Muskie Fever – Getting Started in Muskie Fishing
The muskie is known as the fish of 10,000 casts, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few tips for the beginner that will cut down the learning curve.Muskie fishing is not for everyone. It is a difficult and often frustrating endeavor. In fact, you could make a case that serious muskie hunters are a little off-balance. Are there any other outdoor sports in which success is counted in the number of quarry “seen” rather than the number “caught?” Ask a muskie angler how his day went and he might say, “Terrific, we released one, moved three, and had one roll up on a topwater.” That’s muskie lingo for a pretty good day of fishing.
Muskies are elusive and fascinating, and muskie fishing is addictive. In fact that’s why serious muskie hunters call it Muskie Fever. If you are thinking about getting into muskie fishing, consider yourself forewarned. Once you go down this road, it’s
difficult to turn back.
One of the most important keys to being a successful muskie angler is knowing as much about the quarry as possible. Muskellunge are an elusive fish and very little is known about them. State DNR’s are doing more and more studies on them and have shed some light on their patterns and movements, but they still remain mysterious. With the advent of tiny radio tracking devices planted under the skin of some fish, we have learned a few things about their daily habits.One of the most important things we have learned is that muskies tend to be an ambush predator, lying in wait and striking out at any available meal that comes by. They tend to set up shop in a handful of key areas. If you have a muskie that follows your bait to the boat, but turns back, you can be reasonably confident that you will find that fish at that location again in the future. Savvy muskie hunters have learned to make a mental–or a GPS–note of these spots and return again during peak periods, such as moonrise, the last half-hour of daylight, or just in front of an approaching storm.
One of the primary appeals of the muskie is that they get big. Every serious muskie fisherman has a story about the fleeting glimpse of one that took his breath away. Muskies of about 40-inches are nothing to brag about, and it takes a 50-incher to really make an angler feel like he has arrived. In fact, the length restrictions in most states are either 48 or 50 inches, but a tiny percentage of fish this size are kept. Muskies are just too valuable to be reduced to possession, and biologists make decisions about muskie management on the assumption that nearly 100% of them are returned to the water. The die-hards are so extreme in this belief that several fish that almost certainly would have topped a state record, have been put back without being weighed because of the risk of having the fish die.
The joke is that muskies eat most anything that doesn’t eat them first. While their diet is very diverse, and includes everything from muskrats and ducks to 5-pound bass, the truth is that muskies very much prefer soft-finned prey such as suckers, ciscoes and whitefish. In fact, biologists agree that less than 10% of a muskie’s diet is gamefish. Keep that in mind when choosing your lure selection.
Get Geared up
If you are just starting out in muskie fishing, you will learn quickly that the tackle you are using for other species will be entirely inadequate for bringing a muskie to the boat, not to mention, it will be very fatiguing to cast all day with the wrong equipment. Back in the day, muskie anglers were using short, stiff rods that resembled a pool cue, but that’s all changed. Today’s muskie tackle is built around a long rod. The average length is about eight feet, but some use shorter rods, like 6.5 feet, for working jerkbaits, and rods as long as 10 feet for casting crankbaits. For starters, I would suggest a rod of about 7.5 to 8.5 feet for an all-around tool if you are only going to buy one.The advantages of the longer rods are their ability to relieve strain on your shoulders and arms when casting huge baits, and the ability to make a wide, sweeping figure-8 maneuver when a big fish follows your bait to boatside. There’s no doubt that a large figure-8 triggers more strikes, especially from big fish, which cannot make sharp turns. Muskie baits come in a wide range of sizes and weights from about two ounces, up to a pound. The majority of baits that a beginner will use would be from two to four ounces. A good compromise would be a rod in Heavy or X-Heavy action. Eventually, you will want to add an XX-Heavy rod for throwing mega-sized baits that are six ounces or more. Expect to pay about $100-$150 for this rod, unless you really want to go for a high quality rod, which can run over $500.
You’ll need a good baitcasting reel such as the Revo Toro by ABU Garcia, you can find this reel on sale for just over $200 and it will serve you well for muskie fishing with a wide variety of baits. Once again, there are plenty of $500 reels out there and they are soooo sweet, but for an everyday workhorse reel that will last and do the job well, expect to pay between $200 and $300.
