By Dave Webb
I rocketed a big Rapala towards shore and my aim was perfect; it landed just an inch away from a clump of willows, which extended out into the bay. As I began my retrieval I saw a swirl in the water next to my lure and a large shadow, somewhat resembling a submerged log, slowly settle into the brush on the bottom. A tiger muskie had eyeballed me lure, but decided not to strike. I cast again into the same spot. As my lure hit the water a big mouth, creating a large wake, instantly engulfed it. I yanked up on my rod and my drag began to sing. The tiger had struck my lure, and I had him.
Well, I'm not sure if I had him or he had me. He was about 36 inches of fighting fury--pound-for-pound as strong as any fish I had ever tangled with. He took charge of the battle in a hurry, bulldozing toward brush in deep water. He shook his head and I could feel the vibrations resounding through my line and rod. As he shook he brushed against a willow, and suddenly he was gone. Adrenaline raced through my veins for several minutes after that encounter.
I never caught that fish, but that day I caught something bigger--tiger muskie fever! The tigers in Pineview provide an excellent sport fishing opportunity. They've got me hooked and I'll be back for more of the electrifying action.
I fished for the tigers on June 13 with Bill Furniss--an excellent fisherman who has invested many hours learning the habits of the Pineview muskie. He put us onto fish quickly, and we had an exciting day. But fishing for the tigers, like hunting any big game fish, is hard work. We were on the water for about eight hours, saw six big muskie chasing our lures, had four hook-ups, but only boated one of the fish. If you want to catch a tiger you've got to be willing to work at it four hours, literally making hundreds of casts.
Eight hours for one fish? Hey, just seeing a tiger muskie is a big thrill. Feeling one thrashing at the end of your line is exciting. Battling one until you bring it along side the boat is an incredible experience. As it tires and comes along side, and you look down upon 30 to 50 inches of pure muscle, and you see its razor-sharp teeth biting into your lure, you realize the real fight is only beginning and you think, "Help, what do I do now?"
The tiger is not the biggest or strongest fish in the world, but it is one of the most fierce. The fish we call the tiger muskie is named after the powerful cat because the two share a ferocious nature.
Tiger muskie do not pose a threat to swimmers or other people playing in the water at the popular reservoir, but the big fish have scared the pants off of people on occasion when they swim by, or as they violently attack and consume a nearby crappie, perch or duckling. Anyone who has seen the predator's teeth in action gains instant respect for the flesh-eating machine. If you tangle with the teeth while attempting to land or unhook a tiger, you will almost certainly require stitches, and you may lose a finger.
It is quite common for tiger muskie to follow a lure all of the way to the boat. When you see a shadow following, usually just below and behind your lure, you can sometimes entice the fish to strike by slowing down or speeding up your lure's movement, or by twitching or jerking the lure to give it a different action. If the tiger thinks the lure is a fish trying to escape, it will sometimes attack instinctively. Its very ferociousness sometimes gets it into trouble.
If you watch closely, you can sometimes see a tiger hiding in the weeds or brush, waiting to ambush an unsuspecting water skier--oops, I mean, another fish. Polarized glasses really help to see fish in the brush. When you find one you can sometimes stalk it. The hunt is every bit as challenging and exciting as any big game stalk. You carefully position yourself , trying not to disturb the fish, then you make your best cast. Often you get only one cast, and if it is not perfect, the wary predator will be gone.
If your cast is accurate, if you have the right lure, and make the right presentation, you can watch the tables turn and see the tiger stalk your lure, and then close in for the kill. When you see a 40+ inch package of dynamite savagely attack your lure, you jerk herd to get a good hook set, then brace yourself for the fight of your life. Trophy hunting for big game fish is a thrill.
Tactics For Tigers
A few daring fishers go after tiger muskie in kick boats, using fly rods and large patterns tied to resemble bait fish, mice or other critters. But most people out to challenge the tigers of Pineview do best fishing from a boat, using heavy tackle and big, flashy lures. The tigers are opportunistic feeders. They hide in cover, then ambush any prey unfortunate enough to swim by. They sometimes take fish half their length in size, and seem to relish ducklings, rats, mice, and almost anything else that they can get their big mouths over. Troll an aluminum can behind a boat and a tiger may poke holes in it for you. So how do you catch them? Generally it is most productive to use a lure or fly which somewhat resembles a fish. Four to eight inch lures seem to work well. Flashy colors are most effective. The lure does not have to be a realistic imitation of a fish which is naturally found in the water. In fact, bright, unnatural colors are often best. Chartreuse, hot pink, silver and other flashy colors draw the tiger's attention, and often evoke an attack.
The fish's sharp teeth can easily cut through monofilament line. Steel leaders solves that problem, but adds wait to the line and changes the action of the lure. Some anglers compromise by using 30-to-50 pound leaders, and 30 pound test line. Tigers have a hard mouth, so you really have to jerk the rod hard to get a good hook set. It's at that point that a strong line and stout rod are most essential. A line with low stretch allows you to power the hook up into the fish's mouth, and the result is more hookups. The new high-tech lines, like SpiderWire, are great for tiger fishing because they are strong, thin, easy to cast, difficult to cut or break, and have virtually no stretch.
