Muskie Fishing Tools Part 1 – Spinnerbaits

It’s getting popular for every muskie seminar speaker and article writer to say that lures are tools. But I don’t know if many of us agree on what we mean by that. Here’s my take on it.

At times, muskies will hit anything. We can’t predict what combination of cosmetic elements (color, scent, sound, flash, etc.) will trigger a muskie on a given day. We have no way of knowing these things in advance, so we experiment; we play around with cosmetic options, looking for the magic. It’s fun. It’s a game. It’s playing with our toys. But it’s not what gets the job done.

What gets the job done is a wet lure. That means that an angler who is casting and retrieving a lure has an infinitely better chance of catching a muskie than an angler who is staring into his or her tackle box, pondering the eternal question-which color will “work.”

With wet lures, the factors that matter most are depth and speed. Get the lure relatively close to a muskie (within its strike window) and tantalize it (slow) or reflex-trigger it (fast) into striking. The right depth may be zero feet (topwaters), four feet down, or 40 feet down.

Beyond depth and speed, there are other important mechanical factors. Hooking ability comes to mind. Some lures are good hookers. Some are not. The bad hookers (we call them “heartbreakers”) either get modified or scrapped for parts.

Other important factors include weedlessness, neutral buoyancy (for fishing slowly or with tantalizing pauses), toughness around rocks, tracking ability on a fast troll, vibration and noise to call in fish, and … oh yeah … color.

Marvs ViperI use four color patterns: bumblebee (jailbird) and florescent fire-tiger patterns for high contrast in stained water, naturals in clear water (but not always), and black for lures the muskies will be looking up at. Use color for visibility only. I don’t really expect that muskies are actually feeding on bumblebees

A lot of the tools in our tackle boxes are specialists. Some work best at high speeds, some super slow. Some dive deep, some sink, some are topwaters. You get the idea. Most tools are made for one job, like a Phillips screwdriver or a 7/16 socket. Most tools.

My friend Dick Pearson, in his book Muskies on the Shield, refers to crescent wrench lures-lures that adjust to multiple situations. Dick puts a handful of lures is this category. But, to me, there is only one that truly qualifies. For my money, the spinnerbait is the ultimate crescent wrench.

Everyone knows that spinnerbaits can be retrieved near the surface-snaked through stumps, reeds, pads… whatever. But that’s hardly the end of the story. Do you like to push into the impenetrable slop-the weedy junk that discourages the average angler, and, therefore, offers sanctuary to big muskies? Guess what lure you can rely on. The spinnerbait is fundamentally weedless. The wire frame and spinning blade act as a weedguard for the upright hooks. The blade thumps out its fish-calling sound-and flickers through the weed stalks, signaling any muskie in the neighborhood. Dick refers to a presentation he calls “grinding.” Grinding is letting your spinnerbait sink to the bottom, to the base of the weeds, and then pointing your rod and reel directly at the bait and slowly cranking it back. Dick hates weeds, so he only resorts to grinding under the worst conditions. You should know that Dick is pretty close to the top of the heap. Historically. When he talks, I shut up and listen.

Do you like to probe deeper water-the classic home of big fish? Guess which tool helicopters all the way to the bottom. Guess which is the only tool that “fishes” as it drops. Guess which tool can be worked like a jig, slow-rolled along the bottom, and then quickly cranked to the surface-producing violent boatside strikes. Correct. The spinnerbait.

But some folks just don’t like spinnerbaits. “They’re not traditional.” “They don’t hook very well.” I’ve heard it all. It’s nonsense. In my boat, nearly half of the muskies boated since 1973 have been caught on spinnerbaits … many over 48 inches. I rarely mention this, but the biggest spinnerbait-in-the-slop muskie I’ve ever had (momentarily) in my boat was 57 inches. The guy who Shumways Funky Chickencaught it didn’t own a spinnerbait. He had borrowed one of mine, and proceeded to catch a 50, a 54, and a 57 in less than 24 hours-all on the same spinnerbait (Lac Seul, before the world knew). All three fish were in the slop. I let him keep the stinking bait. Figured it was used up.

I have a few favorite spinnerbaits. For slow-rolling, Bruce Shumway’s Funky Chicken is my first choice. And for grinding through the foulest slop sanctuaries, the Rad Dog, is-no contest-the best slop spinnerbait made. Note: Fudally Stump Hawgs and M&Gs were all I used for many years. (M&Gs were off the market for a while but are now back on the market through Lindy/Little Joe.) Marv’s spinnerbaits (Marv was the “M” in M&G) are also available. You can’t go wrong with Stump Hawgs and Marv’s spinnerbaits.

But pick your own favorites. They’re just tools, after all. Cosmetics are nothing.

Catch a nice one and let it go. Let them ALL go.