Spool your reel with 80-pound braided line such as Sufix, Berkely FireLine Braid or Power Pro. Big muskie will rough you up if you do not have the right tackle, and your line is the most vital link between you and the fish of a lifetime. Use a 100-pound leader of steel, titanium, or fluorocarbon at all times.
Get Hooked Up
Look in the garage of most muskie nuts and you will find several thousand dollars of lures and baits. It’s a manifestation of the addiction. That’s what muskie addicts do, they buy baits. They must have the latest and greatest… the hot new colors… two of this and three of that. But if you ask them to be honest with you, the majority of them will say they have about a half-dozen go-to baits. So before your addiction goes full-blown, let’s take a look at the basic bait categories and help you pick out a couple of each. But before we get started, here’s another caveat: Muskie baits are expensive and average well over $20 piece, and the custom made models can cost you twice that.Muskie baits are divided into basically five categories, topwaters, bucktails, crankbaits, jerkbaits and soft plastics. Here are the basics on each of them. Topwaters are prop type baits and things that make noise. They are prefect for calm evenings and the strikes are often explosive. This is one of the most fun categories to fish since it is so visual and adrenaline charged. A few good topwater choices would be the Whopper Plopper, Creeper, Hawg Wobbler and the Jackpot. Basically, use dark colors on dark days and lighter colors on bright days. This contrasts with either a dark blue sky or the gray of an overcast day.
Bucktail spinners are excellent muskie lures because their hooking and landing percentages are very good, and when fish are active during the warm-weather months, they strike spinners. Some good choices are the Muskie Maverick, the Cowgirl, the larger Mepps, and the Harasser. Choose bright colors like chartreuse and orange in darker water and natural colors like baitfish imitations and chrome in clear water. Retrieve them fast and cover water when the fish are active. These are great search baits, and often move fish that you can come back for later with a slower-moving bait and catch them at a more opportune time.
Crankbaits can be used casting or trolling. They work well when the fish are deeper, such as when they are set up on the deep edges of the weed beds or along breaklines. There are muskie crankbaits that will dive to 30 feet, which is where some of the bigger fish will be found in the fall. And late fall is a time when many muskie anglers take to trolling. Once again, choose natural-colored lures for clear water and bright colors for stained or darker water. Examples of crankbaits include Jakes, The Depth Raider, and the Believer.Jerkbaits have taken a lot of muskies over the years. Baits like the Suick and the Reef Hawg are standbys in every tackle box. Newer baits like the Manta and the Phantom are effective too. They are worked with a twitching action and they are a great bait to use when you know a fish is in the area, and you want to cover the area thoroughly with a bait that will stay in the strike zone a long time.
Soft Plastics like the BullDawg, Red October Jigs, and other plastic-bodied lures are great summertime baits for fishing weed edges and breaklines. They are very simple to fish, just swim them up and down, keeping them within four feet of the bottom.
Now that you have the bait and tackle you need, you will have to get out there and find a muskie. There are many variables of course, but muskie location can generally be summed up in two words: Weeds and rocks. So it stands to reason that if you find a combination of weeds and rocks, you are on a good spot. Early in the season muskie will be relating to emerging weedbeds that have warm water. Bays and shallow weed flats are key areas. As the spring progresses in to summer, muskies often move a little deeper and set up ambush points on the deep edges of weeds. If you can find a breakline with a distinct weed edge, there’s a good chance that a muskie has backed into the edge and is waiting for an easy meal to come by.By mid-summer, they are found on rock humps and weed/rock combinations where the baitfish are actively feeding. Reefs and isolated weedbeds can be key areas during the evening hours when muskies tend to be most active.
In the fall, look for them along steep rock walls and over open water where they are chasing baitfish that have schooled up. This is prime time to catch a trophy if you can find a school of ciscos and get a crankbait down to the predators that are often hanging around these bait balls.
Well, I have tried to warn you about muskie fever, but if you insist on forging ahead, at least now you have some basic information that will help you to be successful. “The fish of 10,000 casts” doesn’t have to be that hard, but it’s certainly hard enough to catch one, that it is very rewarding when you do. And that’s where the addiction really takes hold.
Bernie Barringer has been addicted to muskie fishing for 20 years and is the former editor of MUSKIE magazine. He also helps his son with his lure business, which can be found at www.hotmuskielures.com
Do you have a muskie story? Let us know, we’d love to hear from you.
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