Ice angler pulls Tiger Muskie from Tongue River Reservoir

A Wyoming man who was ice fishing at Tongue River Reservoir on a January weekend was surprised to find what appeared to be a very nice Tiger Muskie at the end of his line.

Chris Jairell of Sheridan, Wyo., wasn’t expecting to land the reported 42-inch, 15-pound fish on January 15, but he’s planning to make good use of it.

“I don’t have any plans for the fish, other than eating it,” he said. “If it was bigger I would have mounted it.”

The catch is unusual because Tiger Muskie have never been stocked or documented at Tongue River Reservoir, according to Region 7 Fisheries Manager Mike Backes. But after looking into the report and studying a photo, Backes unofficially confirmed the catch.

“Between the size of the fish, relative quality of the picture, and likely source of the fish, I’m comfortable calling it a Tiger Muskie,” he said.

Jairell is no stranger to Tongue River Reservoir, having fished it all his life.

“The Tiger Muskie was the first big fish I caught all season,” he said. “I caught it on a tip-up. I was using a small minnow from the marina, not my top bait I would have picked. I like using big sucker minnows anywhere from three to 12 inches in size, but I did not have any access to bait this size.”

Backes did some digging to find a likely source of the Tiger Muskie. According to Wyoming Game and Fish in Sheridan, in 2013 the department stocked 50 10-inch Tiger Muskie into Ranchester Pond in Wyoming, which is 300-400 feet from the Tongue River. The pond is also about 50 river miles upstream of Tongue River Reservoir in Wyoming. A couple of years ago the pond apparently flooded, creating a potential escape route into the river for a short period. Wyoming Game and Fish did not know how many of the original 50 fish escaped from or remain in the pond. The only other evidence of the original stocking was a dead fish found last spring that was 35 inches long.

Tiger Muskie are sterile, so Backes said the unintended introduction and presence at Tongue River Reservoir is relatively minor. Additionally, assuming the fish is from the Wyoming stock, the source of the Tiger Muskie eggs/milt was from Nebraska. This is the same source that Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks uses to obtain Tiger Muskie for stocking Montana waters. This also reduces concerns that additional pathogens or other aquatic invasive species accompanied the stocking effort at Ranchester Pond.

Noting the unusual circumstances, Backes quipped, “I’m willing to call this a very limited fishing opportunity at Tongue River Reservoir.”

Despite the presence of a few Wyoming Tiger Muskie in TRR, future stocking plans by Montana FWP do not include Tiger Muskie.

Catching the Tiger Muskie made Jairell’s day, but his run of luck got even better.

“I drove my four-wheeler down to another spot of mine, jigged for 10 minutes with a buddy of mine, Noah Bradley from Miles City, and caught a walleye jigging,” he said. “Shortly after, I went back to the ice house and caught a pike.”

The walleye was 30 inches long and weighed 10 pounds. Jairell released all but the Tiger Muskie, which was photographed and featured on the marina’s Facebook page.

“I usually catch a few walleye and pike a year ice fishing, and then a lot of crappie,” he said. “This year I haven’t caught but two crappie, but the perch have been biting all season.”

In spite of the cold weather and snow, anglers are still finding luck with perch and crappie at TRR. And there’s still plenty of winter – and ice – left.