A tiger muskie officially weighed at 37 pounds, 14 ounces caught in Curlew Lake in Ferry County on July 25 is a state record for the species — pending the soon-to-come official declaration from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
David Hickman, of Richland, caught the lunker, which measured 50.37 inches long by 23.75 inches in girth. The fish was weighed the day it was caught on the certified scale at Anderson’s Grocery in Republic.
It easily exceeds the current state tiger muskie record of 31.25 pounds caught in Western Washington’s Mayfield Lake on Sept. 22, 2001.
“The paperwork still needs two more signatures to make it official, but I think it’s safe to say that it will be the new state record,” Kent Mayer, warm-water fisheries program biologist in Spokane, said on Wednesday.
Bill Baker, the agency’s fisheries biologist for northeastern Washington isn’t surprised. “Curlew is very productive, and I think the lake produces arguably the fastest-growing and most robust tiger muskies in the state,” he said.
The tiger muskie is a cross between two formidable predators — eggs produced by female muskellunge are fertilized in hatcheries with the milt of male northern pike.
The resulting hybrid “tiger muskies” are sterile, enabling fish managers to stock them in small numbers to prime the hopes of trophy-seeking anglers without the worry that the tigers will reproduce out of control and gobble up other fisheries.
Being a standout fishery among the seven tiger muskie lakes in Washington — Merwin, Mayfield, Tapps and Evergreen to the west and Curlew, Silver and Newman in the northeast — is noteworthy in itself.
Idaho’s state record tiger muskie, 44.26 pounds, was caught last August in Little Payette Lake. But Washington apparently is a more consistent lunker producer. Montana’s top muskie was caught in 2012 by Leo Cantin. That fish was a 50-inch-long, 38.12-pound sharp-toothed beast.
The Muskies Inc. “Lunge Log” for 2013 lists Washington as producing eight of the top 13 tiger muskies officially recorded in the nation in the all-tackle category, as well as eight of the top 10 in the fly-fishing category.
But even Curlew requires considerable time to grow a 50-inch tiger muskie.
“We began stocking them in Curlew in 1998 to provide a trophy fishery as well as to help control the high numbers of northern pikeminnows,” Baker said.
The muskies also take their share of rainbow trout stocked into the lake.
For being such a fierce and toothy predator, the tigers clearly shy from the prickly-finned bass in the lake and the booming population of perch that apparently were illegally introduced in recent years. If given the option, the muskies strongly prefer feeding on soft-finned fish, Baker said.
“Although the tiger muskie diet in Curlew is roughly 50-50 pikeminnow and trout, the rainbow fishing actually improved with the introduction of tiger muskies because of the impact they’ve had in reducing the number of pikeminnows, which compete with the trout,” Baker said.
Tiger muskies have been planted in Curlew all but two years since 1998 in very low densities of about 300 each spring. A high of 600 was planted in 2005 while only 50 were stocked in 2003. The fish are reared to a year old at the Meseberg Hatchery in Franklin County near Ringold and range from 8 to 12 inches when released.
Surveys show that the average tiger muskie planted in Curlew Lake grows to about 40 inches by the fall of their fifth year of age.
“They can live up to about 15 years,” Mayer said, but he pointed out that very few of the tiger muskies survive beyond nine years.
Hickman’s record fish is exceptional in every way.
“It was 12 years old and one of 336 tiger muskies planted in Curlew in 2002, as determined by the presence of a coded wire tag,” Mayer said.
It’s illegal in Washington for an angler to keep a tiger muskie shorter than 50 inches long, a rule supported by muskie aficionados.
The first 50-inch tiger muskie to be caught (and released) in a Washington tournament was taken in Curlew Lake in September 2011 — that’s 13 years after the species was introduced to the lake — by Chris Gades of St. Maries.
According to Muskies Inc., it was the biggest tiger muskie recorded in North America that year.
“Tiger muskie anglers don’t tend to harvest much, and we’ve heard of 50-inchers being caught and released or lost at the boat,” Baker said.
Tiger muskie anglers are a patient lot. Hickman, who’s pursued tiger muskies for years, said he’s used to making many casts for the occasional payoff. During a recent family vacation at Curlew Lake, he said he’d landed and released only one other tiger muskie — a 36-incher — and lost a second lunker, perhaps in the 50-inch range, at the boat.
His third tiger muskie of the trip, the pending record, struck his white spinner bait on the ninth and final day of the vacation.
“I was told by a knowledgeable angler that the new record is not the biggest fish in the lake,” Mayer said.