By Adam M. Glickman
On many of our more pressured musky lakes, a common trend is that bass and walleye fishermen per capita end up taking more strikes from muskies than do those using traditional musky tactics. Of course, this begs the response that this is only because there are more bass and walleye fishermen out there so inevitably they would hook more muskies, but muskie tactics are still the most successful for taking strikes from muskies. This is why I used the words “per capita” in the opening sentence.
By using those two words, it means that per angler effort measured in hours or any other unit, bass and walleye tactics take more strikes from muskies than traditional musky tactics (i.e. big lures, big hooks, heavy leaders, heavy line etc.). Many like to think that this is because the muskies in such waters are simply targeting smaller forage, and while this notion may have some truth, some of the time, and in some instances; I think this is common sentiment because it is much harder to admit that we are are own worst enemies when it comes to our musky success. No one wants to admit to the actual intelligence of muskies or that our own staggering level of pressure on many waters has conditioned these fish to be very wary of large terminal tackle (i.e. lines, hooks, leaders, etc.) I think these fish are eating lots of big things, just very seldom big things that look obviously like the lures constantly moving through their preferred haunts all day long every day for half of the year. Excellent lures have an uncanny ability to trigger the desired response from muskies, but the more muskies associate them with danger, the less effective they become. In many ways, humans have a strong desire to fool themselves into thinking their actions have little to no impact on the world around them and that they are not in reality the cause of most of their own problems. However, in reality we have a very strong influence on the world around us and we are the very cause most of our own problems. The quicker we realize this, the quicker we can maybe figure out some solutions. This is a solution I offer to take more strikes from highly pressured muskies: How to present lures large enough to get the interest of a musky, yet without all the heavy conspicuous terminal tackle.
The extremely large lures we love to throw unfortunately require larger hooks to get the correct hook gap to to bait width ratio to ensure that when a musky strikes the lure, there is a good chance that hook points will make contact with the fish and can be driven in securely enough to land the fish. Bigger hooks are made of heavier gauge (thicker) wire, which needs heavier line, rod, and reel to effectively set. Therefore, even if the fish weren’t aware of these thick heavy hooks (which they are very much aware of), lighter lines and leaders (that would be less conspicuous) should not be used with them because they would fail to properly set such hooks at a high enough rate to create an efficient system. This is essentially the basis of properly “matching” tackle.
So, if smaller hooks and lighter lines and leaders are necessary, the use of giant lures is pretty much out, but if the muskies have proven that they are perfectly willing to strike smaller stuff anyway, it doesn’t really matter from a pure stance of effective fishing that disregards anything but productivity at all costs. However, musky fishermen (myself included) are head cases. We like things how we like them. I prefer throwing big lures on heavy tackle because I think it is cool and fun, and there is nothing like watching a musky come up and eat a big lure then going toe to toe with it using tackle that will withstand me putting near as much pressure on it as I can. The lighter tackle/smaller lure thing really took me some time to wrap my mind around and accept into my low functioning brain. For the most part on many of my favorite waters, I throw large 8-10″ plugs from opening day on. Downsizing used to never have a strong presence in my repertoire. Watching the action on some of my most productive water go steadily down (due to many factors but especially fishing pressure) over the past decade has caused me to change my approach in some instances.
Effective lures for me include #14 Husky Jerks and soft plastics that would be considered big or even too big for largemouth bass. Examples include 10″ slug-go and senko styles, giant single and double tail grubs, big reaper tails, and huge creatures similar to those used on flippin’ jigs for bass. These can all be rigged on the same wide gap, yet light gauge hooks used for bass fishing with soft plastics. Large spinnerbaits and buzzbaits are also effective, especially when the water gets warm. For topwater, I love an old school original Zara Spook. Steel, titanium, and fluorocarbon leaders are still necessary; just in the 14-30 lb. range. With steel and titanium, I use the weights towards the lighter end of that spectrum. For fluorocarbon, I use those towards the heavier end of that spectrum. For ultimate stealth I have started to use 8-12′ fluorocarbon leaders attached to my main line with a connection knot. On baitcasting tackle, I like to use any quality braid in 20-50 lb. test. On heavy spinning tackle, I like 17 lb. Nanofil from Berkeley. It casts like a dream, doesn’t tangle, is low in stretch, and is fairly abrasion resistant considering its small diameter.
How these lures are presented is a matter of confidence and personal preference and therefore successful tactics vary from angler to angler. The spots are the same. Muskies are where they always were, they have just become more educated and therefore better at avoiding and not succumbing to obvious dangers. If I want to fish muskies in a traditional manner (which is most of the time), I find muskies that don’t see every lure in existence all day every day. When I have to be successful with very pressured fish, I mostly use the above mentioned tactics.
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Adam Glickman is an independent agent who shops across 9 different A rated insurance companies to best meet your MN and WI home, renters, auto, life, boat, and commercial insurance needs. For more information, contact Glickman at 612-750-0546 or at firstname.lastname@example.org