- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 27, 2008

SHARPSBURG, Md. — Would you wade barefoot in a river that is home to a creature whose jaws and teeth kind of resemble those of a young alligator’s? The thought of it is sure to bring chuckles to local anglers who live along Washington County’s portion of the Potomac River because this is muskellunge country. Besides all the walleyes and smallmouth bass that call the river home, there is a thriving population of true muskies here that, indeed, have a set of choppers and powerful jaws not all that different than those of, well, at least young ‘gators. Although there is no evidence that a muskellunge has ever sampled a human toe in these parts, I can’t help wondering whether it could if it wanted to.

John Mullican, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources large-river specialist who recently showed a couple of us walleye fishing novices that the tasty creatures hang out not far from this historic town, also filled us in about the mighty muskellunges that are the talk of fishermen up this way.

On Jan. 6, Mullican and his friend Steve Peperak, of Boonesboro, Md., fished for muskies in the Potomac near here. Peperak used a large jig of his own design and landed a 46-inch pure-strain muskie that exceeded the capacity of a 30-pound BogaGrip scale. To support the weight of the fish and protect it from injury, it was placed in a bag net and weighed. It could easily have broken the current state record of 281/4 pounds, but Peperak elected to let it go. Mullican said they wanted to keep the female fish alive because it would add to the continuing quality and trophy potential of the muskie fishery.

Freshwater river anglers in Maryland and adjacent Virginia and West Virginia know that the DNR’s Fisheries Service started stocking 8-inch-long hybrid muskies in the Potomac in 1989 at the annual rate of 2,000. The hybrids were tiger muskellunges, the result of the fertilizing milt of a male northern pike on the roe of a female muskellunge. “Actually, it will also work the other way around,” Mullican said, “but we get more young out of a typically larger female muskie.”

The tiger muskie stocking program ended in 2006, some of it because of the fairly low survival rate of the young “tigers,” yet specimens up to 29 pounds were caught. The state-record tiger muskie currently stands at 29 pounds, 43/4 ounces.

Mullican and his DNR associates discovered that the river also contained true muskellunges that could spawn and reproduce, unlike the sterile hybrids. “How they got into the upper river, we do not know,” Mullican said. “We never stocked true muskies in the Potomac and it’s likely that sport fishermen introduced them, even though that’s against the law.” (There are private hatcheries in northern states where muskie fry can be purchased.)

During various electro-shocking tests in the upper river, Mullican remembers the presence of pure muskies as far back as the mid-1990s. Although they reproduce slowly and do not deliver huge numbers of fry, they are multiplying. Mullican, however, is quick to calm bass and walleye fishermen’s fears. “Muskies do not generally impact other gamefish populations,” he said. “They tend to eat suckers, fallfish, sunfish and such, but not many bass or walleyes.”

He didn’t mention that a muskellunge also will snack on a young duck now and then, or an unfortunate squirrel who has fallen into the water, but it will. In fact, in Minnesota I’ve seen muskie fishing lures resembling paddling ducklings.

The majority of the Potomac’s muskellunge are found in the Washington County sector of the river, but Mullican points out that he has seen them during sampling tests as far down as Montgomery County and as far up as the Allegany County line.

The best time to catch a muskie is June, early July and late autumn. Sure, they’ll smack a lure in winter, but the fall generally is a better time. “I’ve caught them all year long,” Mullican said.

A stout 7-foot heavy-action baitcasting rod and an Ambassadeur 6500C reel, or similar large capacity reel, is recommended. Mullican uses 65-pound-test PowerPro braided line because it is able to handle heavy lures better than thin monofilament lines. Large inline muskie spinners can do well, as can big jerk baits and Bomber Long A lures. Also try a big bucktail and thread on a 6-inch Sassy Shad. Big spinnerbaits also do the job.

You may keep one muskellunge a day, but it must measure at least 36 inches long. Mullican strongly recommends the safe and careful release of these toothsome creatures to help expand their range.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com

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