The Dog Days of Summer have arrived, ushering in a sweltering summer that has water temps running in the red. With many lakes in Wisconsin already reporting surface temps in the high 70’s prior to July 1st, the trajectory towards higher water temps looks all but guaranteed. Most years this would be of little to no concern as much of the musky angling pressure in July and August are laser focused on Canadian waters, but as we all know 2020 is far from normal. With the extended closure of the Canadian border, Wisconsin and Minnesota now must absorb most of the pressure from the “Musky Fishing Tourists”. This combination of increased fishing pressure and extreme surface temps could be a recipe for disaster according to conventional musky knowledge.
Sean J. Landsman MSc (Carleton), Ph.D. Carleton University, author of “Evaluation of the physiology, behavior, and survival of adult muskellunge (Esoxmasquinongy) captured and released by specialized anglers” conducted a study that documented the physiological impact on muskies caught using conventical angling methods.
The findings of this study showed an increase in the blood glucose levels of muskies caught in higher water temps due to an increased metabolic rate. Also increased plasma potassium levels where observed that show a direct correlation to increased water temperatures. This study also draws a corollary to increased potassium levels and their potentially lethal effects in relation to cardiac failure.
This study brings empirical evidence to the table that shows a direct link can be made between increased water temperatures and the physiological disturbances associated with a musky catch. With this data taken into consideration it is hard to argue against the increased mortality rate of muskies caught in high water temperatures.
Link to the Study
Unfortunately, we live in a world where science takes a back seat in many instances. And one would be a fool to think that high water temps would slow down the onslaught of muskie fishing pressure. However, water temperatures and their “fishability” are not governed by fish and game agencies. Anyone with a valid fishing license is entitled to pursue muskies during the season regardless of water temperature making the entire discussion a rather cloudy, grey area issue.
From a personal standpoint I am a freedom loving, “don’t tread on me” kind guy, so I am not going to admonish anyone for doing something that is completely within their legal rights as an angler. So, in the spirit of conservation let’s look at some ways to minimize the risk of mortality when fishing in hot water.
High water temps can come as early as May, but often they are only surface deep. I have observed surface water temperature readings of 80* at the transom and 68* on trolling motor simultaneously. You don’t need to high tail it off a lake the second the dreaded 80* is displayed on your units take a few moments to check the subsurface temps to see how far down in the water column would be considered “hot” to a musky angler. If the temperature is significantly lower mere inches below the surface, I have never been hesitant to wet a line. However, I become extremely concerned when “hot” temps permeate a foot or more into the water column. This becomes a matter of dissolved oxygen and is a hazard to a safe release and adds to the increased risk of delayed mortality.
Your Not a Kardashian
I often worry about the effects of pulling a muskie out of relatively cool water into the warm air of a summer day. I would bet for a muskie being pulled out of the water into the summer heat is similar sticking your head in an oven. Its hot and you can’t stand it every long. So, if you are fishing in high heat conditions it’s not the time to get that perfect photo, or in some instances even take one.
If water temps are high so are the air temps; therefore, minimizing the time that a muskie spends out of the water is good practice during the summer months. If you must take a photo, make it quick and don’t worry about the “super star” pose. If it’s a muskie worth taking a picture of then no one will be focused on how you look, so get it done fast. The difference in release times for a muskie that is unhooked without being removed from the net is remarkable. It is a rare occurrence for them to need any assistance as they use usually rocket out of the net the second it is lowered.
Dump the Bump
I’m not big on measuring muskies unless they look a bit over that four-foot mark, but most anglers feel the need to know exactly how long each musky they catch is. I get it, it’s cool but eliminating this step in the musky releasing process can speed things up and is a good practice when their survival is at stake. It makes sense that if you just scored what you think is a new PB or landed a monster that you’re going to want a measurement. So, in this case be sure to wet you bump board making sure that it is cool to the touch. Bump boards can get hot if they have been laying on the back deck all day so be sure to cool if off before laying a muskie on it. I personally use a Musky Shop float rule most of the time, this allows me to get a pretty accurate length on a muskie while it is still in the net. This is the old school way of doing things but is a great option when handling and out of the water time needs to be minimized.
What you do and how you do it are your prerogative, but the health of our fisheries is a shared responsibility. When it comes down to it you can find opinions that differ wildly when muskies and water temperatures are concerned. Some will argue that it’s a myth and some anglers won’t target them till temperatures drop significantly. Regardless of what line of thinking you fall under the use of common sense in regards to muskie survival should be your greatest concern.
In no way shape or form do I recommend fishing for muskies above 80* surface temperatures and feel that it should be avoided for the safety of muskies. The purpose of this article is to educate against this practice and to share some commonsense ways to minimize the stress on muskies during the catch and release process in high water temp situations.