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Are Muskie Still the Fish of 10,000 Casts?
Nailing the proper spelling, classification and pronunciation of this fish’s name is almost as difficult as catching one!
Obviously, that was a joke. For anyone who has ever tried to land one of these elusive, prehistoric fish, you know why the call them the fish of 10,000 casts...
Yes, A 2012 Weather Channel article suggests that improvements in technology, the availability and affordability of modern equipment, and the general increase in fishing knowledge, it’s more likely that the muskellunge has become the fishing of 1,000 casts.
But that’s assuming, of course, that you’re fishing the right waters.
In the right areas.
With the right bait.
Using the right equipment.
During the right time of year.
The point is, it’s still a challenge to catch muskie consistently. And that is why Premier Angler is here! We won’t promise that you’ll land a state record muskie after reading this article. But we are pretty confident that your chances of landing a quality fish will increase!
For the Thrill of the Catch
When it comes to freshwater fishing, there isn’t much that compares to catching muskie. They’re big, aggressive, and put up an incredible fight. They also exhibit unpredictable behavior and what might work one day might not work again for weeks (or months, or until the following year).
And that’s part of the beauty! Given how elusive the species can be, the thrill of the catch is even greater.
Think about this: If anglers were able to cast from the shore or a dock and land two or three whopper muskie per day, there would be far less folks fishing for bluegill and crappie. That said, much of the novelty would also wear off if muskie were as abundant and easy to catch.
These kings of the lake will definitely test your patience and dedication. You will get frustrated. They will likely skunk you more often than not. Muskie fishing might even rattle your confidence and cause you to question your abilities as an angler at first.
But the reward is worth it! And once you’ve hooked your first big one, you’ll be hooked for life!
Where to Fish for Muskie
If you love fishing for muskie and live in cooler, northern states (or in Canada), you’re in luck! However, if you want to do some muskie fishing and live in Florida or Lousiana, we’ve got some bad news…
Muskie Like it Cold!
Simply put, muskie require a considerable amount of oxygen to survive. In cooler areas, oxygen is more abundant. Conversely, in warmer regions, oxygen is more scarce. As such, you won’t be finding many of this king fish down south. In fact, you’ll only find muskie in about half of the fifty U.S. states.
Even if you live in the north, however, you will want to do your research before hitting the water. If not, you might find yourself trying to catch muskie in all the wrong place.
Also, later in this article, we will talk about when it is too hot to fish for muskie, even if they are located on a particular body of water.
Finding the Right Waters
The reality is that some waters are just better suited to house muskie than others. If you are fishing a new area (or are new to muskie fishing in general), you will want to do some research before going on. Some of the resources you can contact include:
- Local Marina: Your local marina should have a good idea of what is being caught on their waters. If anglers are regularly pulling quality muskie, they’ll know. Likewise, if no one is catching muskie, they will also know. You can usually find some general information on the marina website. For more detailed or up-to-date information, give them a call.
- State Department of Natural Resources: Most DNR (or the equivalent) websites offer at least a decent amount of information about the public fisheries in a given state. Some state websites will be far more comprehensive than others. As with marinas, it doesn’t hurt to make a call and see what you can find out.
- Fishing Guides: If your lake has individuals or professionals who offer guided muskie fishing, you’re in luck! Granted, they probably aren’t going to give away any specific trade secrets. That said, they wouldn’t be offering expensive fishing tours if they weren’t producing, either.
Best Structures for Muskie Fishing
Keeping in mind that muskie prefer cool temperatures, we also need to keep an eye for coverage and structure.
- Breaklines: Lots of folks will describe “breaklines” differently. To keep things simple, we will define it as the imaginary line where a sudden change in the depth or conditions of the water occurs. This will often be experienced when there is an increase or decrease in depth. They can also be found in the form of changing temperature, shade, clarity, and color conditions. As predators, muskie will often target these areas as breaklines tend to congregate smaller fish.
- Walls and Drop-Offs: These structures can be dirt, rock, wood, or even man made. You’ll want to find structures where the land essentially drops off under the water, leaving a gradually decline leading out into the body of water. They can be found easily with a depth finder and they are great for both trolling and casting.
- Brush Piles: The creation of brush piles is often a covert act used by sneaky anglers to gain a competitive advantage. Some states allow the placing of brush piles in their lakes; however, there are also states where it is illegal as this is considered littering. Quite often, these are discarded Christmas trees that have been bound together and sank to the bottom of a desired location within the lake. Bait fish try to find sanctuary in these structures, and where there are bait fish, there are likely muskie nearby.
- Fallen Timber: Casting, trolling or jigging on the outskirts of these natural structures can be beneficial. As with brush piles, these downed trees provide cover for different bait fish. Be careful, as these can become snag city if one is not careful. Even cautious casting can leave you spending valuable time retrieving or (in the worst case scenario) losing your lure. High risk, high reward.
- Rock Piles: This is pretty self explanatory, but rock piles are another fine place to fish for muskie. Again, this can be effective for both trolling and casting as rock piles provide great sanctuary for smaller fish. Your baits emulating bait fish along the rocks should attract muskie swimming in the area.
