Most years at this time, I write about spring muskie tactics. I cover the conventional wisdom (small, shallow, fast-warming lakes … fishing in and near spawning bays … small lures, presently slowly) and then jump out to tactics that get you away from the crowd (fishing larger, deeper trophy lakes … fishing mid-lake structures … and trolling over deep open water with large crankbaits). Most years.
But some time ago (at a Minnesota Muskie Expo), I got one of those wake-up calls. Every so often, a reader reminds me that I should write about muskie fishing basics once in a while. It happened again. It was politely suggested that I should write about getting started in muskie fishing.
All you veterans out there may be tempted to stop reading here. Please bear with me. Somewhere buried in the “basics,” there might be something for you.
OK. Let’s assume (for a moment) that you are literally a novice when it comes to muskie fishing. Do you fish bass and/or northern pike? If so, you are almost there. Never mind the obscene amount of tackle most muskie loonies acquire in a 20- to 40-year career.
To get started, you only need one 7-foot trigger stick (baitcasting) rod that can handle 3/4- to 3-ounce lures and a quality oversized bass/pike reel. I use (bass) flippin’ sticks and Carolina rig rods for about 1/4 of my muskie fishing, but a 7-foot muskie bucktail rod is a better bet. Spool the reel with high-tech braided line, and tie on a muskie-quality single-strand wire leader.
You say you are familiar with bass fishing? Then you’ve heard of spinnerbaits, crankbaits, topwaters… How about jerkbaits and in-line bucktails? Then you know what to do. Pick up the same stuff in the 3/4- to 3-ounce range. But don’t go nuts. You don’t need to stock up with every color in the spectrum. You’ll rarely need to match the hatch. I would pick up a few of each lure type in only a few colors. You will want loud colors for visibility in stained water, and you will want natural colors to look “natural” in very clear water. Beyond that, it’s all marketing.
I fish with a lot of novices. They (almost) all make the same mistake. In the course of a day, they easily spend half their time changing lures, looking into their tackle boxes, pondering the only thing that they think they can control: lure selection. What is up with THAT? I’ll tell you what. It’s called rookie syndrome. These folks actually believe the secret lies somewhere in their tackle box. I have news for them. They’re looking in the wrong place.
I also fish with a lot of muskie “names” (Bruce Shumway, Dan Klis, Doug Johnson, Pete Maina, Dick Pearson, Doug Stange, Greg and Paul Thorne) and a lot of equally qualified and experienced muskie guys who prefer a lower profile. With all their experience-all their expertise-all their idiosyncrasies, they spend virtually zero time changing or even thinking about changing lures. They spend 99.9 percent of their time keeping their lures wet. That’s the big secret. The really successful muskie people are the most relentless. Their lures are ALWAYS in the water. They all agree on this (although little else).
So far we’ve talked about basic tackle and keeping your lure in the water. We’re 10 percent there. All that’s left to talk about is where to fish-where to look for muskies. As you may have heard, I am the editor of Esox Angler magazine-a magazine dedicated to muskie and trophy pike fishing. Our contributors (all of the veterans mentioned above, plus anglers from much of the U.S. and western Europe) routinely dissect the nuances of large predator location on a seasonal basis. Factors such as water chemistry, geography, lake type, seasonal trends, forage movements, weather, current, structure, available weed growth, fishing pressure, etc., etc., etc. are dealt with. If you want to learn from the best, Esox Angler is a good place to go.
But if you want it simple-if you want a locational starting point, just go with what you know. In the spring and summer, fish bass spots (just ask the bass pros who fish our muskie waters). If you are fishing a largemouth/muskie lake, fish the largest-most complex-weedbeds and structures. If you are fishing a smallmouth/muskie lake, fish the largest-most complex-rock structures. If you are fishing a mixed largemouth/smallmouth/muskie lake, fish the largest-most complex-weedbeds AND rock structures. This rule of thumb applies to every lake I fish. Even if the lake does not have bass, fish it like it does, only with your favorite muskie tackle.
In the fall, concentrate your efforts on large pike and walleye spots-deeper classic structure: edges, points, and humps-the largest, most pronounced classic deep-water structures in the lake.
That’s all there is to it. Invest in a minimal array of equipment, fish water you know, and keep your lure wet 99.9 percent of the day.
If you connect (and you certainly will if you put the formula together) you will suddenly find yourself confronted with the issue of safely handling a large, ornery, razor-toothed predator with a mouthful of hooks. When I say “safely,” I am thinking about the fish, of course. But in reality, I am more concerned with your hide. Gulp.
Invest in the proper tools-a long needle-nose pliers and high quality hook cutters-at a minimum. The safest way to go (for the fish and for your hide) is to cut every hook you see.
Safe handling and releasing is not only a topic in it’s own right, but also a regular column (by Pete Maina) in every issue of Esox Angler. This is where you should turn to an experienced muskie angler and/or read Esox Angler.
Catch a nice one and let it go. Let them ALL go.