How to Land a Muskie Without a Net: Read This First

September 27, 2021

Ask any professional angler, and he’ll tell you netting is the easiest way to get a fish into your boat. If you don’t have a net, there are a couple of alternative practices, but they’re not as easy.

Some anglers opt for mouth grabbing, which paralyzes the fish in an instant, making it easy to haul it into your boat.

There’s a small detail I left out here, though. Mouth grabbing only works for toothless fish. So unless you want to lose a couple of digits, never try to hold a muskie by its mouth. The treble hooks inside are capable of causing severe injuries. 

One wrong movement at the wrong time, and you can say goodbye to a finger forever.

With sharp-toothed fish like muskies, you have no option but to use traditional techniques. Those include holding the fish by its belly or swinging it in the air. It’d help if you have company because they can hold the fish while you handle the line.

Anyway, without further ado, let’s see how you can catch a tough, sharp-toothed fish like a muskie without a net.

The Gill Cover Compression Technique

So how to land a muskie without a net? There’s a popular technique among anglers called the gill cover compression technique. To catch a muskie using this method, you first need to pull the fish gently and slowly alongside the boat. 

Next, at the right moment, run your hand against the fish’s back and up to its head. When your hand is directly over the fish’s gills, squeeze them firmly but gently. Then, lift the fish without giving it a chance to slip away.

It won’t be able to escape under all cases because you’re compressing the gills, but take care just in case you’re holding it from the wrong place.

The best thing about the gill cover compression technique is that it paralyzes the fish. Its results are no different from the lipping method, which is holding the fish from inside its mouth.

So when you compress the muskie’s gills, you’ll be able to remove the hooks seamlessly and quickly.

Just remember not to put your hands inside the gills. Doing so can cause them to bleed, which will end the fish’s life shortly after. You only need to put your hands over the gills without getting inside.

The Belly Technique

holding a mukskie

Another technique for how to land a muskie without a net is using their belly. A lot of people prefer not to get near the gills of any fish, and it’s totally understandable.

If the gills of any fish get injured, its survival rates are low. That’s especially if you get under the protective cover and touch the gills from the inside. In this case, the fish may bleed out on you.

That’s why the belly technique is also popular among anglers, especially when catching fish that can’t be caught by lipping.

To use the belly technique, you need to first tire the fish out. You won’t be able to catch it if its energy is at its highest.

You need the fish to be a little subdued when you get near it. In the end, muskies have sharp teeth and treble hooks in their mouths. You don’t want to risk getting your fingers near an aggressive fellow.

When your fish is tired enough and directly below you, get close to it and put one hand over the gills, slipping it up to the chin’s bottom. In this area, the tissue is soft, and you can easily push it up using your fingers to paralyze the fish.

Take care not to get your finger inside the mouth. 

Afterward, move your other hand to cradle the fish’s belly, getting it on the boat safely.

If you want to release it again, hold it tightly from the tail’s front while cradling its belly using your other hand. Then, hold it for a while in the water until it gets its energy back. 

You may need to hold the muskie in the water for a while, at least until the lactic acid build-up in its muscles dissolves and it can swim again.

How to Unhook the Muskie in the Safest Way Possible

To unhook a muskie after you caught it, you’ll need a pair of needle-nose pliers. If you don’t have them, you shouldn’t be out there catching muskies. Generally, landing a muskie without a net is dangerous, so you need to be well-prepared for everything.

The safest way to unhook a muskie from the line is to keep it in the water alongside the boat. Then, grab your pliers and reach down to take the hook out—all while the fish is still in the water.

That way, you ensure you don’t get injured by dealing with the fish’s gills or mouth, and the fish gets out safely as well.

How to Unhook the Muskie Without Boatside Release

muskie caught

Now, the fish is hooked, and everything’s ready, but the hook is out of reach, so you can’t use the pliers to undo it.

Sometimes, the boat-side release won’t be possible, and that’s completely okay because there are alternatives.

After you use one of the two techniques above to land the fish in your boat, it should be in a calm state. It should be at least trying to catch its breath, so you won’t see many fights on its part.

Now, it’s time to unhook it using your bare hands, which is a dangerous procedure, so you need to take care. If the fish is 40 inches long or large, use your hand to grab it softly under the gill plate. Then, lift its head because you’ll need to perform oral surgery.

Wear your gloves for this part. If you don’t have a pair, then you’ll need to be extra careful with the gill rakers.

These are sharper than razors, and they line the fish’s jawbone. If you don’t hold the fish correctly, you may cut your fingers by accident.

Carefully place your hand right over the gills with the least contact possible. Then, firmly grip the gill plate area, and lift the fish in a vertical position, with its head facing upwards.

Now, use a jaw spreader to gently pry the fish’s mouth open. From there, the rest is pretty easy. You only need to grab your pliers and unhook the muskie.

But take care not to let the fish slip away with the jaw spreader in its mouth. 

If you don’t have a jaw spreader, you’ll need to use your bare hands to pry the fish’s mouth open. It’s a bit risky, but you can handle it if you have enough experience with muskies.

You never know; the fish may involuntarily help you.

Should You Bring the Muskie on the Boat While Landing It?

As you probably saw, most of the techniques and tips I mentioned above depend on getting the muskie on the boat. But should you actually do that?

Sometimes, you’ll have no other option but to do it. However, it should be your last resort for your own safety and, of course, the fish’s safety.  

Unfortunately, though, it may be the only option when you don’t have a net. Anglers who have a net use it as a temporary will for the fish, so they can later release them safely. When you don’t have a net, you don’t have that option.

Before you get the muskie on your boat, there are a couple of things you need to know. For starters, if it’s still hooked, there’s a risk of injury because the fish will keep thrashing around.

Another downside is that the fish may fall on the deck. If it keeps thrashing too much, you’ll have no choice but to lose your grip, and it’ll likely come in contact with the deck. When that happens, the chances of the fish surviving for release are pretty low. 

Generally, any fish won’t survive long on a hot deck floor. Even if you have a carpet, it’ll strip the fish of the protective slime around its body, which keeps it protected from infection and harmful bacteria.

What Tools Do You Need to Land a Muskie Without a Net?

muskie hooked

To land a muskie without a net, you’ll need some release tools.

Firstly, you’ll need a jaw spreader because muskies have sharp teeth. These little tools are spring-loaded, so you can open the fish’s mouth without the risk of it closing.

You should also have a pair of landing gloves for holding the fish.

Your hands may get injured because of the fish’s sharp gills. Plus, you don’t want to strip the fish of the slime around its body, which may happen if you hold it with dry hands.

Lastly, you may carry hook cutters for emergencies. You won’t need them if you have pliers and know how to use them, though.

To Wrap Up

As you can see, landing muskies without a net isn’t a walk in the park. It’s a dangerous practice, and you need to have enough confidence in your skills to do it.

As long as you take care not to touch the fish’s mouth or gill rake, you’ll be fine.

We hope you enjoyed our guide on how to land a muskie without a net.

Happy Hunting!

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