There's a lot of talk among musky anglers about the proper handling of fish and the importance of "catch and release." Any musky angler worth his salt will tell you a quality net is a "must have," and all of the people I fish with, including myself, own a Beckman Pen Fin Saver or something very similar. Nets like these allow you to keep the fish in the water while it is being unhooked, and have a special coating and a small mesh that protect the fins of the fish..
However, even with the best precautions, we often catch fish that already have split and/or bleeding fins. Whether or not this is from environmental factors or from being previously mishandled really cannot be determined. It is believed that split fins can make a musky more susceptible to infection and at the least, it doesn't make them very attractive.
Not surprisingly, many anglers have their differing opinions on whether or not these fins heal, so this is something worth noting.
The fish on top was caught through the ice in December of 2013. It is a very clean, healthy-looking 37-inch tiger musky. It was caught by my friend Matt and it was safely released. Upon further inspection, he noticed that it was the same exact fish he caught from my boat in August f 2013, just 4 months earlier. Tiger muskies have markings that are as unique as fingerprints, and if you were to go through every marking on the two fish above, they are identical.
Don't waste your time though, I can assure you that both pictures are of the same fish.
When Matt caught the fish in my boat, I scooped it up in my Beckman and it was quickly unhooked, photographed and released. The fish already had damage to its fins.
There are two things to take from this recapture of the same tiger musky, just 4 months apart. The first is that regardless of whether it was caused by environmental factors or being previously mishandled by someone other than us, the fins of this fish have almost completely healed. That is a very good thing to see.
The second, and just as if not more important, is hard evidence of why we should be practicing catch and release. Who knows how many other times this fish was caught in those 4 months, and how many times it will be caught in the future. Maybe next Spring this fish will be caught on Father's Day by an 11 year-old fishing with his dad.
Maybe one day this fish could be a state record tiger musky, and state records only get that big if people don't kill them.
For a lot of people, this is the fish of a lifetime, and Matt has let it go twice for someone else to enjoy, and hopefully let it go again.