Jim Saric may be the best known person in musky fishing today.
He is the editor of Musky Hunter Magazine, host of The Musky Hunter television show and owner of Jim Saric Outdoors, Inc. Oh yes, he also is a seven-time musky tournament winner and has boated more than 100 muskies of 50 inches or larger, the heaviest of which weighed 53 pounds.
Saric has written extensively about musky fishing and musky tactics and constantly promotes the sport of musky fishing. He grew up in Illinois, not far from Chicago, but caught the fishing bug as a youngster at his family's cabin in northern Wisconsin. Home today is Deerfield, Ill., or on the deck of his Ranger on any lake where muskies roam.
Submitted Photo - - Jim Saric, the “Musky Hunter,” with a 51-inch musky. Saric caught the monster fish during a University of Esox event at Canada’s Lake of the Woods this past June. The University of Esox event is an annual musky fishing school hosted by Saric and other well-known musky guides.
Muskies hook fishermen like no other species. The thrill of having a monster musky follow a lure to the boat is usually all it takes to convince a fisherman that he or she should spend more time musky hunting, much more time.
"It can ruin you," Saric said, laughing. "I love walleye fishing but there's something to say about a giant fish coming behind your topwater lure and eating it or a big fish coming at boatside and chasing your figure 8. I tell other people to fish walleyes during the afternoon and muskies after supper until dark."
Saric said a bass fisherman can easily make the transition to musky fisherman because many of the tactics are similar. Spinnerbaits and top-water lures, two of the "go to" choices for bass fishermen, are also effective when fishing muskies. Sure, the lures may get larger and the equipment tougher, but many bass fishing methods readily adapt to musky hunting.
"It's a natural to go from bass fishing to musky fishing," Saric said. "Think of muskies as bass with an attitude."
Musky fishing opportunities in North Dakota are limited but intriguing. The state record pure muskellunge was pulled from New Johns Lake in 2008, a 46 pound, 8 ounce beauty landed by Cory Bosch of Mandan. Although their numbers are limited, muskies are stocked and still reside in New Johns and the Garrison Diversion Unit Chain of Lakes.
Tiger muskies, a cross between a northern pike and a pure musky, have been stocked into Lake Audubon for the past two years. Although the number of fish stocked was not large, it shouldn't be too long before anglers begin occasionally hooking into a tiger. If they grow to the point where the state's 40-pound record looks like it might be in jeopardy, more fishermen will likely start targeting them.
"Tigers are fun and a little bit more aggressive, a little more pike-like than pure muskies," Saric said. "They are beautiful, grow quickly but don't get as big as pure muskies maybe 48 inches in length.
"One thing you'll notice, they tend to like fluorescent colors like pike," he added. "In the summer they are more difficult to catch because they like cooler water temps. Your natural musky will be in warmer water in the summer. Another thing about tigers, they don't reproduce so they'll die off and be gone in 15 years or so without stocking."
Just the facts
Many species specific fishermen, such as walleye and bass fishermen, often fear the introduction of muskies. That can limit the amount of water where muskies are introduced. According to Saric, who has a master's degree in hydrogeology and a bachelor's degree in geology, those fears are not factually based.
"It is a fallacy that muskies hurt walleye or bass populations," he said. "It's not true. The top musky waters in the U.S. and Canada also are some of the best walleye, bass and panfish lakes. It all goes hand in hand. It is the quality of the fishery.
"A lot of scientific research has been done by Minnesota and Wisconsin Departments of Natural Resources," he added. "People naturally assume because musky have teeth they eat everything. Their numbers are never huge because they are an apex predator."
Of course, Saric said, muskies feed on other species of fish just like every other fish does.
"Would they eat walleye and bass? Sure they would," Saric said. "But bass are big predators of young walleye. You have waters with pike fishing and pretty good walleye fishing too. It's the same thing, it really is."
Muskies do particularly well in lakes with forage such as shad, cisco or whitefish. It is the growing cisco population in Lake Audubon that helped biologists determine to stock tiger muskies in that reservoir. Cisco quickly grow too large for bass or walleye to feed upon but never grow too large for muskies.
What lake makes a good musky lake? That's a determination best made by fisheries biologists familiar with a particular body of water. A general rule for muskies though, is that big water equals bigger fish.
"Indiana has Lake Webster, 550 acres in size, with six to eight muskies per acre. You can catch the heck out of muskies in there," Saric said. "That lake is the size of one cove in larger reservoirs and still has 48 inch muskies, big fish! But if you want that 50 inch-plus trophy, you need the bigger waters."
There's one indisputable fact about muskies: Wherever they swim, fishermen will follow. Musky fishing is big business. The number of musky fishermen in Minnesota has more than doubled in the past few years and continues to grow, thanks in part to the effort of musky promoters like Saric.
"For many, 36 inches is still the biggest fish of their lifetime and they are looking for more," Saric said. "It's not really the fish of 10,000 casts. The Minnesota numbers are a classic example of growth. That's typical of all kinds of states where they put muskies. People in the state want to catch one of those fish and the hardcore guys from different states come in and try it out. Tourism gets a big spike."
Musky anglers have their own calendar as well, often fishing in early spring while others still have their boats in storage, or in late fall when most outdoorsmen turn to pheasant and deer hunting.
For those thinking about musky fishing for the first time, Saric shared some advice on lure selection:
"Not in any order, but you need a Cow Girl with two No. 10 blades," Saric said. "You have to have that. I've never seen an in-line spinner where muskies feel and react to that bait like no other in the history of the sport. You have to have a Top Raider. If not, you are missing out. That Top Raider is unbelievable. It has a tremendous influence.
"You have to have a magnum Bulldawg, 16 inch," he added. "You've got to have one of those. You need a glider jerk bait with side to side action like a Phantom or Depth Raider. If you were in my boat you'd see one of each of these lures on each of my rods."