The Finer Points of the Figure Eight
by Jason Smith
The defining moment as far as musky fishing comes is when the mighty
muskie comes following your bucktail, the same bucktail you have been
pitching endlessly all day. You seem to be in somewhat of a hypnotic
trance, then your heart jumps out of your chest and you yell "thereís
a fish" and the muskie that you have worked so hard for slowly says
good bye. We as musky anglers have all been in this same situation, yet
the question is do we continue to let it happen or do we work hard to
prevent this hypnotic failure. Iíve put this article together to give a
real insight to how the figure eight should be done correctly to increase
your catch ratio better than fifty percent in your boat.
Lets start with the muskie I was talking about in the beginning. The
first thing I always do to start is expect to have a follow on every
cast, so if I expected this follow and was looking behind and not at my
bucktail I would not be surprised to see what I expected to be there.
Say this muskie was now in hot pursuit of my bucktail with his eyes
focused and gills flared. Then without a sound I lower my rod and drive
the bucktail deeper as the leader comes within six inches of the rod
tip. I would also go into free spool with my thumb on the spool of the
reel for the drag. The muskie will follow the bucktail down along the
side of the boat and into the first turn. I use long 7í6"
Lamiglas rods in order to get as long a sweep as I can. The length of
the first sweep is more important than the depth of the rod in the
water, because you want to make the muskie pick up speed. When the first
sweep is nearing the end and into the first turn, you lift your rod up
and into a figure eight, so you make your bucktail go from four feet
down to only six inches down in the first corner. Iíll catch ninety
percent of my boatside muskies on this first corner because they almost
always kick in their tail and eat the bucktail that they think is
getting away. But if this first corner is too sharp they will fly right
past it, like a Cadillac going ninety on a fifteen mile an hour corner.
So this means you have to keep it wide, five-foot is a good golden rule
unless the fish is better than four foot, then youíll have to make
adjusts to that rule. If the muskie makes it around the first corner
then you can take him down the "straight away", the length of
the slowly descending rod down to the second corner of the figure eight.
When a racecar goes around the track they go fast the straight away and
somewhat slower but higher in the turns. The figure eight is a lot like
driving a race car you need to get everything out of your bucktail yet
still keeping the muskie on the road. The straightaway is done a lot
faster then the first sweep; again we are trying to make the muskie
speed up thus making him more likely to eat the bait. On the second
corner with the muskie going mach III the muskie opens his mouth and
eats the bucktail as the bucktail is bought up high into the second
corner. The number one mistake I see is to set straight up, most anglers
seem to do this and I still donít know why. They work so hard to get
the muskie to hit, only to drive the hooks in to the hard roof of their
mouth and have the muskie spit it out. You already have the muskie going
around the second corner mach III, the rod in you hand is at right angle
to the muskies head. So with the muskies speed and your angle, you
simply pull the rod handle back up under your armpit. It's a simple
concept that causes the bucktail to be placed in the corner of the
mouth. If you had placed your reel in free spool with your thumb on the
line before the first turn, then you are also ready to fight the muskie
you have been waiting all day for.
Some people say bucktails are easy to figure eight, but a topwater
bait is another story. A figure eight with a topwater is very similar to
a bucktail but with a unique twist. I never let the bait go sub surface
and instead I make the bait move faster along the side of the boat. I
believe muskies stay more tuned into a topwater bait if the bait makes
very few turns. My Tuffy Esox Magnum has a deck all the way around the
boat so I can walk the musky around the bow and down the other side of
the boat. If you don't keep your boat clean and you can't continue to
move your topwater bait down the side of your boat make your turn
extremely wide. I have caught muskies on my third trip around my boat,
you just have to keep them focused and make them chase the bait until
they have to eat it.
Crankbaits again are very similar to bucktail figure eights but with
a different twist. The Depth Raider on the retrieve is say ten feet
down, in order to get the bait to come up and work into a figure eight
without coming from under the boat you have to "stair step"
your crankbait. The golden rule for this is to point your rod at the
bait as you retrieve it and when the angle of the line is the same as
the rod, without the stoppage of your reel, you lift your rod, causing
the bait to still be retrieved by the reel but to be stair stepped up
from ten feet to two feet by your rod. When this major move is then
committed then and only then should your start your figure eight.
One thing I should mention more is using the free spool. Placing your
thumb hard on the wet spool with the reel in free spool will give you
more control on that crazy muskie after you just put a Depth Raider into
the corner of its mouth, then a drag ever will. This should be something
of a force of habit on every cast to put your thumb on a free spool. One
more thing my clients often ask me is how much line should I have
between my rod and bait. I recommend using a nine inch leader and
stopping the line six inches from the leader, this will give you more
control in the corners, if you don't believe me try doing a figure eight
with five feet of line compared to six inches of line. Making the
transition with the rod from hand to hand and putting the reel in free
spool should be done without causing the bait to stop, drop or quit
working all together. If you have to restart you bucktail because your
blade stopped, you might have lost most of the interest that muskie was
ever going to give you.
Catching muskies on the figure eight is only as hard as you make it.
If you stay focused and believe that every cast is going to have a
follow and when there is one not to get excited and yell "thereís
a fish," wait tell after you buried the iron into the corner of
that forty five incher's mouth that is now tail walking in front of your
partner before you yell "THEREíS A FISH!!!". .