They are known as the fish of 10,000 casts. They are among the biggest, smartest and rarest species in Idaho — and when you finally get a bite, the hard work is only beginning.
Meet the legendary tiger muskie, a fish with the body of a barracuda, the attitude of a crocodile and a set of teeth to match. This summer, my buddy Caleb and I decided it was time to hunt one down.
Neither of us had fished for muskie before, and it’s not an easy task to find one. Lake Cascade, Little Payette Lake near McCall and Dog Creek Reservoir near Gooding are the only established muskie fisheries within driving distance of Twin Falls.
Caleb and I live in Boise, so on a sunny Saturday, we charted a course north. Armed with large lures and heavy tackle, we launched my boat at Little Payette Lake and began trying to figure out where to find this mysterious beast.
Our hunting grounds proved as unfamiliar as our quarry. Little Payette is a strange lake, littered with dead trees floating by the hundred along the banks. We covered acre after acre of driftwood-invested water, but scarcely saw any sign of life. Still, it felt like a muskie could be lurking under any one of those floating logs.
Finally, after tying on a large swimbait, Caleb got a bite. Sadly, the culprit was just a big pikeminnow.
“Well that’s disappointing,” he lamented. “But it definitely got my heart rate up!”
We fished on. After countless unanswered casts with a floating Rapala, I switched to a sinking model and BAM! Instant payoff. I peered into the depths and was delighted to see a big smallmouth bass. It still wasn’t a muskie, but it was nice to get on the board.
“We’re getting warmer,” I predicted.
We continued to move around the lake, marveling at how many well-placed casts went unanswered. As the sun chased the western skyline, an eerie calm settled over Little Payette. The surface was glass, and we could hear the faint conversations of campers far off in the distance.
Certain moments just feel like something big could happen. Caleb and I had no muskie experience, and we surely hadn’t put in 10,000 casts yet, but as we switched to large topwater lures, I sensed magic lurking in the dusk.
I had my back turned when it happened, but the sound — akin to someone dropping a bowling ball out of a helicopter — told me a muskie had exploded on Caleb’s lure.
“Here we go, buddy, here we go!” I cried. The muskie boiled near the surface and began swimming wide circles around the boat. It looked to be about three feet long — not huge by muskie standards, but still a quality fish.
Caleb calmly worked the fish toward us, and I was faced with the crucial task of corralling a too-big fish in a too-small net. When the moment was right, I stabbed, scooped and hauled 36 inches of thrashing, razor-toothed muscle aboard.
THE MUSKIE WAS IN THE BOAT! Mission accomplished!
We got a firsthand look at the damage these fish are capable of when the tiger chomped a hole through my rubber net. “Worth it!” I announced, as Caleb chuckled in agreement. It was a two-man job to subdue the fish, remove the hook and pull the muskie out of the chewed-up net.
When Caleb lifted his prize for a photo, and we let out a triumphant whoop as we watched it swim away.
“I’ll never forget that one,” Caleb said. “That’s a bucket list fish for sure.”
I agreed — and we’ll definitely be back to try and tame another tiger before long.
Little Payette is known as Idaho’s monster muskie factory, but if you want to catch a tiger closer to home, check out Dog Creek. Fish & Game stocks about 500 muskie each year, and the reservoir is also home to trout, bass, catfish and a variety of panfish. Tight lines!