Here is a news update regarding our tiger muskie fishery here at Bluewater Lake, New Mexico, and most importantly, a bit about an amazing sight I witnessed during my last guiding trip.
At over 8,000 feet in elevation, Bluewater Lake is a fairly high elevation water body with cool water temperatures a good portion of the year. The modest temperatures and good forage sources have enabled an unusual and productive fishery. Consequently, the long rod attraction has now become the tiger muskie, which New Mexico Game and fish started stocking in 2003. To date Game and Fish has stocked 351,768 of these toothy carnivorous monsters. The reason for the stocking was to control trash fish; mostly goldfish and suckers. The result is what is now estimated to be a muskie population of about 30 fish per acre in this small, 2,000 plus acre impoundment. This fish density is unheard of in the world of muskie, or even when discussing pike fisheries. The average fish is probably 30 to 35 inches now and there are a good number of true trophies (over 45 inches). A 40 inch tiger muskie generally weighs close to 20 pounds, and a 50 inch fish close to 40 pounds. Needless to say, the biomass of these fish in the lake is impressive, and lots of protein has to be consumed to sustain them. The apparent crowding makes for some strange behavior, as I witnessed the last days of May while guiding a client on the lake.
The morning was spectacular, with cool temperatures and very little wind. The water was clear and occasionally we would see fish in the shallows, and with the clarity, we even saw fish at depths of six feet or more. My client was casting a shoreline and within the first hour had hooked two fish..landing a nice fish just under 40 inches.
Ahead I noticed some surface disturbance near the shore, likely a muskie chasing bait. Then I saw a wake coming towards us at light speed, right on the shoreline. The water was too shallow for it to be a muskie. I then saw the 16 inch rainbow streaking by…then the explosions started. A gang of muskie had pushed a good number of rainbows right up to the edge of the shore. In a matter of seconds the rainbows started beaching themselves to get away from the muskies. I even saw a few muskies beach themselves while slashing at the rainbows, flopping and wallowing their way back to the water. Some areas looked like a giant washing machine with the lid open.
My client looked ahead and thought he saw a large dead rainbow just below the surface. It turned out to be a 45 inch muskie with a 16 inch wiggling rainbow sideways in its jaws. Very impressive. Through the morning we saw a number of muskies swimming with fish in their mouths. It is not uncommon for muskie to keep prey in their teeth until it is dead, and then swallow it.
Sporadically and up and down the rocky shoreline the attacks went on for another hour or so, The muskies have now adapted to the regular stocking of rainbows by New Mexico Game and Fish and were having a field day with these more or less helpless lumps of protein. The whole thing reminded me of jack crevalle and king mackerel slashing menhaden between the first and second sand bars along the South Texas coast.
Needless to say, a muskie with a 14 to 18 inch rainbow in its belly is not that interested in eating a 6 inch fly. We cast to a number of sighted fish, only to be snubbed. The client ended up hooking 6 fish in two morning sessions…not bad for the world of muskie fishing. I can only imagine what would have happened if the fish had not already been satiated by the rainbows.
From my experience the fish is spookier than muskie, not as dumb as pike, and is very well fed with the natural and invasive fish species, and now the regular stocking of rainbows. It is fatter than a northern pike, fights harder, and jumps more than you would expect.
The largest tiger muskie landed to date in New Mexico was 50.5 inches; about 40 pounds. Large numbers of fish in the 40 to 45 inch range continue to be caught.
Because tiger muskies are bred for stocking purposes, studies have been made of its growth rate and the factors that affect it. The growth rate of juveniles depends on the water temperature as well as the food source. Studies show the tiger muskie has the highest growth, production, and food conversion efficiency at temperatures of 68–75 °F (20–24 °C). Below these temperatures, growth rate slows and above, cannibalism starts to occur. Bluewater has optimum temperatures for these fish, with the larger portion of the year providing temperatures of 47 to 67 degrees, optimum for active and feeding fish, and slightly warmer temperatures in the summer for maximum growth.
As a rule I don’t guide for muskie in the summer months due to warm water temperatures and increased stress to hooked fish. Tigers are less tolerant of warm water temperatures than muskie and they often move to deeper waters throughout the summer. The fish become very active in the spring after ice out, and go on a pretty serious feeding and fattening spree in the fall, just before the lake starts to freeze over. October and November can be awesome.
Like all good things in the fly fishing world, word travels fast. The last time I was at the lake I saw plates from as far away as Minnesota and Wisconsin..real muskie country. The lake is not open to live bait fishing, but has no restrictions on lures, trolling, and hook set-ups. Consequently, I am sure a number of fish die. Perhaps this type of mortality, and unfortunately some cannibalism, will start to reduce the muskie population to a more manageable level. At present any muskie under 45 inches must be released.
A top-of-the-food chain predator, tiger muskie key on the easiest obtainable food and will locate itself in the highest-probability location to obtain easy meals. For most of the season the fishing will be blind casting to structure and known holding areas. Expect to make a lot of casts. Like pike and muskellunge, tigers use weed patches, rocks, stumps and logs for cover as they ambush prey. Most feeding activity occurs during the early morning and evening hours.
The fish of a thousand casts is no more here in New Mexico. Barring a weather issue, and if you are an average to good caster, expect to get grabs from 3 to 6 fish in a day of fishing. Expect to lose ½ of these. There is always a chance for that epic day, when 20 or more fish might be hooked. Most of the fish will be in the 30 inch to 40 inch range. The monster is always there. We have seen, hooked and lost several fish pushing 40 pounds.
I have some spots left in late October and early November if anyone is interested in the fall sessions, However, if at all possible I suggest fishing mid-week. It is likely the muskie craze will continue, and I expect a good number of boats on this small lake on the weekends.
**At noon, when we arrived at the boat ramp to take the boat out and end the session, muskies were slashing rainbows right on the ramp in a foot of water…These fish have no shame!
Pescador Solitario 1-575-758-9011