Editor’s note: The 2017 Idaho Outdoors fishing guide cover story was on some of the biggest, baddest fish in Idaho — and the anglers who pursue them. Here is the column introducing the series.
Previously: Mackinaw trout
Coming up: Chinook salmon (Monday), flathead catfish (March 15) and white sturgeon (March 16).
Also, at the bottom of this story you’ll find a few submissions from readers about the biggest catches of their fishing careers.
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Where to catch them: Lake Cascade, Little Payette Lake, select high-mountain lakes (Shirts Lake, Upper Hazard Lake, Grassy Mountain Lakes, to name a few).
Recommended gear: Seven-to-eight-foot medium-heavy rod, heavy-duty bait-casting reel spooled with 65-pound braided line, 30-pound fluorocarbon leader and short steel wire leader recommended.
What to use: Musky Mayhem spinnerbaits, large swimbaits and top-water lures (1 to 5 ounces).
State record: 44.25 pounds, caught by Edward Kalinowski in 2013. This 52.5-inch monster also set a new world record.
Featured monster hunter: Nick Percy, Kuna.
They are the stuff of nightmares. Forty-plus inches of speed, stealth and teeth, lurking in the shadows and waiting to pounce. With the build of a freshwater barracuda and the hunting tactics of a crocodile, the tiger muskie can slice clean through smaller fish — or anything else that dares to enter its lair.
Despite their aggressive nature, muskies are notoriously difficult to catch, hence their well-earned nickname as a “fish of 10,000 casts.” But that doesn’t deter Kuna angler Nick Percy. Three seasons ago, he spotted his first tiger on his way back in from a bass trip.
“I went back the next day and caught that fish,” Percy said. “And I’ve been hooked on it ever since.”
Fishing for muskies requires some heavy-duty gear, big lures and a wire leader — those teeth will bite through even the toughest line. Above all, it requires patience and stick-to-itiveness that’s rare, even among anglers.
“I describe it as 90 percent luck and 10 percent timing,” Percy said. “I caught my first couple of fish relatively quickly, but it evened out on me last year. I had to put in every one of those 10,000 casts, and I only caught three all season.”
Percy switches up his methods, sometimes trolling and sometimes casting around weed edges, boulders and ledges that drop off from shallow to deep water. He says he’s had more luck fishing around storm fronts, but with muskie fishing, there are no sure things.
“I’ve caught three in one day when it was sunny and calm,” Percy said. “You just never know.”
The average Idaho muskie is in the 3-foot range, though the current world record fish was caught here in 2013. Percy’s personal best is a 47-inch monster that weighed just shy of 25 pounds.
“It’s sheer excitement,” Percy said. “They’re a tough fish, but when you catch one, it’s an absolute blast. They’ll jump two or three times. They fight like crazy.”
In the hotbed muskie lakes of the upper Midwest, anglers often use the “figure eight” technique to entice a fish following the lure into biting right at the boat. If the fisherman sees a fish trailing the lure, he continues to work the lure in a wide, figure eight pattern, with the rod underwater. Incredibly, most fish aren’t spooked by the angler, the rod or the boat.
“They know they are the apex predator, and nothing is going to eat them,” Percy said. “I’ve only had one fish commit to the figure eight so far. I think in Idaho, the water is clearer than a lot of the places you see people do it on TV. It’s hard to get them to commit, but it does happen.”
Readers submit their big catches
My biggest fish. Not a whopper by largemouth bass standards, but the largest one I ever caught. It was 1982 and I was in the Air Force stationed in Florida. My wife and I took a weekend fishing trip to Lake Arbuckle in central Florida, known for its bass. Fishing was good, we both caught mostly average bass, until the second day. That’s when I hooked a considerably larger bass judging by the bend of the rod and the amount of line stripping off the reel. I increased the drag and got the fish in the boat. It was by far the largest bass I had ever landed. It was 23 inches and I estimated it in the 5- to 6-pound range. My wife got out the camera. I wanted a picture for a permanent record of the catch — before I released it. Picture taken, fish released. A week later I had the film developed (way before digital cameras) and eagerly looked for the picture of my biggest bass. I can’t recall my feelings at the exact moment when I saw the picture — that’s a good thing. It quickly became a family moment where we could share a good laugh. In the picture, I’m holding it by the mouth; the dorsal fin and top fin of the tail are visible giving some hint to its size. Still my favorite fishing experience.
Don Julian, Meridian
My whopper of a story began three years ago ice fishing on Payette Lake. I caught this Mackinaw trout on a whim with friends while on vacation in McCall. (I lived in California at the time.) I wasn’t sure what the heck I was doing or even how to get this big fish through the small hole in the ice. But I did and what a rush when I fought and caught this baby!
Marcus Sheehy, Eagle
I went out on a solo fishing trip Feb 8 on the Boise River. I planned on catching some trout. After hitting a few fishing holes where I have had luck in the past, I hooked into this monster steelhead near the Parkcenter Bridge in town, on my trout setup with only 12-pound line and a rooster tail spinner. He took a couple good runs downriver but I managed to land him after he put up a good 10-minute fight. It was definitely a fishing trip I will never forget!