fish to make runs and to keep pressure on the hook set.

• A landing net of proper size. When thinking of a net, think bigger. Don’s fish would never have fit into a trout net.

• Always be prepared for the unexpected. Your equipment needs to be maintained and of top quality. Whether it is a musky, flathead catfish or a lunker smallmouth bass, sometimes just being lucky can close the deal.

We were downright lucky that day ... a day truly to be remembered in Woods & Waters.

Tom Shank has been writing the Woods and Waters column for the Press & Journal for about 10 years. His expertise has been gained through more than 50 years hunting, fishing, trapping and exploring the full gamut of nature. The Susquehanna River and his cabin in Lycoming County are his true loves. Woods and Waters is his playground in life, and to write about it for the Press & Journal is a dream come true.