Along with all the hunting seasons that come with it, fall also provides a chance to stalk a couple types of massive beasts long ago introduced to the great plains. But they don’t possess paws with which to corral their prey, or hooves with which to make a quick escape, rather these creatures are two unique types of fish which provide an autumn opportunity that to many borders on obsession.
Pure strain muskellunge, first stocked from waters to the east and north decades ago, and their hatchery-bred cousins, the tiger muskellunge, offer challenging and exciting chances at the fish of a lifetime. While muskies are often elusive and enigmatic, tiger muskies – a hybrid made by crossing a northern pike and a muskie and primarily stocked for quick establishment in prairie reservoirs – can cut down on the number of attempts required to catch the fish of 10,000 casts, especially in the fall, according to north central North Dakota fishing guide Kellen Latendresse.
“Tigers are not divas. Anyone that fishes muskies knows that you get the lazy follows that come in that you’ve got to convert on the figure eight. Tigers are exciting, they crush the baits, they’re super aggressive and they hardly follow to the boat compared to a pure,” Latendresse explains of the hybrid fish which provide more action and are a bit more forgiving for beginning muskie anglers.
Where late openwater season finds pure strain muskellunge often patrolling the shallows, Latendresse looks deeper to find trophy tigers. Less apt to sun themselves above weed beds or structure like their relatives, hybrid muskies are more often located from 15 to 30 feet deep, even as the water cools, a nod perhaps to the pike side of their genetic makeup. That too may also lead to their more aggressive nature, and lack of the pickiness sometimes associated with pure strain muskies. Thus, for tigers Latendresse recommends using large rubber baits such as Bulldogs and Medusas which can be cast out from the weed edge into open water to search for them and trigger a bite.
“I’ve yet to catch a tiger on a topwater in North Dakota, for some reason – a tiger is half pike-half muskie – you’d think that they would trigger to it,” Latendresse says of the hybrid’s habit of avoiding the shallows, “tigers are usually a little bit deeper, usually when you’re throwing rubber out deep, you’re catching more tigers than pures, where as when I’m burning bucktails and stuff up shallow, I find more pures,” he adds of angling tactics on lakes where both fish are present.
After the strike tiger muskies are able fighters. They often go airborne and run hard, again another trait likely received from the pike side of their parentage. Standard tackle for muskies and large pike including heavy rods and powerful baitcasting reels along with braided line of 40-to-70-pound test and steel or fluorocarbon leaders with 100-pound break strength will serve as a strong base of equipment.
In line spinners dressed with bucktail, flashabou and large thumping blades, along with a selection of crankbaits, stickbaits and rubber lures in hues that mirror local forage and a few tried-and-true attractor patterns will cover most triggers for hybrid muskies in the waters where they live.
A handful of lakes and rivers throughout the region offer a chance to tangle with a tiger muskie this fall including Lake Ashtabula, New Johns Lake and its related canal waters, and Lake Audubon in North Dakota. Lake Mitchell, Belle Fourche Reservoir, the Missouri River System and East Lemmon Lake have populations of hybrids in South Dakota. While tiger muskies are predominantly bred in hatcheries for sport fish stocking purposes, they can rarely occur naturally on waters where muskies and pike coexist.
As the two species have slightly different spawning habitats and times, the occurrence is unlikely but has been documented in the wild. More information on where to find tiger muskies can be found at gf.nd.gov and gfp.sd.gov.
By: Nick Simonson