Not many years ago, tiger muskies were in the news more than they are now. Half northern pike and half muskie, this fast-growing, toothy, large predator had something akin to a cult following, mostly in the metro, the primary region where they were stocked by the Department of Natural Resources.

Perhaps no one was more enthusiastic about tigers than Josh Stevenson, who holds the state record for these fish, caught in 1999, weighing 34 pounds, 12 ounces.

In the years since, Stevenson hasn’t lost his zeal for tigers, especially big ones.

“When you get one over 42 inches, my personal opinion is they act more like northern pike than muskies,” said Stevenson, a muskie guide and owner of Blue Ribbon Bait and Tackle in Oakdale and White Bear Lake. “They just cream a bait when they hit it, and then go airborne. They rocket themselves out of the water.”

For Stevenson and his tiger-seeking clients, the past two weeks have been monumental. One catch measured 45 inches, another 47.5 inches. These, along with a handful of smaller specimens, were caught while trolling.

“They’re called tiger muskies, but to catch one, you have to fish them more like northerns,” Stevenson said. “Like northerns, they spend a lot of time in deeper, cooler water when temperatures warm up.”

Unlike Leech Lake, Mississippi or other muskie strains, tigers, Stevenson said, prefer smaller lures. Spoon plugs. Shad Raps. Super Shad Raps. Even spinner baits.

These and other, similar baits often yield strikes that larger lures won’t.

A cross between a female muskie and a male northern pike, tigers were first stocked in Minnesota lakes in 1983. At one time, 29 lakes received infusions, a number that by 2006 had fallen to 21.

Because tigers grow faster than traditional muskies, it was believed they could relatively quickly provide another quarry for anglers while perhaps benefiting certain fisheries by eating hammer-handle northerns and other overabundant fish.

In 2006, the DNR reviewed the tiger program and dropped seven lakes from its stocking rotation (tiger muskies are sterile), reducing to 14 the number of lakes regularly stocked.

From a peak of 7,318 fingerlings and yearlings stocked in 1989, DNR tiger muskie stocking dropped to just 1,195 fingerlings last year.

Stevenson, who has caught numerous traditional muskies longer than 50 inches, can’t get enough of tigers.

“That 47-and-a-half-incher was a beautiful fish,” he said. “It might have been the second-largest tiger I’ve ever seen. And it was flawless. No scars. Just beautiful.

“I was on a high for a few days after we caught that fish.”