Tiger muskie are the bad boys of freshwater sport fish. They get big and mean and have nasty dispositions. Catching a big tiger is an exciting event and a milestone that fishermen brag about.
A hybrid cross between muskellunge and northern pike, the tiger muskie exhibits characteristics of both parents. It has an elongated, tube-like body with gray-green vertical bars on its sides. It’s a fierce predator that does well in reservoirs where there is plenty of forage. It’s renowned as a sport fish because it can grow to a large size, it readily attacks lures and it fights like, well, like a tiger.
The Utah record, which measured 48 3/8 inches and weighed 31 pounds 4 ounces, was caught in Pineview Reservoir in 2001 by Roger Klug. The catch-and-release record measured a whopping 53 1/4 inches and was caught in Pineview by Ray Johnson.
In 1919, on the boundary waters of Wisconsin and Michigan, a tiger muskie was caught that tipped the scales at 51 pounds, 3 ounces.
Pineview has become a premier fishery for tiger muskie in the Western U.S. Tigers have also been stocked in Newton Reservoir, and it provides some action for large fish. More recently, tigers were planted in Cottonwood and Bullock reservoirs in Utah’s Northeastern Region, and in Mill Meadow in the Southern Region. It is too early to say how the fish will do in those waters.
Tiger were stocked in Johnson Valley Reservoir, near Fish Lake, but they apparently did not survive.
Tiger muskie do not normally reproduce and so their numbers can be controlled directly by regulating stocking and harvest. In Utah, they are being used effectively as a management tool to control the number of pan and rough fish in reservoirs. Before tigers were introduced in Pineview, the reservoir was overpopulated with perch and they were stunted — most running 5-7 inches. Now the perch population is healthier and fish run 9-11 inches.
As of this writing, the tiger muskie limit is one fish over 40 inches on all waters throughout the state. But regulations may change from year to year and water to water, so always check the current proclamation.
Like pike and muskellunge, tigers use weed patches, rocks, stumps and logs for cover as they ambush prey. Most feeding activity occurs during the early morning and evening hours. Tigers are less tolerant of warm water temperatures than muskie and they often move to deeper waters throughout the summer.
During the spring and fall, anglers should concentrate efforts on underwater structures near shore. Look for the fish near the edges of deep weedlines during the heat of summer.
Both trolling and casting are effective for tigers. Traditional pike and muskie lures work well, including large bucktail spinners, spoons and jointed plugs. Smaller bass lures can also be effective, including skirted spinnerbaits, buzzbaits and crankbaits.
How to Handle a Tiger
Tiger muskie have sharp teeth. Because they are large and powerful, they can be difficult to handle. Tom Pettengill, DWR Sport Fishing Coordinator, gives this advice:
Bring the fish to the side of the boat as quickly as possible so it doesn't become too exhausted. This is especially important during warm weather. For most anglers, the easiest way to land a muskie is with a good-sized landing net. Do not bring the fish into the boat. A fish flopping around in the bottom of a boat can be seriously injured.
For smaller muskie, those 30 inches or less in length, anglers should grab the fish by the tail and turn it sideways. This will disorient the fish, making it easier to unhook. Grip the fish over the top of the gill plates, remembering not to squeeze too hard, and remove the hook.
Tiger muskie more than 30 inches in length should be given time to calm down. Then, grip the fish firmly by the gill cover. Anglers may wish to wear a leather or rubber glove, but shouldn't rely on a thin, surgical glove.
The next step is to slide your fingers inside the gill cover, with your thumb on the outside. Move your hand forward, getting a firm hold of the gill plate. Do not grab the fish's gills, as they can be easily torn, causing a fatal injury.
Keep the fish in the water while unhooking. Use long-nosed pliers to remove the hooks. If the hooks are in a spot that will cause serious injury, such as the gills or in tough bony tissue, it's better to cut the hook off using heavy-duty wire cutters. If the fish is deeply hooked, use jaw spreaders to hold the mouth open while you unhook it.