ST. PAUL, Minn. -When anglers head out on lakes across Minnesota this weekend, a good number will literally be chasing "the big one."
Muskie season opens on Saturday, June 7. While some may not know it, Minnesota is a muskie fishing destination, thanks in part to research-based management by the Department of Natural Resources and a catch-and-release ethic shared by many muskie anglers.
"People come here because they have the chance to catch a giant muskie," said Mike Habrat, DNR fisheries specialist in Detroit Lakes. "Muskie anglers are more than happy to cast all day long and not catch a fish, but if they get the chance to see one of those fish follow their lure to the boat – that's all they talk about for the next two weeks."
The chance to catch a trophy is what led the Minnesota Muskie and Pike Alliance to support a 54-inch minimum size limit, which was adopted into this year's game and fish bill, and will become effective with the 2015 muskie season. DNR officials hope it will allow fish to grow larger. Until the new size limit goes into effect, the statewide minimum size is 48 inches.
The DNR maintains that Minnesota's rise as a renowned muskie fishing destination is the result of research that identified how best to capture and rear a large-growing native strain of muskie, stocking this strain in appropriate waters, and carefully managing the harvest. The new size length regulation will help the state continue to be a destination for those seeking large muskie, Habrat said.
According to information compiled by Muskie, Inc. Magazine and The Lunge Log, three of the nation's top five muskie lakes (based on reports of 50-inch fish or larger) are located in Minnesota and 11 of the nation's top 19 muskie lakes are located in the Gopher state. Lakes like Vermilion, Mille Lacs and Big Detroit are commonly recognized as among the best in the country for catching big muskie.
"Anglers don't necessarily have to catch a fish to have a satisfying trip," Habrat said. "There's enjoyment in the mystique of the fish and knowing the potential to catch a very large fish exists."