Once hooked, the muskie makes no bones about his opposition to restraint, and the exhibition often proves spectacular. Although it is not normally inclined toward surface gymnastics, as is the salmon, many an angler has been surprised and disturbed to find himself sharing the boat with a muskie a few seconds after the fish is hooked. There have been recorded instances, under such conditions, when the angler decided the element just abandoned by the big fish was preferable to a drier but more dangerous seat in the boat or canoe.
Normally, the fish displays its opposition by a series of runs, accompanied by underwater thrashing. The major problem faced by the angler is to keep his quarry from seeking shelter in a thick weed bed, under a ledge, or among the tangled roots of a waterside tree. Once the fish manages to attain one of these sanctuaries, the result is usually a snapped line or a pulled hook.
There is nothing gregarious about the muskie, at least in the adult stage. Except during the rather brief spawning period during April or May (depending upon water temperature), when it moves in to the shallow, lake spawning beds the muskie is antisocial in the extreme. This can be attributed, at least in part, to its size and appetite. Certainly none of the small fish which constitute the bulk of the muskie's diet would continue to frequent an area populated by a school of hungry muskies.
When the fish attains adult stature it seeks out a vantage point where food appears to be reasonably abundant and lurks. This is often a pocket on the fringe of a weed bed or a convenient niche on the rim of a ledge or reef. In a river it might be the deep cut under an overhanging bank or a cavern under the projecting roots of a streamside tree.
A good lurking place apparently is readily recognized by a big muskie; anglers report that when a large fish is taken from one of these spots, another fish usually moves in soon. The angler who locates one of these hangouts usually concentrates his fishing efforts on the individual occupant.
A TIGER'S STALK
Occasionally the muskie will cruise in search of food. On such excursions it will often stalk its prey as carefully and craftily as a tiger, taking full advantage of all cover in approaching the victim. Then there will be the final, darting rush that seems to confuse and terrorize the prey. The long jaw, crowded with needle-sharp teeth, snaps viciously and the hunt is over.
While on the spawning beds the muskie exhibits less interest in feeding, and apparently grabs at passing fish or the lures of an angler through annoyance. It seems to concentrate firmly on the matter at hand, and in view of the magnitude of the event this is not surprising. The average female produces from 100,000 to 300,000 eggs. Fortunately a large proportion of these eggs is gobbled up by predatory fish, and the mortality rate of newly hatched muskies is extremely high. Otherwise, as a barroom philosopher once pointed out, the residents of several north-central states would be up to their hips in muskies.
As it is, the supply of these fish is never equal to the demand. In an effort to provide better muskie fishing, a few states have initiated projects for the artificial propagation, rearing and restocking of the fish.
Young muskies reared in hatcheries are, after five months, sufficiently hardy to withstand shipment to waters where the population of the species is low. From then on they are likely to have long and happy lives even if caught in the end—muskies, after a burst of speed in which they grow nine inches in their first 100 days, may take as long as 15 years to reach legal size of 30 inches.