The tigers are kings of their environment. Nothing much scares them. They will often follow a lure right up to the boat. When a tiger sees a boat, he doesn't usually bolt for cover. He simply glides, seemingly unconcerned, into deeper water.
The tigers like to follow schools of crappie and perch. Find where the little fish are hanging out, and there generally will be tigers nearby, waiting for an easy meal. In June and July, crappie spawn in shallow areas where there is brush and gravel. The crappie make easy pickings for tiger muskie – concentrations of fish, with plenty of cover for ambushing. During the spawn, crappie are easy to catch using small jigs fished in the brush. Put a jig under a bobber and you catch them all day long. It is not uncommon for a tiger to attack a crappie while it is being reeled in. Wham! Something hits hard and suddenly you have only half a crappie on your line.
To target the tigers, cast to a point where they can hide in ambush. A brushy point, a stand of willows along the shore, or a submerged brush make perfect ambush sites. As noted, when actively spawning, crappie generally move into the shallows most often just 3-5 feet deep. And the tigers are hiding nearby. At other times the crappie move into bays and coves and stay near submerged brush located in deeper water – and there usually will be tigers hiding in the brush.
When tigers are shallow, a shallow-running crankbait or Rapala can be very effective. When the fish move deeper, you need to tie on something that dives. You've got to be getting into the brush in order to get at the fish. You will be snagging periodically--that's part of the price you pay for pursuing the trophies. When the crappies are shallow, a graph equipped with sidefinder capability can be very valuable. When the fish are deep, a conventional fish finder really helps.
During the summer, the crappie and perch and tiger muskie are active right through the day. Some fishers assume action will be slow during the middle of the day, but that is often not the case. Many fish are caught during the heat of the afternoon.
All in all, more than 20,000 tigers have bee planted in Pineview, with the first stocked in 1987. Some of the fish have been harvested, and a few have died of natural causes, but a good number remain in the reservoir. But 20,000 fish spread throughout an almost infinite number of brush lines and ambush points, means that you have to cast over and over again before you find a tiger that will take your lure. You've got to work for every fish you catch. The secret is to just keep casting.
How Do You Handle A Tiger?
1. Never grab it by the head or mouth. 2. Use pliers to remove the hook while the fish is still in the water, if possible. Play the fish along side the boat, hoist its head out of the water, and then reach down with your pliers, grasp the hook, and then pop it free. 3. Have a jaw spreader handy, and use it if needed as you remove the hook. 4. Play the fish in as quickly as possible to avoid any unnecessary stress. 5. It's better not to use a net. The fish will thrash around in the net and tangle itself, the line and hook in the webbing. Then you have a real mess. 6. Let it swim free in the water as soon as you can.
The Tiger Muskie
(More tigers have now been stocked into Pineview. Check the latest proclamation for regulations.)
As a result of a recently enacted emergency regulation, all tiger muskie caught at Pineview must be immediately returned, unharmed to the water. Because of the closure, some people have assumed the tigers are in trouble and should not be pursued. This is not the case. There is a large and healthy population of tigers in Pineview. The reservoir now rates as one of the best tiger muskie fisheries in the Western
U.S. The closure was enacted to protect the fish-which are vital to the management plan at Pineview, and the outstanding sproting opportunity they provide. Utah has not been able to find an adequate source for the eggs that are needed to reproduce tigers year after year, so new stock will not be introduced this year. However, the population now in the reservoir is doing extremely well, and will carry the fishery for several years into the future. Brad Schmitz, DWR fisheries manager for the northern region, said he is confident a reliable egg source will be found, and that Pineview will get better and better as a muskie fishery. It is very good now, and has the potential to become great. There are a few 50+ inch fish in the water right now, and there could be a good number of real trophies in the reservoir within a couple years.
The tiger muskie is a man produced cross between a muskellunge and a northern pike. Because the fish is an efficient predator, and because it is sterile, it can be used effectively to control populations of fish like perch and crappie, which tend to reproduce so prolifically that they overrun the environment and become stunted. When tiger muskies are introduced into such a system, the predator culls surplus small fish, and the result is a more healthy population. The management plan is working well at Pineview; both crappie and perch are getting bigger. But to be effective, the right number of tigers and other fish must be kept in balance. Since the tigers cannot reproduce, their numbers can only be managed through stocking and harvest control. In most cases, fish, including tigers, are stocked when they are very small, and the fish must be given time to mature before they can have much impact on the system. It is difficult to anticipate future conditions, and thereby determine how many fish to stock and harvest. Regulations must be imposed to protect the system while allowing maximum sporting opportunity.
Biologists use complex model to plan management strategy, then fine-tune the plans over the years as they observe actual conditions. The regulation closing Pineview to the harvest of tigers is intended to protect the resource for many years into the future. In the meantime, biologists will try to procure more small fish, and give the stocked fish time to grow and become efficient eating machines. But right now it is okay to catch and release tigers at Pineview. Go for them.