How to Fish for Muskie
New to Muskie fishing? We got you! This article gives anglers the information to properly gear up and successfully fish for these elusive and fascinating predators.
The Muskie Experience
“Keep your eyes peeled,” I said as a buddy’s surface walker neared the boat. Sure enough, water began to hump up behind the bait. “Keep it walking, don’t stop” I instructed. Billy kept the bait dancing forward as the hump soon developed a dorsal fin and, slowly, an s-curving tail. The bait neared the boat. Billy expertly began his boat side maneuver – a wide-sweeping change of direction, followed by a sharp angle in the opposite direction. The water exploded as the fish reacted and, in a burst of spray and fins, engulfed the bait. Welcome to Muskie fishing.
Granted, it’s not all fun and games. Muskie fishing takes extreme dedication, stamina, skill, and a never-quit attitude. In what other type of fishing is success measured by just seeing a fish? Muskies have been made out to be this mythical fish that the ordinary angler cannot hope to master. It’s just not true. In this article, I will dispel these myths and help you select the proper gear, find the right water, learn the appropriate techniques, and give you the baseline knowledge to set you on your quest.
Gear is where the sickness starts. Avid Muskie anglers can amass thousands of dollars of gear – enough to make even a pinkie-in-the-air fly fisher blanch. To begin though, there is no need to take out a second mortgage to gear up.
To begin, you will need a good rod and reel combo. Can you use your Bass gear? Maybe. I tend to fish smaller baits, so I often do. Remember, big powerful rods are to throw big baits, not so much for catching big fish. However, you do not want to be under-gunned. Muskies are extremely powerful fish, and we do not want a long fight on inadequate gear, which endangers the fish (more on this later.) Rods should be long – at least 7’6” and preferably over 8’. Long rods mean better casting, better leverage to toss big baits and control fish, and better boat-side maneuvering. Power should range from X (heavy) to XXXH with medium-fast to fast actions. Good rods can be had for under $200, and some near $100. Chaos Tackle Assault Sticks are my go-to, and rods from St. Croix, Okuma, Tackle Industries, and Savage Gear are all great choices.
Reels should be casting models. I prefer low-profile, high-capacity reels for comfort. I use Shimano Curado 300 EJ series reels, which aren’t made anymore but can readily be found on e-Bay. Other great picks are the Shimano TranX, Abu Revo Toro, Okuma Komodo, and Daiwa Lexa. Gear your reels lower for big blades, and higher for glides and jerk baits. Personally, I use reels geared at 6.3:1 and 7.4:1. Spool up with braid at a minimum of #65 test and as high as #100, depending on what bait you throw.
Speaking of baits, what should you buy? This is undoubtedly a rabbit hole of epic proportions. Me? After spending years and years and thousands and thousands of dollars, I have been paring down my inventory to a few examples of tried and true baits in trusted bait categories. These categories can be defined as: Blades, Topwater, Twitch, Glides/Jerks, and Rubber.
Blades such as bucktails, spinnerbaits, and the like are a must-have. I prefer smaller blades such as #8’s, but larger #9’s and #10’s are deadly. They are also physically taxing on the body and gear. Large double-bladed baits are like reeling in a hubcap. But they work. My go-to is the Esox Assault line from Chaos Tackle, but Mepps Giant Killers and Marabou styles are also deadly.
Topwater baits are exciting to fish and at times can really turn fish on. Tail-prop styles such as the Bucher Topraider or Lake-X Fat Bastard are favorites, as are walk-the-dog style baits such as the venerable Heddon Super Spook or H2O Tackle Ortin.
Speaking of walk-the-dog, the subsurface styles are called glide baits, and they can be effective when nothing else will raise fish. Phantoms and Hellhounds are my favorites.
Rubber baits, such as the Chaos Tackle Medussa and Musky Innovations Bull Dawg have accounted for some really big fish, so make sure you have a few. If all this seems daunting, your Curated Fishing expert can help you gear up and get you on the water equipped to do battle. You can contact me here for help with Muskie fishing information, tactics, and gear selection.
Conservation. Yes, That Means You!
Ok, so you’re all geared up. What’s next? Before you head out on the water, stop and learn about proper Muskie handling and conservation. I’m not kidding. This is a MUST. For their fierce appearance, Muskies are fragile fish, and mishandling them can lead to immediate or delayed mortality. These are apex predators in any system, and their numbers are never large. There is nothing worse than seeing a couple of yahoos luck into a nice fish, fight it badly, drop her in the boat, struggle with unhooking, then keep her out of the water for picture after picture. Too many times I’ve slid over after they leave and find a struggling or dead fish. Don’t be that guy (or girl.)
