BILLINGS — Montana has a new state record for a tiger muskie – and not by just a few ounces or millimeters.
Steven Salazar, 19, of Harlowton landed the 49.1-inch, 32.4-pound tiger muskie at about 6:30 p.m. Friday at Deadmans Basin Reservoir northwest of Ryegate. The fish had a girth of 22.75 inches.
The previous record, held by Marty Storfa of Billings since July 2006, also was caught at Deadmans Basin Reservoir. It was 46 inches long and 28.87 pounds with a 21.5-inch girth.
Salazar’s fish weight was confirmed Friday evening on a certified digital scale at Painter’s Ace Hardware in Harlowton.
Salazar said Monday that he was fishing from the east shore of the lake with a stiff trolling rod and 20-pound test line on a spinning reel. His brown rubber shad, with a long twisty tail, was backed by a steel leader. He said he was casting the lure into the water and retrieving it for several hours before the big fish struck.
He brought the tiger muskie close to shore four or five times, he said. But each time it ran back into deep water, dragging his line with it. Another fisherman, who he did not know, tried to help with a big net, but the fish would not fit and Salazar was afraid of knocking the hook out of the tiger muskie’s mouth.
While he was casting for tiger muskies, Salazar said, he also had a second line in the water for trout. At Deadmans Basin Reservoir, anglers legally may keep two lines in the water. In the middle of his battle with the big fish, Salazar said, his trout rod also started bending. But he ignored his second bout of good luck and continued to work only with the tiger muskie.
After 45 minutes, he was able to drag the big fish ashore. But, as he brought his tiger muskie onto the rocks, the other fisherman unexpectedly produced a large-caliber semi-automatic pistol and shot it.
While it is not technically illegal to shoot a fish that already is in full possession, it never is a good idea, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks regional Warden Captain Harold Guse. Bullets fired around large rocks, gravel or at water can ricochet, splinter or spray debris, causing unintended injury or damage. And shooting at fish while they still are in the water is strictly illegal, he said.
Salazar, who gathers large landscaping rocks for a living, said he has been fishing at Deadmans Basin Reservoir, and specifically for tiger muskies, for a number of years. Normally he and his father troll from a boat, but have had no success in landing a big fish.
He plans to have the state record tiger muskie mounted by All Mount Taxidermy in Billings.
Tiger muskies are a hybrid cross between a northern pike and a muskellunge, neither of which are native to Montana.
Tiger muskies were brought to Deadmans Basin Reservoir starting in 1998 from Wisconsin specifically to prey on white suckers, which were competing for food with more desirable trout and kokanee salmon, according to FWP’s regional fisheries manager, Ken Frazer. Tiger muskies prefer white suckers over the game fish, he said. Biological studies of fish populations in the lake indicate that they have an effect the sucker populations, but not trout or salmon.
Because tiger muskies are a sterile hybrid, they will not reproduce and overrun the other game fish species.
About 2,500 tiger muskies ranging from 2.5 to 6.6 inches long were planted in Deadmans Basin Reservoir in 1998. An additional 2,710 fish ranging from one to six inches long were transplanted in 1999. And 2,500 more small fish were added in 2000. The last stocking included 550 four-inch tiger muskie fingerlings in 2007.
Small tiger muskies also were transplanted during the same time period to Lake Josephine south of Billings and Lake Elmo in Billings Heights.
Tiger muskies in the sucker-rich environment of Deadmans Basin Reservoir can grow as fast as a tenth of an inch per day during the summer season, Frazer said.
For the past two years, the hatchery where Montana gets its tiger muskies has been infected with a fish virus, Frazer said. Montana biologists do not want to risk introducing the virus to the state so they have temporarily discontinued transplanting tiger muskies in Montana.
Deadmans Basin Reservoir covers about 1,900 acres northwest of Ryegate. It is managed primarily for irrigation storage.
Each year, FWP transplants about 200,000 small rainbow trout and 100,000 small kokanee in the lake specifically for anglers.