The Muskies Most Likely To Hit A Fly? You Might Be Surprised.

The Muskies Most Likely To Hit A Fly? You Might Be Surprised.

Musky Shop March 28, 2023

Photo: Riplips Custom Musky Flies

Article by Chris Hunt

This just in. Muskies are hard to catch. That is all.

OK, that’s a little simplistic, but the results of a new study show that muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) are, indeed, the “fish of 10,000 casts,” and that catch-and-keep practices involving muskies might be the worst thing anglers can do for the musky fishery and for other anglers.

The study, conducted by John F. Bieber, Michael J. Louison and Cory D. Suski of the University of Illinois, determined that bigger, more sedentary muskies that don’t move around much and don’t display overt aggression are actually the fish that are more likely to hit a lure (or, presumably, a streamer).

“Muskellunge displaying low levels of exploration and aggression were preferentially captured. Behaviors such as boldness and activity did not influence capture, and metabolic parameters did not differ between captured and uncaptured fish,” the study’s abstract reads.

Muskies are largely ambush predators, and the study, conducted in a pond stocked with 68 laboratory-raised muskies over the course of 35 days, found that once the larger fish were caught and removed, the catch rate for the other fish declined precipitously. And, in order to catch the larger fish, the science-minded anglers had to put lures right in the faces of the fish to entice a strike. Angling success for more active fish, or for fish that displayed more aggression, was decidedly less productive.

"After 35 days throwing our whole arsenal at them, every combination of time of day, lure, and casting style, we can verify muskies are indeed the fish of 10,000 casts,” Bieber told We only caught seven fish. In addition, we saw that catch rates decline very, very rapidly after the first several days," Bieber said. "It was a long month."

The study’s authors wanted to get to the bottom of the musky mystery: why are these fish–sometimes true river monsters–so damned difficult to catch?

“We sought to define the mechanisms driving individual angling vulnerability in muskellunge, with the intent of informing management activities to conserve populations,” the study reads. “After angling, all captured fish and a subset of uncaptured fish were assessed for metabolic parameters.”

The results of that assessment? Metabolism apparently has nothing to do with why some muskies hit flies and lures and why others just don’t. But the potential ramifications that come from removing the bigger, sneakier fish – those more likely to attack a fly or lure – from the population could be bad for the musky fishery.

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