Jul 5, 2017

Musky Basics

By: Kyle Sorensen 

If you can’t even hold a cold pop in your throbbing fingers due to so much casting, you know you have been muskie fishing. I will say it until I’m blue in the face, musky fishing is an addiction. Once you hook into that first fish, once you smell the slime on your quivering hands for the first time and once you triumphantly hoist that first fish into the air… you are hooked, and the addiction takes hold.

I recently worked a sports show at the Badger Sportsman booth. It was a fun day talking with everyone that stopped by but one couple stuck out. Dave, and his wife, Kris, came by and signed up for a subscription to the magazine. He told me he had been doing his research and watching various videos online in the musky fishing area; I could see the bug was growing.

Dave told me that after everything he has watched and heard, they were going to take the plunge this summer and set their sights on boating a musky. I told them that it was actually ironic he said this as I had been recently told by the magazine that they wanted a musky article from me for this issue. The conversation moved over to the Thorn Brothers’ booth and I began pointing out some equipment to help him get the job done. It was really fun to hear his wife say that she was going to be his “net woman” if he hooked up, as that is usually the case in my boat with my wife, Traci.

Before we parted ways, I let Kris know that Dave will probably yell at her numerous times to get the net. I told her that she will then look into her hands and see it’s already there, but he will just keep yelling at her to get it anyways. I explained that this phenomenon occurs in my boat and Traci knows it’s just a nervous reaction that I can’t control. I told her Dave’s reaction might be different but to keep an open mind and to just expect the unknown until it happens. She chuckled and acknowledged the advice. Little did I know this conversation would be the idea for this article.

I always tell everyone that you don’t need the best gear to make you successful. Everyone works hard for their money and if we had everyone in the fishing industry telling you that you needed to spend thousands of dollars, it wouldn’t look too good on our part. Whether you spend it on your own is your prerogative, but do you need the most expensive stuff on the market to have fun? No. Will the better equipment help you to be more effective and efficient? Absolutely.

Your rod and reel are the groundwork for your adventure. It determines what types of lures you can use, how you can present them, and how efficient you can be when you hook into a fish. The prices on combos can reach over a thousand dollars, but do you need a price tag like that to catch one of these fish? No way.

When I first got into muskie fishing, I bought a used, medium action St. Croix rod for $50, and a used old Abu Garcia model 5600 reel for $50. I caught my first musky on this combo and it was a tiger to boot! As my love for this sport took off (and fast-forward many years), each combo of mine now values well over $600. This is because I dove into this sport head first after I got the bug. Will it be like this for everyone? No, so it’s good to take baby steps.

If you were to stop down to your local sporting goods store, you can easily come out with a new, usable combo in the $100 range. It won’t have a perfect blank. It won’t have great eyelets or grips. It won’t have a lifetime warranty… but it will allow you to handle the fight of a ski.

Looking at rods, you can pick up a Berkley Big Game 7’6” medium or a 7’ medium-heavy for $25. Yea, that’s right… $25. This is a price most all can afford to drop on a rod. If you break it, don’t like muskie fishing, want to upgrade… sell it for $20 or give it away. It’s a small investment than won’t steer you wrong.

Let’s add a reel to the rod. I am a huge believer in Abu Garcia and I have been using them for over 18 years. Each year, all of my baitcasters get sent in and their technicians break them down and they are cleaned, lubed, and tested so they are ready to put up with my abuse. While I have invested a pretty penny into mine, you don’t have to do the same. You can pick up a new 5600 series baitcaster for $75. That’s what I started with. If you don’t like it, you won’t have a problem getting $50 for it if it’s in good shape. It won’t have the gears or the drag system sometimes needed for the big baits, but it will get you fishing and accustomed to the baitcaster style of fishing in the musky world.

Line has always been and will always be a hot topic no matter the fishing area! I run 80 lb. braid on all of my muskie combos. No matter the specification for my rod, they all brandish the 80 lb. Some people use less, some more. With the line, comes the leader. I’m going to be blunt and to the point from my personal observations, whether right or wrong. If I’m fishing clear water, you’ll see a heavy fluorocarbon tied on. If I’m fishing murky and stained water, you’ll usually see a coated (black) “seven strand” variety. I have used practically every type out there and from all of my countless observations, that is the brief synopsis.

Ready to spend and spend? Well then let’s look at the lures! I am just going to tell you two types of lures right now because these are probably the easiest to fish and the best for this discussion. Do you want to experience the best rush musky fishing has to offer? Get a full throttle top water strike. The words just do not describe it. It’s an easy lure to fish, plus you don’t have to worry about too much action with it. There are many types of top waters so I will tell you to look into ones like a Top Raider style (trebles with single moving blade) or a Buzz Bait type setup (single hook with propeller-like blade). The Buzz Bait works great in thick weed cover and the Top Raider in or around anything but thick weeds.

The retrieve is simple. Cast it out and reel it back. You can swim them around lily pads or obstacles but for the most part, you’re just trying to make it look like prey. I sometimes find myself moving my rod tip back and forth, adding extra movement to the bait for added enticement. If you get a strike, wait until you feel the pressure of the fish before hammering down on the hookset.

The second type is the infamous in-line lure. These come from many manufactures in a variety of different names and outfits. These are most commonly referred to as the bucktail due to the spinner on the shaft, leading down to a skirt around the one or two sets of treble hooks towards the rear… all in one line. I would put money on it that this is by far the most common or mainly used lure in the muskie world. Why? Because they work. My brother, Ryan, and I, have used and swear by the Hirsch’s Ghosttail. We have caught a lot of fish on these. Like the top waters, these can be reeled in at a steady retrieve, or you can swim them around obstacles. I usually like to add a pulsing to the crank of the reel to give the blade a “pulsing” in the water.

No matter the lure you are using, always keep a keen eye behind your bait for any shadows or waves. These fish will hit next to the boat and this is when your boatside maneuvers come into play. The figure eight is just what it sounds like. You make an “8” in the water alongside of the boat with the lure. As the lure is about four feet from the boat, I will open the bale of my reel, allowing for a free spool, while keeping tension on the spool with my thumb. If I get a hot strike from the fish, I am able to control the rod/reel with the tension of my thumb, rather than the drag of the reel. If you get hooked up and land a fish on the figure eight, it’s over. You will want more.

You’ll need four things to make your first fish a success. The first thing is a net. A net is an investment. I had a normal walleye net my first trip. With my first ski being a small tiger, I had no issues getting it into the net. As my addiction grew, so did my nets. After a girthy 40’s barely made it in, and that’s a story in itself, I told myself I would never have an issue with that again and went with the biggest net Frabill made, The Big Kahuna. Have a good pliers that has wire/hook cutting ability. You’ll need at least one! The last two aren’t necessities but you should have them… a tape measure and a camera. I have been there without one or both and I have not liked the outcome. It makes for a story but when you have “evidence” of your story, it makes it so much better… haha!

So what I am getting at is YOU can get into this, even at a very little cost. This is an amazing sport that I wish all who long for an adrenaline rush can experience. Whether you’re heading up north on the family vacation or just looking to start shooting from the hip around your home waters, the investment could certainly be worth your time. I thank my mother, Debbie, for planning that family vacation many years back. I remember her telling me that the resort owner had told her some stories of the muskies caught around the area. I almost didn’t go but I picked up that used equipment and a couple lures, and before I knew it, I was a muskie fisherman. Fast-forward a bunch of years and look at me now, consumed at the chance that the next cast could be my biggest fish to date.

Until next time, Tight Lines. Stay Dry.