"A surefire yet unusual summer pattern for Giant Hybrids"
What do we really know about big tiger muskies? This question has consumed my thoughts over the past few years. It had always been a goal of mine to be able to spend time on waters with trophy tiger potential that of course doesn't exist in my home state of Kentucky where we have no hybrids. I thought that hybrids where the most tremendously awesome and amazing fish I had ever seen and hoped my summers up north might lead me closer to my goal. In definition, the tiger muskie is a sterile hybrid cross between the muskellunge and the northern pike. The hybrid gets its name from its distinct, dark vertical bars. Whereas the hybrid can occur in the wild where both species coexist, the vast majority of hybrids are produced in the hatchery. Tiger musky habitat is clear, clean lakes that have shallow areas for feeding and deeper areas in which to retreat for cooler waters. Just as in the case with pike and muskellunge, tiger musky need weedy areas, stumps, and logs for cover and for feeding. They are less tolerant of warm water temperatures than the musky and they tend to be in deeper waters throughout the summer yet I've found that many of the really giant tigers seem to be very aggressive shallow water feeders at certain times of the year especially under unusual heated water temps. This summer period when surface temps are climbing toward their maximums, I have now tabbed as" Tiger Time". Hang with me here and I'll try to explain how all this came along.
As many of you may have already known a couple of years ago while guiding in Vilas County Wisconsin my quest for a trophy tiger happened in a big way. Good friend and long time guide client Paul Ostruska and I were fishing during a mid July day, to this point my most amazing day I have ever had muskie fishing. We landed 3 giant tigers measuring 45.5, 48 and 50 inches all taken on Pink Grim Reaper spinnerbaits, not to mention 2 other big tigers lost that same morning. After that day many friends had jokingly nicknamed me "Tony the Tiger". Jokes of my future of targeting tigers made for some very entertaining conversations at the next year's sports shows at my expense of course. Even I thought that day was truly "right place right time", we just lucked out. My curiosity was building for my next summer in the Northwoods hoping of a repeat but realized that a pattern on these big tigers was more than likely out of the question. During the off season I researched this spectacular species to find that there was very little info out there about tiger muskies but even less about truly big ones. I found tons of info on stocking but not much about their habits as they grew. While further investigating I found out that there is almost nothing published about actually targeting these big hybrids. Most of my research included DNR records from several states and searching the Muskies Inc records of their Hybrid Division, learning that nearly 92% of the releases were reportedly caught during this prime period I now call "Tiger Time".
Also 2004 MI's Lunge Log results showed all of the top 10 hybrids were taken in this peak period most all reported in very shallow water, furthermore 24 of the last 30 largest hybrids reported over the last 3 years to Muskies Inc were captured during these unusual warm water periods. At this point I was starting to suspect that I was recognizing a pattern of habits for these trophy fish. Other information helped me confirm my thoughts that I was on the right track. Steve Herbeck of Andy Meyers Lodge in Ontario shared with me that the real big tigers that have come out of Eagle Lake are most all taken during the peak of its water temperatures. Larry Ramsell reports in the Musky Hunter's Almanac the top 20 Hybrids line class world records, 13 of the top 20 were during Tiger Time. Oh hey don't forget the two largest tigers ever taken came in the heat of summer. John Knopp World Record of 51lbs 3oz was taken July 16, 1919 and Delores Ott-Lapp fifty pounder was taken on June 28, 1951. Both of these great fish were reported taken out of the shallow water of Lac Vieux Desert. Furthermore, Rick Lax of Lax's Taxidermy informed me that most all of the big tigers that they have reproduced were taken during this unusual warm water period. Once you are on the trace of establishing a pattern sometimes things that you may have seen or crossed upon before come back to you and my help verify what you already suspect. This happened to me when I look back at the day good friend and one of the most knowledgeable Northwoods guides Rob Manthei was graciously sharing with me some of his secrets on Vilas Counties muskie waters, one hot early July morning we were fishing a well known lake historical for its big tigers. After a few hours with no luck in the hot burning sun Rob decided to show me some of the better shallow water spots good at other times of the year, it was then as we drove along another piece of evidence I now realize was just more corroboration that I have established a pattern.. Rob was amazed when we spotted 2 large tigers cruising the shallows, I remember him saying "what the heck are those tigers doing in this shallow hot water? I now know why they were there, feed up. Adding more kindling to my fire was the numerous conversations and e-mails I have had with anglers from up north on reports of their biggest tigers coming during this period, again most all reported in shallow water. All this combined convinced me that I had found a pattern in consistently boating big tigers at least for this short peak period.
After studying my records of not only catches but those fish we lost, follows, strikes and those tigers that just swatted at the our baits I've found 6 key ingredients that existed when we came in contact with giant tigers. It is this unusual shallow warm water pattern that I have averaged a 25 pound hybrid muskie for my boat every 38 hours during "Tiger Time".
Surface temperatures probably the most notable factor when evaluating my records of all the tigers over 45 inches we had contacted. It seems that between late June and early July Northern Wisconsin water temperatures start to peak towards there hottest, these warmer temps signal these massive tigers to move shallow. Water temps of 74 to 78 seem to be the magic number; I have had no consistent success in water under these temps in my pursuit of these trophy hybrids.
