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MUSKIES AND CARP are the St. Lawrence’s “BIG FISH,” and the river offers WORLD-CLASS angling for both species. Every year anglers catch muskies and carp that attain weights in the 30- and 40-pound classes. Fifty-plus pounders of each species are known to swim in the river.
The St. Lawrence River is rich in muskie history. That history includes the “fishing couples,” Art and Ruth Lawton and Len and Betty Hartman, as well as the “legendary guides,” Jim Evans and Al Russell.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the Lawtons and Hartmans won national contests with the monster muskies those anglers pulled from the river. Art Lawton’s 64.5-inch, 69-pound, 15-ounce fish taken in 1957 is recognized by DEC as the current world record. During their guiding careers, Jim Evans and Al Russell produced hundreds of muskies for their clients. Evans caught the majority of his muskies in the Morristown area while Russell took his fish in the Ogdensburg stretch of river.
In the angling world, the muskie has been called the “fish of a hundred hours” and the “fish of a thousand casts.” When anglers go after muskies, the outing is called “a hunt” rather than a fishing trip. THE MUSKIE IS AT THE TOP OF THE FOOD CHAIN IN ITS WORLD, AND CATCHING A TROPHY MUSKIE IS THE ULTIMATE CHALLENGE IN FRESHWATER FISHING. There are no shortcuts to catching a big muskie.
If so much effort is required to catch a muskie, what is it that attracts anglers to pursue this species? Why would an angler spend hour after hour, even day after day, to catch a single fish? Some say it’s “the hunt” itself. Some claim it’s the challenge. Others say it’s the incredible power of the strike. Some believe it’s the excitement of the fight. Many say it’s seeing the fish’s awesome size. Nearly all cite the unbelievable feeling of watching a successfully released muskie swim away. LIKE MANY THINGS IN LIFE, THE MAGIC OF CATHCING AND RELEASING A MUSKELLUNGE HAS TO BE EXPERIENCED BEFORE IT CAN BE FULLY APPRECIATED.
Nearly all muskie anglers employ the same technique, trolling large minnow-plugs. Trollers work their lures in the 20- to 40-foot water depths along structural edges and the adjacent deep water. Popular plugs include Swim Whiz, Cisco Kid, Radtke Pike Minnow, and Depth Raider. Baits should be worked close to bottom, and natural colors such as shiner, perch, and bullhead are recommended. Evening, especially the after-dark hours, produces the best results. Muskies can be caught throughout the summer even though autumn is recognized as prime muskie season. Dedicated muskie anglers might have “little secrets” that contribute to their success, but the bottom line is that anyone who “puts in his trolling time” in recognized muskie hotspots will catch one of these leviathans.
MUSKIES CAN BE TAKEN ANYWHERE IN THE RIVER, BUT, YEAR AFTER YEAR, TRADITIONAL HOTSPOTS YIELD THE MAJORITY OF FISH. The very best spots are characterized by large flats with significant structural edges and adjacent deep water. A mild current is also present. Ten favorite muskie haunts are the channel side of Oak Island at Chippewa Bay; American Island at Morristown; the mouth of the Oswegatchie River and the International Bridge Shoals at Ogdensburg; the mouth of Whitehouse Bay, Ogden Island, and the mouth of Coles Creek at Waddington; and the Town Beach, Copeland Oil Tanks, and Hawkins Point at Massena.
A GROWING CATCH-AND-RELEASE ETHIC ON THE PART OF ANGLERS IS CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM AMONG THE MUSKIE-FISHING COMMUNITY. Contributing to the popularity of releasing trophy muskellunge are an increased awareness on the part of anglers, the option of having a taxidermist produce a “reproduction” mount, the concept of using a photograph as a memento, and Save the River’s reward program. This program awards, to anyone who releases a legal muskie, a numbered print of a muskie painting by renowned St. Lawrence River artist, Michael Ringer.
