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Earn Your Stripes with Tiger Muskie  at Cabela's

Earn Your Stripes with Tiger Muskie

Author: Craig Springer

If you like hunting and fishing, try your hand at tiger muskies for the ultimate in freshwater sport.

Frank ross with a nice tiger muskie
Outdoorsmen are passionate about what they do. We simply love hunting and fishing, if only we could do both at once. Maybe as close as you can get is casting for tiger muskie.

Tiger muskie are the sterile hybrids of northern pike and muskellunge. They get their name from the distinctive "tiger" stripes that adorn their sides.

Northerns and muskies are closely related, but the hybrids occur in nature only rarely. All hybrid fishes have a natural trait called "hybrid vigor." This vigor allows the hybrid offspring to grow stronger, less susceptible to diseases, and most of all -- faster than perhaps the parents stock would grow. For tiger muskie, that bodes well; they come from good breeding you might say. Muskellunge and northern pike are some of the fastest growing fish in North America. A northern pike reaches about 30 inches in five years on the southern end of its range; muskellunge only out paces northerns by a couple of inches.

Tiger muskie have another trait that most other hybrid fish do not, and that's sterility. At first, that may seem like a poor trait. That means that hatcheries have to continually supplement the stocks in the wild. That tiger muskie can not reproduce gives fish biologists an opportunity to stock a large, aggressive predatory fish in man-made habitats where they pose no threat of overpopulating. That also assures fishery managers that they can limit predation on other game fish by stocking only certain numbers of tiger muskie. Biologists raise tiger muskie in hatcheries, stock them out and let them grow big, then you hunt them.

Another benefit of hybrid vigor is habitat tolerance. That is to say, waters too warm for one of the parents are usually fit for tiger muskie up to a point. Like their parents, tiger muskies fair best in cooler waters of lakes and reservoirs. But since tiger muskie can tolerate warmer waters, they have made their way farther south that their parental stock. Since the 1970s, tiger muskie have been stocked in about 25 states in lakes that might not otherwise have a big predatory fish. They've been stocked in select lakes in New England, through the South, and westward to the Pacific Northwest.

One place where tiger muskie do not differ from their parents, and that's diet. Their long bodies, with fins placed way back on the body spell one thing: ambush. Tiger muskies lurk for food among weeds. That's how they make a living, lying in wait, patiently holding out for the next big morsel, taking it by quick bursts of speed at the unsuspecting. Eating the big stuff saves time. It costs less, too -- less energy that is. An unsuspecting smaller neighbor comes swimming by, then slash; it's in the maw of a tiger muskie. Anything with fur, fins, or feathers near the water is fair game; tiger muskie prey on chubs and suckers, crayfish and frogs, even mice and ducklings are vulnerable meals. The tiger muskie's sharp teeth make escape not much of an option. Since they eat larger foods, they typically eat less frequently than other game fishes.

A pair of large tigers
Tiger muskie have an attraction to heavily vegetated clear water. They are solitary creatures and may defend a territory of prime weed beds bordered by spaces of open water where they wait for prey.

Recent scientific studies sheds some light on seasonal behavior of tiger muskies.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists spied on the habits of tiger muskie, and what they learned can help you earn your stripes fishing for these unique hybrids.

The behavior of both northern pike and muskies are fairly well known. But not so for their hybrid offspring. Fishery biologists fitted 16 tiger muskie, some up three feet long, with radio tags and followed them for up to 34 months in Mayfield Reservoir in the southern part of the state.

This study showed that tiger muskie use different habitats in summer and fall versus winter and spring. It also showed that in the warmer months tiger muskie are likely to move much less.

Makes sense. There's probably more forage available in the warmer months and it takes fewer trips to the grocery store to get a full stomach.

In the summer and fall, individual tiger muskies stayed in an area of about 120 acres. In winter and spring that increased to 340 acres. From year to year, the same individual fish occupied the same home range much like northern pike and muskies do.

In summer and fall, tiger muskie lurked in aquatic vegetation in five to eight feet of water. But in winter and spring, they moved off shore to open water 16 to 32 feet deep.

According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, tiger muskie in Mayfield Reservoir apparently do not interact with trout.

In warm months they are up in the weeds away from trout, and in colder months when they go deep, their metabolism and desire to feed is much less.

Tiger muskie are an aggressive sport fish, by all accounts, more so than muskie or northern pike. And they do get big. The all-tackle record stands at 51 pounds and 3 ounces, caught in Wisconsin in 1919.

To go after them, you'll need a heavy casting rod fitted with 20-pound test, tipped with a wire leader. The heavy gear will be necessary for tossing three-ounce stick and crank baits like a Super Shad or big buck tail spinners. Baits that look like suckers and chubs bring fish to the boat. Rapala Husky Jerk is another consistent bait.

Folks that go after tiger muskie are the big game hunters of fishing. Troll or cast big cranks in cold weather; tiger muskies in warmer weather are probably best sought like northerns, by stalking. Slipping into shallow water and casting a stick bait on the edge of the weed may send a tiger ripping at your offering and make your drag zing. You can't hunt and fish at they same time, but this may be as close as it gets.

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