More than a mile of baby muskies found new homes in Ohio reservoirs this week, thanks to stockings by the Ohio Division of Wildlife.
Some 8,134 advanced fingerling muskies averaging 9.5 inches long were planted in West Branch, Lake Milton, Leesville, Piedmont, Alum Creek and Clear Fork on Thursday afternoon and Friday.
Today the little muskies are already stalking their new hunting grounds for young-of-the-year shad and other species and soon will grow to sizes that will impress Ohio anglers for years to come.
Placed nose to tail, the fingerling muskies stocked Thursday would stretch some 6,439 feet or nearly 11/4 miles. That’s a lot of fish.
Within a few years, however, today’s 9.5-inch muskies will range from 3 to 4 feet long. They will be crashing bucktails and plugs cast and trolled in each of Ohio’s premier musky waters, stretching anglers’ lines, and threatening to splinter pool-cue rods and strip the gears of winchlike reels.
West Branch was infused with 1,832 advanced fingerlings. Milton received 1,100, and Leesville was stocked with 732 more muskies.
Alum Creek got 2,234 fingerlings. The division of wildlife stocked 1,528 in Piedmont and 708 in Clear Fork.
West Branch, Milton and Leesville are popular muskie waters. Big catches are recorded annually in all of Ohio’s muskie lakes, but West Branch, Milton and Leesville typically rank at or near the top in terms of productivity — for numbers and for size.
A growing number of fishers target muskies specifically, a testament to the success of Ohio’s stocking programs. While other regions of the U.S. may be more widely associated with musky fishing, Ohio needs to offer no apologies for the opportunities it offers big-game anglers.
While just about any fish species is included on muskies’ menus, they mostly prey on the large shad populations in their home lakes. Anglers who understand musky behavior know where to find them as the shad shift their location from season to season.
Aquatic vegetation is a good place to start looking. In the spring, before the grass is tall and thick, muskies will prowl the flats where the greenery is emerging.
Once summer rolls around, main lake weed lines are preferred hunting grounds, as the muskies use the edges to conceal their presence from unsuspecting prey.
In the fall, as shad migrate into feeder creeks, the muskie follow and feast on the algae-feeders.
One thing about muskie fishing is that it’s not a finesse game. Though stories abound of crappie anglers battling bruisers that slurped in a 1-inch minnow, most hookups are produced by anglers heaving oversized lures and hustling them back to the boat in frenzied retrieves.
Big-muskie time is now. The fish — thick and healthy — are feeding actively to store energy for the long winter months under ice. Giant spinners and crankbaits and big gurgling surface baits will attract jarring strikes.
So the stocking trucks have done their jobs. Nature will take its course, as more than 8,000 sets of jaws go to work on the baitfish at West Branch, Milton and the other newly stocked lakes.
Will you get one of the 30-pounders this year’s class is sure to produce?