When to Fish for Muskie
We’re discussed where to fish for muskie. Now, we need to consider when we should hit the water. As with most fish, there are betters times of day to ply your craft when muskie fishing.
Best Time of Day to Fish for Muskie
Ready for the most frustrating two words an angler can hear? It depends…
Sure, there are times and conditions that will certainly be more opportune than others. This is where a mixture of knowing your lake and common sense come into play. As with many fishing “rules,” it’s often easier to start with what you shouldn’t do and go from there.
When You Shouldn’t Fish for Muskie: Fishing a large, crowded, recreational lake with no horsepower restrictions and heavy fishing pressure is likely to cut down your chances of landing quality muskie. That doesn’t mean you can’t catch muskie here, but these are not ideal conditions. Likewise, hitting these waters midday when traffic is at its peak will all-but-guarantee your frustration. Muskies and jet skis don’t really mix.
Instead, consider hitting the water in the early morning (a couple hours before sunrise) or in the early evenings (a couple hours before sunset). If fishing during the daylight hours, rainy or overcast weather can also play to your advantage.
Muskie anglers often enjoys fishing in windy conditions and/or light rain. Fish tend to feed more aggressively when the water is broken or disrupted. Many will also fish through the night in pursuit of a great catch.
Remember, we never said it was going to be easy…
Best Time of Year to Fish for Muskie
Ready for those dreaded two words again? It depends…
Can you catch muskie all year? Yes
Are you likely to catch muskie all year? Well…
You will want to be aware of the four major seasons (especially depending on where you live or will be fishing). Also, it’s important to pay attention to the biological seasons of the fish (i.e. pre-spawn, post-spawn, etc).
Fishing By Season
Winter: The reality is that most of us won’t be out fishing for muskie in the dead of winter. Sure, some brave (see: obsessed) anglers will hit the water for some ice-fishing, but the bite will (likely) be considerably less during these cold months. Like other fish, muskie tend to get lazy during colder months, however. Their metabolism decreases and their desire to feed (and chase their prey) slows down considerably. For a naturally-aggressive species, this is essentially the “off-season,” especially during December and January. Sure, you can still get them to bite, but planning your strategy for the thaw might be just an beneficial.
Depending on your location, however, the latter weeks of winter (during February and March) may produce some of the best action of the year. During the pre-spawn season, females will be feeding aggressively. As temperatures warm, muskie will also come closer to the surface as they prepare to spawn. Estimates differ slightly on when muskie will actually begin their spawn, but they should start their ascent as temperatures rise above 45 degrees Farenheit (7.22 degrees Celsius). Unlike the summer months, where an early rise and late nights are key, anglers may want to start their day a bit later.
Spring: Numerous biological seasons will occur throughout spring, including the pre-spawn, spawn, and post-spawn. After a long period of stagnation during winter, muskie will become hungry and need to feed before spawning. If you have a late pre-spawn, consider using the tactics mentioned above. As for the actual spawn, however, things get interesting.
Muskies will begin to spawn when temperatures reach between 50 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit (or 10 and 18.33 degrees Celsius). For many waters, this will take place around April.
It has been said that muskie exist solely to spawn and eat. During this period, the spawn is a fish’s top priority, however, so you are unlikely to land a mid-spawn muskie. That said, there is no hard-and-fast rule as to exactly when muskie will spawn and, fortunately, there will likely be plenty of fish who are still in pre-spawn mode.
During the post-spawn, muskie will tend to be lethargic again. The good news is that this is a fairly quick period, usually lasting only a few weeks. The not-so-good news is that, during this lull, most fish are likely to either be spawning or post-spawning, so your bite around late-April/early-May might be reduced somewhat.
Summer: This is often the most popular (and frustrating, and dangerous) time of year for muskie fishing. It’s popular because spawning is over and muskie can focus exclusively on one thing: feeding.
Summer is frustrating, however, as you are dealing with vacations, recreation, and increased fishing pressure. As space becomes scarce and the water is disrupted by boaters and other anglers, your best bet is sticking to mornings and evenings. Water temperatures will be higher during summer, too, so striking when it is nice and cool will play in your favor.
But dangerous? No, we aren’t suggesting that muskie are going to revolt and attack you during the summer months. But just as we take our own heat-related precautions while fishing under the blistering hot sun, we need to be conscientious about when we fishing for muskie during summer.
Studies have shown that there is a high delayed mortality rate for muskie caught when water temperatures reach 80 degrees (26.667 degrees Celsius) or higher. Muskie are a muscular fish known to fight incredibly hard when hooked. They build up an abundance of lactic acid and then are often pulled into a boat, measured, mishandled, and thrown back into the water.
As we mentioned above, muskie enjoy cold, well-oxidized water. As temperatures increase, the water loses oxygen. When pairing this with the fact that muskie have physically exhausted themselves during the fight, they are often unable to recover after release. There is plenty of recreational and scholarly research available on this topic, so we encourage you to read up on delayed mortality and make conscientious decisions before catching muskie during the summer months.
