Big muskie

Eric Kelly of Port Allegany, Pa., hoists a 50-inch muskie he took last fall in the Allegheny River.

Muskellunge — or esox masquinongy — regardless of its name, is known as the elusive one. 

The majestic muskie is a member of the pike family, a magnificent leaping fish that grows to over 50 inches. For many, it’s the premier game fish of inland waters, noted for its tenacious fighting ability. 

Once an angler connects on his first muskie, there’s no turning back. The experience will turn him into strictly a muskie fisherman as nothing else compares. 

It’s been called the fish of 10,000 casts as sometimes you may go days or even a week without any action. But when the action finally turns on, it also can make for a day of non-stop action. It’s the fish which tall tales are told about. Other fish are just bait.

So I would have to say that anglers attempting to specifically catch muskies understand that catching these brutes on purpose is a challenge. 

But before you become the victor you’ll have to deal with hours of boredom and frustration, but the payoff will be one of the biggest in freshwater fishing. 

You won’t understand it until you’ve fully experienced it — that moment when one shows up unexpectedly, ghost-like out of nowhere. 

It’ll happen when you least expect it or your tackle is completely under-gunned for what’s on the end of your line.  

It could be one of those days when you’re casting top-water plugs or spinner baits among some stumps for bass and things are slow. You’ve  picked up a random largemouth on occasion but the action is slow, then “wham” as the water’s surface explodes as line screeches off your reel. 

Yes, it’s muskie time. You’ve just barely hooked the fish in the corner of the mouth but you manage to keep the line tight. 

After a brief battle, you bring it to net where you admire its beauty before snapping a few photos and releasing it. 

It doesn’t meet the size requirement to keep but it doesn’t matter as — for you — it’s more about the challenge and not the keeping. 

This just got your adrenaline flowing after a slow start and has given you that added boost to stick with it for a few more hours.

If not yourself, I’m sure you have some buddies who can relate stories of big muskies darting from the shadows and snatching a sunfish you’re fighting right off the line. Or possibly you’ve been stream fishing and had a muskie rocketed from beneath a log and cut your line, taking the nice rainbow trout you were reeling in with it. 

It’s really amazing sometimes how a fish that large can lay in the shallows undetected until it strikes, leaving you wondering why and how it even got there. 

It’s no wonder anglers become hooked after that first encounter, when that big muskie ghosts up behind your favorite bait you’ve been tossing. It totally catches you off-guard.  

The muskie is a fearless predator that ambushes prey with impunity. It’s massive mouth is filled with razor-sharp teeth which can easily swallow another fish half its length. 

It’s a misunderstood, carnivorous fish of freshwater from which numerous stories — from pets disappearing to swimmers being bitten — have evolved. Some are just tales and a few are truth. 

But once an angler is hooked by these legendary beasts, he’s sure to add tales of his own.  

So now if you’re up to the challenge, remember that once your bitten there’s no going back. It’s unlike fishing for trout, walleye, or even its cousin the pike which are relatively easy to catch. 

Muskie are not impossible to catch but they are a lot fewer in numbers. We’re talking about a predatory game fish to grows to lengths of 4 feet or more and can exceed 50 pounds. 

You are not about to catch them like bass, one after the other. It’s more like actual hunting, where you go out searching for prey but don’t plan to always connect. 

It’s about figuring out the right approach and tactics that will give you a greater chance at that trophy of a lifetime.   

Like many other sports, muskie fishing is taking the world by storm. A total of 33 states already are stocking muskellunge in their waters as more people become involved in this extreme freshwater sport-fishing adventure. 

Catching the elusive muskie compares to taking a whitetail buck or boss gobbler. 

You ask what’s the best way to learn how to fish? The best way is to hire a guide or tag along with a friend and spend the day casting your heart out. 

At the end of the day as you head home with an aching back and muscles and still have an urge to participate, then it’s time to get your own equipment together. 

But remember, it’s not going to be cheap. You need a musky rod and reel, musky line, leaders and musky lures and baits, and all those extras like longnose pliers, polarized sunglasses and jaw spreaders, to just mention the basics. 

Before you make your decision, just take a look into the garage of most muskie anglers and notice the several thousands of dollars of gear they’ve accumulated. It’s a manifestation of the addiction that you’ll soon be part of.  

Well, I have tried to warn you about muskie fever. But, if you insist on forging ahead, at least now you have a basic idea of what’s involved. 

If you fish Pennsylvania waters, you can fish year-around. In New York, it’s usually June through December. 

So if you’ve decided to become a muskie fanatic, you’ll soon find that it’s something you love but can also drive you crazy at times. 

Muskie fishing is like hunting monster bucks. There are not that many out there and you have to put your time in to be successful. But in the long run it’s all worth it because when the rod doubles over and line peels away, you’ll feel that true raw power only a ghost-like fish can exhibit.

 (David Orlowski is an avid outdoors enthusiast from Austin, Pa., who also is an outdoors writer.)