C&R Tips & Gear for Musky & Other Toothy Critters

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Fly fishing for musky and other toothy fish. Photo Louis Cahill

I’ll never forget the first musky I landed on fly.

It was an extremely proud moment for me, but it quickly turned into a stressful situation after I got the musky to the boat. I had serious problems removing the deeply hooked fly. The musky had its mouth slammed shut and would not open it more than a couple seconds at a time. After a few minutes, without making any progress, I became desperate and used my hand to pry the mouth open (dumb I know, but the health of the fish was more important to me), and I ended up badly cutting my hand on the razor sharp teeth. The entire hook removal process took far too long and that made it extremely difficult for us to revive and release the fish. It was an organized team effort to say the least. I held the fish in the water, Louis stabilized the net, and Murphy ran the trolling motor upstream to keep water running over the gills, until we got the musky green again. Talk about a bummer that ended up overshadowing a proud angling moment. That’s not how I wanted my first catch and release of a musky to go down.

If you’re planning on going fly fishing for musky or any other toothy critters for the first time, I highly encourage you to read over these organized catch and release handling tips and gear recommendations. They’ll keep you and the fish safe, and you’ll greatly decrease the chances of ruining a great moment on the water like I did.

Proper Musky Handling and Gear

Musky aren’t as tough as most people think. Yeah, their big fish and they look tough with all those teeth, but their large size and wealth of muscle make them very susceptible to mortality from lactic acid build up during the fight. When you catch a musky, you always want to try to keep the fish in the net and in the water at all times. You want to net the fish, remove the hook (while keeping the fish in the water) and release it unharmed as quickly as possible. By keeping the fish in the water you’ll find the fish will stay much calmer than out of the water. The only time you should take the fish out of the water is for a quick photo. You should then immediately put it back in the water and hold onto it, and keep it upright until it’s sufficiently revived.

Forget the Cradle Get a Big Net

One of the most valuable pieces of gear to have on hand when fishing for toothy critters is a quality net. A lot of musky fisherman like to use cradles, but I don’t like them because they require a second angler in the boat to use them. You also have to get the musky much closer to the boat before you can use a cradle. I also found out that cradles have a learning curve, and can be quite hard to figure out if you’ve landed fish your entire life with nets.


Not all nets are created equal. For musky and other large game fish, you want a heavy duty net that has a long handle and is wide and deep. For the safety of the fish you also want to use a net that’s fish safe. It should be knotless and be a coated nylon to help prevent harming the fish and preventing the snag of hooks. The Beckman Big Fish Net and Frabill Conservation Series Net are two popular models that provide the above features. A net with a long enough handle and deep enough basket will allow you to keep the fish and the net in the water during the entire hook removal process.

Suggested Musky Hook Removal Products

The main reason I had so much trouble removing the hook on my first musky was because I didn’t have the proper hook removal gear with me on the boat. Somehow we managed to leave our heavy duty long handled pliers on my buddies other boat at the house. Veteran musky fisherman usually carry two or three hook removal devices with them at all times. Below are a few that are very popular in the industry.

11″ Heavy Duty Needle Nose Pliers


The Hook Pick “Hookout” 


The “hook pick” by Tyrant Tackle is 15″ long and works great for removing deeply hooked fish from a safe distance.

Jaw Spreader Tool


A jaw spreader is an inexpensive tool to have on hand when you have a fish hooked deep and it’s not wanting to keep its mouth open.

Knipex Hook Cutter


Every once in a while the only way to get a hook out of a fish is to cut the hook off. Knipex makes a great pair of spring loaded hook cutters that will easily cut through heavy duty hooks. When using them, you’ll want to cut the hook/hooks, remove the fly and then go back in to remove the pieces of hook.

Protective Gloves for Toothy Fish


Left to Right (Musky Armor Gloves, Hi-Seas Offshore Gloves, Lindy Fish Handler)

It’s never a bad idea to wear a pair of protective fishing gloves when handling fish with razor sharp teeth and gills. There’s several different models of puncture proof/resistant gloves out there you can buy. I even found gloves on the web called HexArmor that are guaranteed to stop needles and knives.

That’s my list of tips and gear that anglers should consider if they want to get serious about chasing toothy critters on the fly. I wish I would have run across an article like this before I went on my first trip. It would have been a whole more prepared.

Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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5 thoughts on “C&R Tips & Gear for Musky & Other Toothy Critters

  1. You southerners always crack me up about how to handle a fish, I mean Muskies – everything else is just bait.

    Muskies have no reverse, get a net with a decent sized hoop opening of 28 to 32 inches and a deep bag, once they’re in, they can’t get out. If you get a net with too large a hoop, they will swim in and out in a flash. Plus the net will be too large to handle easily near the boat, especially if you are in a smaller more confined craft. I prefer a net with a collapsable 5′ handle for easy storage, quick deployment and easy handling in the water.

    You must have a jaw spreader or a wish to become another finger amputee, that’s all there is to say about that.

    Long handled Needle Nosed pliers are good, but not vital. If you use single hooked flies you can usually get the hook out with just a sturdy pair of standard length Needle Nosed pilers or a Mitten Clamp. Fish handling gloves are a big help. On occasion I have had to go through the gill plates to prevent damage to the Gills, clip the Leader/wire and pull the fly out through the Gills rather than through the mouth on deeply hooked fish. A drop or two of Super Glue – like Pro Soft Bait or Aron Aplha will stop bleeding instantly and save the life of badly hooked and bleeding fish!

    Respect the fish, be efficient at hook removal and a couple of “Grip & Grins” is enough. Most Muskies will revive faster than a trout and are much more resilient. Water temp makes a huge difference, in very warm conditions they will suffer a lot of stress. I usually keep them in the net until I have the hook out, then hand them to my client for a few quick photos before releasing them. They usually go home embarrassed but not injured – and they will remember you!

    The truly wild fish that have never been handled before will usually try to bite you, be careful when that fish is first in the net, give them a little time to settle down before grabbing them, let them take their aggressions out on the net, not your hands. A firm jaw hold is best for handling – learn how to do it properly and you won’t harm the fish or yourself.

  2. Do yourself a favor and go barbless. It makes everything so much easier.

    I’ve never lost a fish because of a barbless hook. Always maintain pressure and you’ll land the fish. Use a big ass net and allow slack in the line once the fish is in the net. Most of the time the fish will throw the hook for you.

    I’ve never had a hook removal go south after going barbless. Yes, I was skeptical at first too.

  3. this is simply the best fly fishing website around. thanks for another great article, Louis. I love the consistency of your daily posts. And it’s not like you’re just checking a box; every one of them says something meaningful. Keep up the good work

  4. Interesting how one anglers opinion varies from another. I’ve been guiding musky for 15 years and rarely if ever have had a fish jump out of my wide hoop net. In fact I prefer a wide hoop so you don’t catch a loose hook near the top near the hoop which makes it difficult to keep the fishes head below the surface during removal. A wider hoop allows you to get the fish to the bottom of the net so it stay below the surface while being hung off the side of the boat during hook removal. I use a Stowmaster net because it fold in half and hides away nicely on even a small boat but has a huge hoop for better netting. I’ve caught thousands of big musky and can’t remeber the last time I used a jaw spreader, must be a little fish thing because the big guys don’t seam to go lock jaw but I do recommend having them just in case. I also agree with the authors recommendation of long needle nose pliers and to me that’s a must to keep my hands away from those teeth but for me 99 percent of my clients musky are over 20lbs with huge jaws so when it goes deep, it goes real deep and a long nose plier is the best tool for that. I only fish for truly wild georgian bay musky and of the thousands of large 20 to 60lb musky I’ve never ever had one try and bite me in the net, well maybe 1 or 2 but thats very rare, they must hate you more then me..lol . One more word of advise is to not rush getting them out of the water for a picture or to remove the hooks once they’re in the net. They’ve fought long and hard and taking them out to quickly is hard on them and I believe air kills more musky then anything. I think of it kinda like you running around the block and immediately jumping in a pool and trying to hold your breath while your still out of breath, its almost impossible to do, but if you rest for a few minutes then try and hold your breath its much easier to do and you can do it for much longer.. I take my time getting the release tools, removing the hooks, educating my customers on the release methods and getting the camera ready providing the fishes head is below water in the net the whole time and the water isn’t exceptionally hot. I believe in allowing the fish the ability to “catch thier breath” before I allow my customers to lift the fish out of the water for a picture and I rarely if ever have a fish go belly up because of it. One last thing, don’t hang the full weight of a large musky from the gills, all the internal organs are attached to the head and this can rip or tear things and can kill a big fish. It’s always best to support the bulk of the fishes weight with one hand under the belly or anal area and one in the gills area. Anyways, good article, proper musky handling and release methods are one of the most important things a musky anglers should know.

  5. I don’t know about using jaw spreaders. I’ve heard they do damage to the fish’s jaws. I’d think getting something solid in their jaws that prevents them from closing them all the way but doesn’t put pressure on them to open them is the way to go. Just make sure it’s not your hand.

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