When releasing a muskie, the best practice is to unhook the fish while it’s still in the water. Some anglers control the muskie by hand while others opt to use a net or cradle. IF A PHOTO IS TO BE TAKEN, HAVE THE CAMERA READY TO GO SO THE FISH IS OUT OF WATER A MINIMAL AMOUNT OF TIME. When lifting the fish, be sure to support its innards by holding one hand under its belly. Immediately return the fish to the water, supporting it until the muskie swims off on its own. Oversized, needle nose pliers and large bolt cutters are indispensable for effective, non-damaging releases.
See New York State special fishing regulations for Lake Ontario, St. Lawrence River and their tributaries on the NYSDEC website for current regulations. The Special Regulations for Lake Ontario, St. Lawrence River and their tributaries is on page 63.
Muskies in Small Rivers
Muskellunge inhabit the lower stretches of the Oswegatchie, Grasse, Raquette, St. Regis, and Deer rivers, all of which eventually flow into the St. Lawrence. MUSKIE NUMBERS ARE FAIRLY STABLE ON THESE RIVERS, BUT POPULATIONS COULD EASILY BE OVERFISHED SO CATCH AND RELEASE IS ENCOURAGED FOR ALL MUSKELLUNGE TAKEN ON THE OSWEGATCHIE, GRASSE, RAQUETTE, ST. REGIS, AND DEER RIVERS.
Muskie fishing here is primarily done from canoes or small boats. Bridge crossings, road crossings, and various launches provide access along the river. Unlike the St. Lawrence River where trolling is the primary technique, the small rivers offer the opportunity to cast for muskies. For the most part, anglers use an electric motor or simply let the current move them along while they cast to the bank. Because of shallow water, many anglers opt to toss surface lures, but spinners and jerk baits will also entice strikes.
Fly Fishing for Muskies
Some of the best and most diverse fly-fishing opportunities for muskies are right here in St. Lawrence County. A variety of shallow water tributaries to the St. Lawrence River afford a unique fly-fishing experience. These wadeable and floatable flows are the home of healthy populations of this veracious predator. The middle and lower, warm-water stretches of the Grasse, Raquette, St. Regis, Deer and Little Rivers can be easily fly-fished from a wide variety of access points with varying water types from trout-stream-like riffles and slow runs to flat-rock shelves and deeper flats. Top-water action in these tribs is excellent when using divers, poppers and sliders. The vicious surface “take” of the muskie is only comparable to the tail walking battle and multiple long runs that inevitably ensue. If you’re looking for great muskie fly-fishing, we’ve got it!
From DEC Website:
The largest member of the pike family, the muskellunge, or musky, is also the largest freshwater game fish in New York State. It often grows to more than 40 pounds, and the current State record is a 69-pound 15-ounce giant taken from the St. Lawrence River.
Muskellunge generally live in cool lakes and large rivers, sometimes staying in moderately swift water. In New York State, two separate musky strains occur. The Great Lakes or St. Lawrence strain is found in the St. Lawrence River, the lower reaches of its major tributaries - the Grasses, Oswegatchie, and Raquette rivers - and the Upper Niagara River. The Ohio strain occurs in Chatauqua Lake, the Allegheny River and their major tributaries, and is also stocked into the Chazy River, a tributary of Lake Champlain.
Similar in appearance to northern pike, muskellunge differ by having scales only on the upper half of both the cheeks and gill covers, and 12 to 18 sensory pores on the undersurface of the lower jaw. Although actual body color ranges from barred to spotted to plain, muskies always have a light background with dark markings, just the reverse of the northern pike. Muskellunge are extremely rapid growers, reaching ten to 12 inches in length by the time they are eight month old. Like other pike, females grow faster and larger than males, explaining why most trophy muskies are female.
Muskellunge have similar spawning habits to other pike, spawning in mid to late spring. Muskies generally spawn slightly later than northern pike, and in waters where the two species occur together, later spawning puts them at a disadvantage. The earlier-hatching young northerns will eat young muskellunge.
Because of their large size and rarity, muskellunge are held in high regard. Their unpredictable nature fascinates people. It can take an experienced musky angler as much as 50 hours of fishing to catch one of these giants. A large musky has tremendous strength and may take up to one hour to land. Although muskellunge are tasty, most anglers now practice "catch and release" to help ensure the future of limited populations.
Anglers are encouraged to release ALL Muskellunge taken from St. Lawrence County waters.