Careful. That word has been known to cause adrenaline overdoses.
These giants have just one attitude. Nasty. Muskies have been described
as "pure muscle with gills." They give a no-holds-barred tussle like
Hulk Hogan in the wrestling ring.
Easy to see why. Ask anyone who has boated one. A thirty-pounder is
plenty to give you the excitement of your life. A 40-pounder will stop
The scientific name for muskellunge is Esox masquinongy. Most anglers
translate that as "pure mean."
Members of the pike family, muskies are easily distinguished from its
popular cousin, the northern pike. Northerns have light spots on a dark
background. Muskies have dark splotches on a light background, although
some can be light-brown or green with no sign of spots or have wide,
dark vertical bars. They spawn in mid- to late spring when water is 49-
to 59 degrees, which is later than northerns.
But, the characteristic that separates the two species that means the
most to sport anglers is their level of aggressiveness. While a
fisherman may catch northern after northern cast after cast, muskies are
more finicky. An angler may take hours over a season in search of an
active muskie that will do more than just follow a bait. There's a
reason they are known as the fish of 10,000 casts and that's why they
are treasured gamefish by so many from Minnesota to Illinois.
Here are a few tips to help you get started and increase your odds;
- Of the two basic ways to catch muskies, casting is the presentation
used most often. Trolling is the other.
- Use 7- to 7-1/2 foot medium heavy casting rods with baitcasting reels
spooled with 20- to 25-pound line. Don't forget a single strand wire
leader of 80- to 100-pound test. Use high-quality ball bearing snap
- For crankbaits, use something like Bagley's DBO 6 or Depth Raiders.
Try smaller lures, like a #9 Shad Rap if a muskie follows, but refuses
to take the larger baits. In the same vein, our friend Jim Saric,
owner/editor of "Musky Hunter" magazine, suggests trying spinnerbaits of
3/4 to 1-1/2 ounces.
- Replace standard hooks with 1/0, 2/0 or even 3/0 on the smaller baits.
Muskies often straighten standard hooks from sheer power. Keep hooks
- For bucktails, try Mepps Muskie Killers, Blue Fox Musky Bucks, Lindy
Muskie Rollers or Bucher Tails.
- Focus on shallow areas 2- to 6-feet deep featuring rocks and/or
weedbeds indicating a mix of hard and soft bottoms.
- Cast crankbaits right up to the rocks and retrieve slowly. When your
crankbait is about 10 feet from the boat with your line at a 45 degree
angle, rip it upward fast toward the surface like a baitfish trying to
escape a muskie's jaws, then pause it. Finish by making a figure "8"
next to the boat to entice a strike by a following fish.
- Use bucktails on weeds. Lots of people make the mistake of only
fishing the deeper side of the beds. Never ignore the shallow side.
- Look for ambush spots in the weedbeds where a muskie may lurk waiting
for an easy meal. Cast along alleys through the beds or pockets or
points on the edges.
- Saric suggests looking for patches of timber, submerged road beds and
mid-lake humps as well.
- Vary retrieve speed when casting, but slow often seems best. With
bucktails, that means just fast enough to turn the blade.
- Casting not working? Try trolling along the same areas, only deeper
along the first drop off. Jerkbaits, like the Bobby Bait work well.
Saric likes Bagley's deep-running Monster Shad. Let out 10 to 50 feet of
line and move fast, 3.5 to 4 mph along deep edges.
- Don't fall victim to muskie myths. One tells the tale that only one
muskie will haunt any given area. On the contrary, they often travel in
"wolf packs," according to Saric. "A half dozen fish in one spot isn't
uncommon," Saric said. "I've caught two 50-inchers and had two other
follows just as big on a spot no larger than two boat-lengths long."
thrashing in the bottom of your boat.
- Preserve the fishery. It can take 15 years for a musky to reach 50
inches in northern climes. Use tape to mark the legal length on both
sides of your boat so you can get a quick estimate of the fish’s
size without lifting it from the water. Saric suggests using a musky
cradle or a large quality net to hold the fish in the water to remove
hooks with pliers. If you want a picture, avoid letting a fish injure
itself by thrashing in the bottom of your boat.
Catch and release works. One tagged musky was caught three times over 11
years, once at 30 pounds, again at 35 pounds and the third time at 48,
Saric said. Scientists claim muskies can live 30 years.
If you want action, choose lakes with good populations, but you may have
to settle for smaller fish. For trophies, try Sabaskong Bay or Monument
Bay on Lake of the Woods; or for a challenge, the Iowa
hotspots, Spirit Lake or West Lake Okoboji.