For a decade it roamed Curlew Lake, scarfing down pikeminnows, rainbow trout and bass, and grew to a whopping 40 pounds.
But the giant tiger musky met its maker this week when it became entangled in a gillnet set by state researchers surveying the famed North-central Washington lake.
“It sure was a big one,” says fisheries biologist Randy Osborne who hefted the 49-inch-long specimen.
He said that it’s the largest northern pike-muskellunge hybrid that any of his fellow biologists in Eastern Washington have gotten their hands on.
Crews were surveying Curlew as part of a biannual effort to figure out the lake’s warmwater species abundance. They typically only sample small areas with gillnets, electrofishing and fyke nets, all of which target different species.
The operation began Tuesday night. It was during the Wednesday night-Thursday morning net set that El Gigante turned up.
El Gigante also happened to be El Senior Citizen.
Coded wire tags are implanted in tiger muskies before they’re released. Each year’s brood tags are put in a different place. The one on this particular fish identified it as coming from the 2002 brood year, making it a very, very long-lived musky.
“We hardly ever see fish over 8 years old,” says Osborne. “It was a trooper.”
Because of the way the fishing regs for the species are written, it would have been a new state record by over 7 pounds but would have had to have been turned loose by any angler lucky enough to tangle with it — only tigers 50 inches or better can be retained these days.
Last September angler Chris Gades caught a 50-incher here (released) while a 481/2-incher was caught earlier this summer.
Osborne says that tigers typically live after becoming entangled in gillnets — usually they get caught after nibbling on other fish stuck in them and then wait for someone to come release them.
But not in this case.
“Once in a while it happens,” notes Osborne. “That’s the cost of data collection.”
One other note from this week’s survey: He says his crew captured three more small perch — a fourth was caught earlier this year.
That’s not good for the highly valued trout and musky fisheries. Perch could quickly overpopulate Curlew, sending it down the same path as Oregon’s Phillips Reservoir. For more, see the July 2012 issue of Northwest Sportsman.