Shallow water was the common factor in all the hybrids we had taken during "Tiger Time". A maximum depth of 7 feet is where every single one of our big fish that we came in contact with was spotted. Although the higher numbers of big tigers came from in the middle of weed beds waist deep and less. It was important to find the thickest most flourishing weed beds to consistently locate fish. Remember these big tigers seem to be planted right in the middle of the weed beds as apposed to the edges. Importantly my MotorGuide's Digital Tour Series electric motor allows me to maneuver quietly right over the shallow weeds. Key here is running your baits as close to the weed tops as possible, covering all of the structure which sometimes means getting right in the middle of it. Several big tigers we have hooked is when my boat was directly over top the weed beds.
Light penetration was a certainly a characteristic that couldn't be denied as a major factor in locating these striped beauties, finding that light conditions determined where they would be located. During low light cloudy conditions these big tigers moved into the shallowest of water, 4 feet and less. This in and out movement can happen several times in a single day under certain changing light circumstances. Brighter conditions could almost shut them down however under semi bright days they were easily found in the deeper yet still shallow weed beds that ended in 7 feet of water.
Weather conditions also became a considerable component when calculating prime feeding times, post frontal conditions account for a big percentage of our contact with these hybrids. It seemed that several hot dog days interrupted by a brief cold front would really turn them on and maybe the best time for those biggest of big hybrids. On windy days they seemed to be more shallow and active as well.
Maybe the most overlooked but yet significant ingredient of our success was matching the tigers feeding patterns in different locations. It seemed that they had different feeding habits when roaming different locations. Baitfish identification became crucial in lure selection to regularly contact these fish. Lures that worked in one spot were not productive in others, depth of the water being the gauge. Shallow warm water areas become a popular spot for schooling juvenile perch and smaller suckers. When I spot these young schooling perch in shallow water my number one bait color has been pink, Grim Reaper spinnerbaits, Mepp's Musky Killers, Shumway Flashers and Mantas have by far been the most productive lures. But when searching deeper weeds where suckers are found moving from one weed bed to the next larger bucktails in a natural grey-white-brown pattern has had the most success, the Falcon made by Tanner Wildes, Shumway's Flasher and my own Deucetail are my blades of choice, color seemed very crucial in our consistency.
Although these giant tigers continue to show for us over a 7 to 8 week period, more action came during, right after and just before the full and new moon phases. In fact most all of our multiple tiger days came around these prime moon phases, as well as some of my biggest tigers of 50, 49.5', 48.5, 48, and 47.5 inches were taken then also. I don't mean to say that these prime moon phases were the only time we contacted the giant fish only that those periods seem to be the more productive. The point I am trying to make is that these big tigers can show up anytime during warm surface temperatures when fished in the right locations.
Here comes for me the most exciting part of my discovery and maybe the best piece of evidence confirming some of the customary habits of these trophy tigers. Good friend, fishing buddy and real student of this sport Bill Dinkmeyer ask me during a phone conversation; have you ever compared the detail of the tigers you have caught from a given body of water to see if any are the same fish? I was lost at this point. Bill then went on to tell me that tigers have somewhat individual fingerprints that make them very identifiable. I thought that was interesting but my many hours on the water kept me from following through with it any further. Then late last year as I was preparing my seminar on "Giant Tigers of the Northwoods" for the upcoming show season there it was. As I was sizing my photos for my PowerPoint presentation I then noticed a very distinctive mark on a 49.5 inch tiger I had caught in July was very visible on a 49 incher my client had caught in August 34 days later, yes I measured my fish1/2 inch longer than my clients even though it now is apparent that it was the same fish. I immediately thought of my conversation with my friend Bill. Then after further investigation I found that another pair of photos showed that a 48 incher that my client Paul Ostruska had caught in early July of 2003 was the same fish I landed in August of 2004, this muskie had grew one half inch. Both these fish came from the exact same shallow weed bed. More evidence that giant tigers are targetable. Then more proof that these big hybrids are more territorial than most believe. First came from Mike Behr and John Jankiewicz whom caught the same 48" tiger within a few weeks reportedly in a very close proximally. Then to ad even more input when talking with friends Scott Kiepers and Steve Genson of Northcountry Adventures, they had photos of 2 more cases that big tigers prowl the same areas. As they have landed the same tigers more than once in the same shallow warmer water location during the same months I call Tiger Time. And last but not least a story of the largest hybrid I have come in contact with, surely topping 40 pounds in the mid fifties range. This fish has been the victor in 2 awesome battles with 2 of my guide clients Tom Sabia and Dan Baylor, two years in a row out of the identical location on very similar lures during the same moon phase, surely the same fish. Not only do these repeat tigers let us know that catch and release works but these big tigers are predictable.
Tiger Time is that brief period in the Northwoods starting generally late June and ending when the colder nights start to consistently drop the water temps in late August. Mother Nature can shorten, delay and even prolong this period; it all seems to revolve around and starts with peak warm water temperatures. In finishing, realizing a pattern early is essential for consistent year in and out success, adding together all past and current information will lead to the quicker rewards. Targeting these big tigers starts with your selection of water; this method has worked for me on several Wisconsin lakes that have had a reputation of big hybrids. I have also started to find the same success with the same baits, locations and timing to work on the only Minnesota Lake that I have tried these tactics on. Tiger Time is grrrreat…….
Tony Grant has been chasing muskies for nearly 20 years. As his career started on Kentucky’s Cave Run Lake he has now expanded his guiding to the waters of Wisconsin and Minnesota during the southern muskies dangerously hot summer water temps. In 2005 Tony teamed up with Gregg Thomas to form Musky Road Rules, a series of “Cabin Fever Clinics” and Schools with “On the Water Workshops” across the mid west muskie range. Visit Tony’s sites www.kymuskie.com www.muskiesupnorth.com
www.tonygrantoutdoors.com and www.muskyroadrules.com