Jeff Knapp displayed one of two muskies caught and released from the Allegheny River last week.

Cold water doesn’t turn off muskies, particularly river muskies.

During the past two months my boat partners and I have experienced several musky encounters. Just last week two were boated during an afternoon outing.

A hooked musky is an exciting event. But handling a large, powerful fish can be hazardous, both to the angler and to the fish, necessitating having the right equipment to handle the situation.

Probably the best thing to come along in years is the over-sized landing nets specifically designed for large predators like muskies. Huge nets like Frabill’s Big Kahuna and larger Stow Master and Beckman coated nets allow muskies to be held in the water at boat-side after being landed. The special netting on such devices is designed to be easy on the fish’s fins; their impressive diameter allows even a 50-plus-inch muskie to stretch out.

Keeping the musky boat-side allows its head to remain underwater, where it can recuperate from the struggle that put it in the net. It also gives the angler(s) time to calm down and to prepare for the unhooking process.

A cradle such as Frabill’s Pro-Tech Musky Cradle is another excellent tool for handing boat-side muskies. The cradle takes up far less space and is not nearly as expensive. Cradles do require two anglers, though.

Unhooking a musky is the event that poses the greatest threat to angler and fish. Tools to accomplish the task include long-handled pliers of a couple designs, as well as quality hook cutters.  Unhooking is done while the muskie remains in the net, with its head underwater as much as possible.

How the musky is hooked, as well as with what, will help determine how to get it free. Muskies are often caught on lures that feature two or three razor-sharp treble hooks. If the fish is only hooked with one of the trebles, it will sometimes unhook itself in the net, as the “free” treble(s) grab the net, and the fish trashes, working itself loose of the one hook. When this fortunate occurrence happens, it’s usually within seconds of the fish being netted. More typically, though, hooks entangled in the net are a bad thing, only complicating the process.

Long-handled needle-nose pliers (especially ones with angled tips) and “channel lock-style” pliers are both good unhooking tools. Ten-inch handles keep the angler’s hands a safe distance from fish’s mouth, reducing the chance of getting impaled on a hook or raked with a tooth. They also furnish the gripping power and leverage to lock on to the shank of the hook and twist or pull it free. Tools like the large-sized Baker Hook-Out are also useful.

The act of pulling one hook free can sometimes bury another one in the fish. If a partner is present, having him/her hold the lure away from the fish (with a second pliers) will help prevent this. Lures like single-hook spinnerbaits and jigs are much easier to unpin a muskie from. Usually it’s just a case of grabbing the hook at the bend and twisting in the direction that backs it out.

Often muskies are hooked in such a manner where it’s more feasible to cut the hooks. The criterion is this: If the unhook job doesn’t appear simple, it’s time to start cutting. The average pair of side cutters isn’t going to shear a musky hook, especially the shank of a heavy treble hook. The tool that will is a Knipex cutter. There are cheaper small bolt-cutter style tools that do a fair job, but the Knipex is so superior you’ll probably end up buying one. Put a wrist lanyard on it to keep from accidently losing it overboard.

Once the lure if free from the fish it’s usually a simple chore to pull out the remaining hook pieces. Carry a supply of hooks onboard to replace any you had to cut. Good split-ring pliers will make the chore easier.