First and foremost, get a proper net. A large hoop, deep bagged net with rubberized mesh serves a specific purpose. Once netted, never lift a fish into the boat. Always lay the net over the gunwale and let its large bag act as a holding pen with the fish in the water. Let her rest a moment while you gather your release tools. These are also critical. Release tools consist of a pair of long-nose pliers, hook cutting pliers, and a jaw spreader. Lay these out on the deck while you admire your fish. Then, get a FIRM grip under her jaw, keeping watch for hook position. You don’t want #8 hooks anywhere near you if she starts to gator-roll in the net. Once a firm grip is established with one hand, insert the jaws spreaders with the other and use the pliers to unhook the fish. If hooks are difficult to remove or deep, simply cut the shanks with your nipper (you can replace hooks later).
After unhooking, lay the fish back in the water for a few moments to recuperate while you get your camera ready. Set up your media stand or have a buddy get ready and then 1..2..3.. lift her up, snap-snap a few pics, and get her over the side quickly. Grab her around the tail-wrist, where the body narrows right before the tail, and just hold her in the water. Don’t swish her back and forth. Just keep her upright. It’s such a cool feeling to sense her muscles pulse and tighten. You know she’s ready when you feel her start to move against you. Release your grip and just let her swim away. YouTube is a good source for videos demonstrating proper release. Below is a great one.
A word on water temps. Muskies are certainly active in warm water, but they are especially susceptible to stress-induced mortality in waters approaching or exceeding 80 degrees. Just don’t. Across the country, serious and knowledgeable Muskie anglers simply stop fishing Muskies as temps slide near 80, and they turn to Bass or other species instead. The few weeks off won’t kill you, but it will save fish. Lastly, consider joining your local Muskies Inc. chapter and get involved in your local stocking and conservation efforts.
How to Find Muskie: Lake, River, or Shore?
Muskies are predators. This means they are creatures of edges. What is this “edge” I speak of? Simple: any cover or structure. Cover is what the fish use to conceal themselves, such as weeds, timber, or rocks. Structure is the bottom contours that the fish relate to. A point is an edge. So is a weedline. The surface is an edge. Find the points that connect cover with structure, add a line to deep water, throw in some weather/moon/light change, and viola! You just upped your chances.
First things first. Go read anything by Buck Perry, the father of structure fishing. You can find him on YouTube here. Yes, it’s old. But every professional angler or successful guide owes their success to Buck’s teachings. It’s no joke. Learn his ways of understanding fish movements and structure, and it will apply to any species of fish, anywhere. As Buck says, “Deep water is the home of the fish,” so when looking at a map, find structure that connects with the deepest water in the lake. Fish will use these connections as highways to move between deep water, which is their home, to areas where they feed. Once located, start shallow and work deeper along those lines to locate the fish. Typical areas to look for are points or bars leading to deep water, shelves or flats, and open water above the deepest holes. This open water bite is especially important in Muskie fishing. If you are beating the banks, chances are you will remain fishless.
Does it make any difference if I fish rivers or from shore? No. Muskies are riverine fish and inhabit many rivers across the country. Remember, deep water is relative. If your river averages four feet and you locate a ten-foot deep hole, bingo. Same with shore fishing. Fish areas where deep water is within casting distance. This doesn’t mean fish will always be deep. They come up to saddles and flats to feed. But you should locate these areas that have a direct line to deep water. An isolated hump or flat with deep water far away is not what we are looking for.
But I fish shallow, weed-infested lakes! Great. So do I. Find any point, no matter how subtle—even a weed point—that leads to the deepest water in the area. In the case of one lake I fish, this may only be a depth change of two feet. But it’s a change.
Weather too is an edge. Always look for changing weather and light as well. Did the wind pick up? Fish. Sudden clouds? Fish. Low-light early or late? Definitely fish. Muskies’ activity periods are based upon weather and moon phase, and in less than optimal conditions, feeding windows may only last minutes. So, if you raise a nice fish and can’t get it to eat, go back to it on a change of light, weather, or moon phase, such as moon-rise or -set. That can be the difference between no fish and a fish of a lifetime.
Putting It All Together
So, you are geared up, you have your maps marked, and you are on the water. Now what? Muskie is a confidence game. It’s physically taxing. It’s hard work. People tell me they fish to relax. Not me. I’m like a machine. Cast after cast, eyes peeled, focused. It’s probably the only time I am truly focused. But it’s absolutely necessary. I’ve often described Muskie fishing as hours of tedious boredom punctuated by 90 seconds of pandemonium. You may only get one shot at a fish all day, so don’t blow it by looking at your phone or jabbering on about baseball or whatever.
Consume any and all information on the sport that you can. Pay attention to what successful anglers do and imitate. Approach the water with confidence, and sooner or later, you will land your Muskie. But beware. Once you experience that rush of pure adrenaline, the sickness will set in, and you will be hooked for life. Better start filling out those second mortgage papers after all.
If you need help finding the best gear for you and your fishing needs, reach out to a Fishing expert here on Curated for free, personalized advice and recommendations.