May 10, 2016
Attention to Detail
Musky fishing is a challenging sport, so when you have chances to catch a fish you need to take advantage of them. Fishermen put in long hours, on the water, chasing this low-density predator. One problem, often faced, is getting tired and lackadaisical. After a while, you check your watch, start yawning, and you can barely think straight. Finishing your cast becomes simply bringing the lure right out of the water. A split second later… FLASH! A four-foot long torpedo follows and goes under the boat… you just missed your chance!
Musky fishing is about attention to detail; fooling this freshwater king with casting and retrieving perfection. I fish as if there is always a hungry, aggressive musky following my bait. I get my bait “working” as soon as it hits the water, if not a split second before it gets wet. Lots of fish will hit lures in the first few feet of a retrieve. An important part of the cast is getting tight to cover, whether it’s a downed tree, weed edge, rock shelf, shoreline or dock. The more precise the cast, the closer the lure will be to the musky’s strike zone.
As with the first few feet of the cast, a lot of muskies hit in the last few feet of the cast, which is the figure eight. A great figure eight can turn a neutral or, in some cases, a less than neutral fish, into an aggressive fish that bites. I think of a figure eight as two huge circles next to each other. Imagine that the rod tip is tracing two ‘O’ shapes in the water. Longer rods make a huge difference in figure eight easement; the longer the rod, the bigger and deeper the figure eight. The speed of the figure eight depends on the lure and the fish’s attitude. The general rule of thumb is that you want your lure going the same speed in the figure eight as it was moving in the retrieve.
As you become a more experienced angler, you will learn how to read these fish and their attitude. Then you can adjust your figure eight speed as needed. If a fish comes in three feet behind the bait and lollygags behind it, the musky is a neutral or less than neutral fish. That generally means that you want the figure eight slower to keep the fish interested in the bait. If the fish comes in with its nose to the bait, mouth open, taking swipes at it, the fish is aggressive, and the figure eight can be quicker. The larger the fish, the bigger the figure eight must be. Practice your figure eight like there is a five- footer behind it.
In addition, there needs to be a smooth transition from the end of the retrieve into the figure eight. The lure that is the most unforgiving is the bucktail. The blade has to be spinning smoothly all the way through the retrieve and the figure eight. Keep the lure doing the same action as it was in the retrieve. When using a topwater bait that goes “plop-plop,” keep that plop blade spinning. This applies whether it is on top of the water or subsurface.
One of the most annoying things, for me, when I started fishing muskies was sharpening hooks. I found it to be very tedious and repetitive -- sharpening up to three treble hooks per lure! I was constantly poking my fingers. Over time I learned that sharp hooks are an essential factor to success when musky fishing. I now say, “If you don’t have razor sharp hooks, why use any hooks at all?” Sharp hooks are a MUST; hook sharpening is emphasized among musky anglers! The hooks coming out of the box or off the shelf cannot be sharp enough. Each winter I go through all of my lures and re-sharpen hooks. I get each hook razor sharp to the point, when lightly touched, it sticks to the finger. Throughout the fishing season, I check lure hooks and re-sharpen as needed. Dulling occurs when the hooks come in contact with rocks, sand, wood, any other kind of cover, or a musky’s mouth. Muskies’ mouths are very tough, and if you have a fish hit, you need to keep a tight line with a little bend in the rod. The sharper the hook, the better chance you have to keep that fish hooked. Just remember, a hook can never be too sharp!
Musky fishing requires specialized equipment. You need a proper rod, reel, line and leader. Use a musky rod made for the lure you are retrieving. You want a baitcasting reel that can handle the correct test of braided line. Anywhere from 50 to 100 lb. braid usually works for most casting scenarios. I make my own fluorocarbon leaders with large snaps and large ball bearing swivels. I use 130 lb. fluorocarbon in most cases. Some musky anglers balk at paying $8 to $10 for a 12-inch fluorocarbon leader. Here is how I look at it. Musky fishing is an expensive sport. A lure will cost you from $10 to $50, or more. Rods, reels and line are not cheap. You do not want a $5 subpar leader to be the weak link. I use a Palomar knot when tying braid to my swivel. Make sure to check knots and line often. Your leader, knot, and the first few feet of line above the leader, are most prone to wearing weak the fastest.
Backlashes are a real pain, but they happen to all of us. The biggest thing is learning the correct way to “thumb” the spool on your reel so you have as few backlashes as possible. When I started musky fishing, I had 50 lb. braid on an Abu Garcia 6500C3 reel. I had a lot of problems with backlash. Some of it was due to my lack of casting ability, but the thin line was also prone to digging in, causing backlash. After that, I switched over to 80 lb. braid and it greatly reduced my backlash problems. Now, I use 100 lb. braid on all of my musky reels.
Attention to detail includes having the correct release tools and maintenance tools in close proximity and a quick reach. Sometimes muskies get hooks caught in the net with the fish’s mouth out of the water. You need to act quickly and get that fish back swimming upright in the net. Long pliers, hook cutters and jaw spreaders are the three most important release tools. I tie lanyards on all of my release tools wrapping the lanyard around a boat cleat or around my wrist and I make it plenty long. Eighteen inches of rope is a lot cheaper than a $70 hook cutter. In addition, you should carry tools for equipment maintenance. These include hook sharpeners, braid scissors, reel oil, extra hooks, extra split rings, split ring pliers, extra leaders and a line pick for removing backlashes. This is not a complete list of items you should carry in your boat, but it is a good start.
It may seem that success in musky fishing is about having all of the stars line up at once... or getting lucky. Watching fishing shows on television is not as helpful as the experience to be gained by getting out on the water. So get out in the boat and practice, practice, PRACTICE!
“Set The Hook!” Andy Hendrickson