A big muskie is an old muskie. Females require 14 to 17 years to reach 30 pounds. Northern pike grow even more slowly. Once taken out of the water and hung on a wall or carved into fillets, a trophy is not soon replaced by another fish of its size. So, the key to creating trophy northern pike and muskie fishing is catch-and-release angling. Unfortunately, some fish are mortally injured by improper handling and cannot be successfully released.
All northern pike and muskie are difficult to handle because of their slippery hides, lack of good handles and sharp teeth. Big fish are particularly troublesome because of their great size and power.
The first step to successfully releasing fish is to use artificials rather than live bait. The second step is to keep the fish in the water if at all possible.
Caught on artificials and handled carefully, nearly all fish can be returned with no permanent injury. Here are some effective methods, courtesy of Muskie Canada, for handling large northern pike and muskie:
If you must lift a big fish from the water, support as much of its body as possible to avoid injuring its internal organs.
Never grip a fish by the eye sockets if you intend to release it. By doing so you abrade its eyes, injure the surrounding tissue and may cause blindness.