Muskies are long, slender fish famous for their power and aggressiveness. The fish are green to yellow-green with dark, vertical bars along the flanks accompanied by elongated spots. Younger fish often look silvery with very light markings.
Muskies usually live in the cool waters of the northern United States and Canada, but there are several places closer to home to pursue these aggressive game fish. One such place is Lake Pomme de Terre.
Located 50 miles north of Springfield, Lake Pomme de Terre covers nearly 8,000 acres. With fairly clear water and a rocky bottom, the lake is a typical Ozark reservoir. It was built as a watershed lake to hold flood waters heading for Lake of the Ozarks. The lake was completed in 1961. The Conservation Department first stocked muskies in Pomme de Terre in 1966, and the fish have thrived there ever since.
Rich Meade, a fisheries biologist for the Conservation Department, said Pomme de Terre was originally chosen for muskie introduction because of its vast vegetation and clear water--both important habitat elements for the fish.
"Years ago, way before my time, the lake had dense vegetation, including coontail," Meade said. "There were a lot of shad, suckers and non-game fish that other gamefish don't use. So the lake was thought to be a good place for muskies."
As at other big reservoirs, Pomme de Terre's vegetation has disappeared as the lake has aged. Fortunately, the muskie population still remains healthy.
"We've got a good population (of muskie) in Pomme de Terre," Meade said. "The biggest one I've ever seen netted was 48 inches long and weighed 35 pounds. Before that, while electrofishing, a 48 1/2-inch fish was shocked."
Muskies don't reproduce naturally in Pomme de Terre, so the Conservation Department nets fish each spring and milks them for eggs. After the eggs are fertilized at the lake, the fish are released. The eggs are then taken to the Lost Valley Fish Hatchery near Warsaw to be hatched. By October, when they are released into Pomme de Terre and several other lakes in Missouri, the young muskies are 10 to 12 inches long.
"We released 10,600 muskies into Pomme do Terre in 2000," Meade said. "In 1999, about 5,400 were released."Pomme de Terre muskie guide Jim "Coach" Wilson has fished for muskies at Pomme de Terre for 15 years, and has traveled to Canada over a dozen times to chase big muskie on Lake of the Woods. Lake of the Woods has a worldwide reputation for superb muskie fishing, but Wilson says Pomme de Terre is comparable with that lake or any other muskie hotspot.
"The biggest muskie I've ever caught was 47 1/2 inches long and I've caught two that size," Wilson said. "One was on Lake of the Woods, and one was here, on Pomme de Terre."
Many bass anglers would enjoy fishing for muskies. Both involve throwing artificial baits on baitcasting equipment. However, muskie fishing requires diligence and perseverance. After all, muskies aren't called "the fish of 10,000 casts" for nothing. Throwing a 2-ounce crankbait all day can wear out any angler, and you may go several trips without so much as a bite. Many muskie anglers are thrilled if they can simply get a fish to follow their bait.
"We have a muskie tournament every year," Wilson said. "The tournament is three days long, and you hope to catch one fish on the first day and then one more on the two remaining days. One fish makes for a good day."
Why would anyone want to fish all day and only catch one fish? Muskies usually strike with speed, power and force unmatched by any other species. They strike so violently that they sometimes break line, lures or poles on the initial strike. All it takes is one fish for an angler to become obsessed with catching another.
"I had about two feet of line out when I caught my first muskie," Wilson said. "I was lifting my lure out of the water, and this big muskie shot out of the water and grabbed the lure in the air."
Anglers might catch several fish on a really good day. Like with most game fish, overcast days usually produce better fishing. Wilson and Meade agree that autumn is the best time for Pomme de Terre muskies, but good fishing lasts throughout the winter months.
"In September and October, when the water temperature drops into the 70s and 60s, the fish come out of the deeper water," Wilson said. "They can usually be caught in water less than 10 feet deep that time of year, and as the water gets even cooler, the fish will move into water even shallower."
"Muskies are cool-water fish and generally don't do well this far south," Meade explained. "They can get really stressed during hot summers, but they really get active when the water cools off."
In Pomme de Terre, stump fields and offshore humps are the best places to look for muskies. Timber near deep water usually holds more fish. The lower (northern) part of the lake is more popular among muskie anglers, but fish are distributed throughout the lake.Fishing for muskies requires big lures. Large, in-line bucktail spinnerbaits, 8-inch Rapala Shad Raps and Magnum Wiggle Warts are commonly used.
"Bass anglers who don't know anything about muskie fishing sometimes laugh when they see the big lures I use," Wilson said.
A muskie rig is stout and powerful. Wilson uses large-capacity, high-speed baitcasting reels with a 6 1/2 foot, heavy action rod. He prefers to use 50 pound-test braided line with a 6-inch wire leader. Surprisingly, fish still occasionally break the line.
Muskies are notorious for following a lure to the boat and hitting it at the last second. Anglers make the common mistake of not watching their lure and just pulling it out of the water. It is vital to watch for fish following the lure. If a muskie follows the lure to the boat, keep the lure moving in the water, reel in all but about two feet of line, stick the pole in the water and make a large figure-8 motion. This odd maneuver will often draw a strike. Be sure to unlock the spool when making a figure-8, and thumb the line. If the fish hits while the spool is locked, it may break line, break the equipment or just rip the pole from your hands.
Trolling over offshore humps also produces a lot of fish. For this method, Wilson chooses a large crankbait such as a Magnum Wiggle Wart. The type of crankbait depends on the depth of the hump and the season.
Some anglers claim that muskies feed on other gamefish such as crappie and diminish the population. Although muskies may occasionally eat crappie, they usually feed on shad or other nongame fish.
"There is no documented evidence that muskie hurt other gamefish populations," Meade said.
Although many people fish for muskie on Pomme de Terre, this exciting game fish ranks far behind bass, crappie and catfish in popularity. Nevertheless, muskies have a devoted--or even an obsessed--following of anglers. More than 150 muskie fanatics belong to Pomme de Terre Chapter of Muskies, Inc., making it one of the largest chapters in the country.
The chapter holds two catch-and-release tournaments per year. The tournaments, which sometimes include as many as 100 boats, are a great place to test your fishing skills and learn Pomme de Terre's muskie fishing hotspots. More information about the tournaments and the chapter's many activities is available online or you can call Chapter President Carl Marks at (417) 745-2381.
At Pomme de Terre, the daily limit of muskies is one fish that must be 36 inches or longer. Anglers seldom keep their catches, however. Mark Boone, the Conservation Department's muskellunge program advisor and a muskie angler, says his surveys show that an overwhelming majority of anglers release their fish after catching them.
"Among all muskie anglers, it's over 90 percent catch-and-release," Boone said, "but when it comes to chapter members, it's 100 percent."
Those numbers show a lot of a respect for a hard-fighting game fish. Missourians seem determined to preserve their opportunity to battle traditionally northern fish in Missouri waters. You'll understand why after a Missouri muskie rockets into your lure.
Editor - Tom Cwynar
Managing Editor - Bryan Hendricks
Art Editor - Dickson Stauffer
Designer - Les Fortenberry
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Circulation - Laura Scheuler