The Eye Of The Tiger
Musky Hunter|December 2020/January 2021
BIG HEAT, FIRST MEAT, AND POST-FRONTAL CONDITIONS ARE PATTERNS THE AUTHOR HAS IDENTIFIED FOR HOOKING HYBRIDS
Jeff Van Remortel
The tiger musky is arguably one of the most highly-prized fish in the realm of North American gamefish, especially among anglers seeking top-end predators. Tiger muskies are the byproduct of hybridization between muskellunge and northern pike, and natural tigers most commonly occur throughout the upper Midwest and Canada. They have also been artificially introduced/stocked into many lakes across the natural range of the musky and beyond, usually as a management tool for panfish or rough fish, or to expand angling opportunity.

Washington, Utah, Idaho, New Mexico, Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Colorado, Montana, Arkansas, Iowa, Indiana, North Dakota, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and others all have records of tiger muskies inhabiting their waters. Most of these hybrids were produced in hatcheries.

Targetable populations of natural tigers, however, are harder to pin down. Two of the best options for natural tigers currently are Lake St Clair and my home waters of northern Wisconsin.

Tiger Lakes

Northern Wisconsin has long been known as a producer of natural tigers. Though some stocking of tigers has occurred throughout the state over the years, the vast majority of those programs have ceased and their progeny are mostly long gone.

Aside from having naturally-reproducing populations of both pike and muskies, “tiger lakes” usually share a few other characteristics. The most important commonality is an expansive, shallow spawning area/bay or connective waters that can warm quickly, causing the pike spawn and musky spawn to overlap. These areas are usually connective sloughs or bays off of rivers, shallow connected lakes or large bulrush beds.

Though hybridization can occur in any naturally-reproducing system in any given year, the best year classes of tigers seem to occur when a prolonged ice-out and cold spring delay the pike spawn, followed by a rapid warming trend that jump starts the musky spawn. As with many hybrids, it is theorized that the majority of breeding occurs between a male of the earlier-spawning species (pike) and a female of the later-spawning species (musky).

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