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Driftwood outdoors: Muskie fishing is challenging

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Muskie or musky?

According to Jed Pearson, a fisheries biologist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Fish & Wildlife, either abbreviation of Esox masquinongy is appropriate.

No matter how you spell the name, one thing is for certain: Fishing for muskie is an addictive challenge. And surprisingly, one of the hottest locations in the country to try to tangle with one of these toothy beasts is northern Indiana.

Indiana’s best-known and most-productive muskie waters are located in the northeast portion of the state. Although a number of other lakes and rivers hold and produce muskie, Lake Webster, the Barbee chain and the Tippecanoe chain, all in Kosciusko County, are the focal point of the state’s fishery. None of these lakes is large by any means, but all boast astonishing muskie densities.

“Recent surveys by the Division of Fish and Wildlife show adult muskie densities of over six fish per acre in Lake Webster. Granted, Indiana defines an adult fish as 36 inches or more, but several fish at or approaching 50 inches are caught in each of these lakes every year.

Numbers like this solidify Indiana’s reputation as a true muskie fishing destination,” said Josh Lantz, a local fishing guide who specializes in muskies on the fly.

Muskies are known as “the fish of 10,000 casts.” While this is an estimate, the point is catching a muskie with any type of fishing tackle is no easy task. If you want the reward and excitement of landing one of these solitary predators, you are going to have to work for one.

It’s not like I can tell you specifically how, where and when to go catch one. Muskies roam. You’re going to have to cast a lot, try a lot of different patterns, fish different structures, different depths, multiple days, and maybe, just maybe, it’ll all come together for you and across your arms will be draped a fish longer than your leg.

What I can tell you is that if you have a desire to land a muskie, then these northern Indiana lakes are one of the top destinations for you to do so because there are so many fish per acre, and there are a lot of professional guides putting muskies in the boat.

According to the DNR, from 2001 through 2011, Indiana muskie guides booked 2,900 fishing trips. Of those, 56 percent were at Lake Webster, 21 percent were on the Tippecanoe chain and 17 percent were on the Barbee chain. On average, guides boated 300 muskies annually during the past eight years.

This statistic tells us that fishing with a guide drastically cuts down the number of casts you’ll have to throw to land a fish. Pearson said there are about a dozen guides operating on the lakes. Let’s do a little math. If we divide 2,900 trips by 11 years, we are left with an average of 264 trips per year. Dividing 300 fish by 264 trips leaves us with an average of 1.14 fish landed per guide trip. I don’t know how many casts you’ll throw in a day, but it won’t be 10,000. The point is, if you want the best chance of landing a muskie, hire a guide.

There is no muskie fishing season in Indiana. From the time the lakes open up in early March through ice-up late in the year, you can fish for and catch muskies. And who knows, you might just luck into landing a special fish.

Indiana’s muskie record is 10 years old, causing at least one expert to wonder how much longer the record can last.

“We’re due for another state-record muskie,” Pearson said. “Ten years is a long time to wait.”

The current state record muskie was caught at Lake James in April 2002. The beast measured 50 inches long and weighed 42.5 pounds.

“Even though this is a very big muskie, we think there are even bigger ones out there,” Pearson said.

Whether you’re an experienced muskie fly fisherman or one of the many who have always dreamed of trying your hand at landing one, the natural lakes of northern Indiana should be on your bucket list of must-fish destinations.

See you down trail.

Brandon Butler’s outdoors column appears Saturdays in the Daily Journal.

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