Sometime in the weeks, months or years ahead it is possible that a dedicated and studious North Dakota fisherman will proudly land a Tiger muskie that exceeds the existing state record. However, due to a change in regulations contained in the 2012-2014 North Dakota Fishing Guide, the fish will have to be immediately released if it does not measure at least 48 inches in length. Let me explain.
The state record Tiger muskie was caught by Marvin Lee of Rolette in Gravel Lake on June 26, 1975. The wonderful fish weighed a whopping 40 pounds and was 45 inches long. If Lee caught that fish today he'd have to release it, along with the state record. It is not improbable that someone in the future will catch a 46- or 47-inch Tiger that will exceed 40 pounds, yet would be "illegal" under current regulations.
The odd set of circumstances came about when North Dakota Game and Fish decided that the previous 40-inch restriction on muskellunge length was not long enough. In an effort to promote a "trophy fishery" for muskies, the minimum length was upped to 48 inches. I very much like the idea of the 48-inch minimum - muskie fishermen almost exclusively practice catch and release anyway. However, North Dakota has both Tigers, a cross between pure muskellunge and northern pike, and a strain of pure muskies.
The state record pure muskie measured 54 inches, a monster of a fish caught by Cory Bosch of Mandan. It weighed 46 pounds, 8 ounces. DNA testing was required to determine Bosch's muskie was "pure" and not a Tiger. The identification dilemma likely was a consideration in changing the minimum length limit from 40 to 48 inches.
While the North Dakota state record Tiger was 40 pounds and 45 inches, it should be noted that a Tiger of that size and length is a rarity in any waters. Minnesota's record Tiger is 34 pounds, 12 ounces, and 51 inches long. Iowa's state record Tiger is 27 pounds, 2 ounces, and 47 inches long. The Ontario Tiger record is a 26.44-pound fish that measured 49 inches in length. All three of those record fish were longer than the North Dakota record Tiger, but weighed much less.
Muskies are limited to a few bodies of water in North Dakota, most notably the GDU Canal Lakes, which include the lake from which the last two state record pure muskies have come from - New Johns Lake. The Canal Lakes also contain Tiger muskies. In addition, Game and Fish has been planting Tiger muskies in Lake Audubon for three years running. It won't be long before those fish begin to produce some extremely exciting catches for anglers.
Young Tigers can usually be identified by their vertical "tiger" stripes. When they get older, Tigers sometimes lose their telltale vertical striping and can take on the appearance of a pure muskellunge. For that reason, DNA testing may be necessary to determine if a catch is a Tiger or a pure muskie.
In summary, a 48-inch length limit is a great idea. However, I'm not quite sure what my reaction will be if I am fortunate enough to land a Tiger weighing more than 40 pounds but measuring less than 48 inches. It could happen to you.