Fall: This is personally our favorite time of the season for muskie fishing. Not only will you get some of the most incredible weather and scenery of the year, but you will also be fishing for some of the fattest muskie of the year!
Think about it. These fish have now been feasting for months now and will be preparing themselves for the cold winter ahead. As temperatures cool, they will begin working their way back to the surface and slowly migrate back to deeper waters as the season progresses. Fish a slow and steady retrieval during these months.
Best Muskie Fishing Baits
Like other species, you can catch muskie on a variety of lures. Swim baits, crank baits, jigs, worms, buck tails, gliders, you name it! Each angler will have a preference, certainly, but here are some of my personal favorites.
- Buchertail: Much like its namesake Joe Bucher, this thing can catch muskie! The design is tried, true, and timeless, having changed very little over the years. And it doesn’t have to because it works! You can get these in the original 700 series and now a 500 and 800 series as well. The Buchertail is strong and durable, which is a must for catching muskie.
- ERC Tackle Triple D: This is a versatile lure that functions well for both casting and trolling. Whether you enjoy working a crankbait or a jerkbait, the Triple D is right up your alley. For trolling, you can fish at depth up to 18 feet; for casting, the depth should be between 6 and 12 feet.
- Musky Innovations Alpha Dawg: A “regular-size” take on their popular bulldawg series, Musky Innovations offers and exciting lure that offers increased water displacement and get tail action.
- Rapala Super Shad Rap: The Super Shad Rap is an update to the ultra-popular Shad Rap, which has been one of my all-time favorite muskie fishing lures. These things are super durable, have 12 coats of paints, and use PermaSteel hooks. From the Super Shad Rap’s durable, balsa wood build to its life like action, this is a must have in your muskie fishing tackle box.
- Berkeley Monster Shad: This one is an oldie but a goodie. It’s also the lure that I caught my personal best muskie on, so I have a soft spot for this one. But for good reason. It’s got a sturdy, balsa wood body, is great for casting and trolling, and comes equipped with sharp, heavy duty treble hooks. It dives quickly and can be fished at depths up to 12 feet when trolling.
Essential Muskie Fishing Tackle
When you’re fishing for a toothy powerhouse like muskie, you will need more than just your rod, reel, and baits handy. These fish have a powerful bite and sharp gills, so you want to make sure that you and your rig are prepared ahead of time.
Depending on your experience, budget, comfort level, and personal preferences, you can spend as much or as little as you want on terminal tackle and accessories. That said, there are a few must-have items, especially if you are looking to land big fish.
- Fishing Net: If you are searching for muskie nets, you’ll find dozens or even hundreds of options. We’ll save all the specifics for another post. What’s important is that you will have a large and sturdy enough net with a long enough handle to bring in your fish. We suggest a bag size of at least 40 x 44 inches and a pole length of at least 4 feet to ensure you won’t be struggling at the end of the fight.
- Steel Leader: These are essential to avoid the dreaded “bite off,” when muskie rip through your line with their razor-sharp teeth. Given that they also have incredibly sharp gills, using an 18 inch leader can mark the difference between losing your lure and landing your fish.
- High-Test Fishing Line: If you’ve made it this far, we probably don’t have to tell you that you shouldn’t be fishing for muskie on 6 lb. monofilament line. But in case that isn’t obvious, you shouldn’t be fishing for muskie on 6 lb. monofilament line. While this again comes down to personal preference, modern anglers tend to agree that using 65-80 lb braided line offers the strength, versatility, and durability required to fish numerous styles and handle even the heaviest and most aggressive muskie strikes and fights.
- Muskie Fishing Gloves: While there is a certain pride involved in fishing for “toothy” predator fish, many anglers simply feel more comfortable handling muskies with a pair of gloves. A quality pair of gloves can help reduce friction or abrasion from casting, as well as reducing the risk of dropping the slimy fish.
You will also want to have a reliable and sturdy pair of needle-nose pliers and a hook-cutting tool. A set of jaw spreaders can also be helpful in certain situations. Some anglers are also brave enough to wrangle their lures from a muskie’s mouth bare-handed, but we do recommend having a thick pair of gloves on hand just in case.
Also — and this one gets overlooked quite often — but it’s never a bad idea to have a decent first aid kit on-hand. Muskie are big and mean and accidents happen. Even a basic kit will suffice for most fishing-related injuries.
Best Muskie Fishing Methods
We’re looked at where to catch muskie, when to catch muskie, what to catch muskie using, and even why to catch them.
Now, let’s take a look at how to catch muskie.
Generally, dedicated muskie anglers will be fishing from a boat. That’s not always the case, however. Consider Zack Hall, who caught a potential Ohio state record muskie while shore fishing at Piedmont Lake. I’ve fished from those same rocks numerous times and never pulled a monster fish like that. That said, I’ve pulled several 40+ inch fish trolling in the center of the same lake. We’ve had a 36 inch muskie hit a generic brown rubber snake floating boat side. So, as with most techniques on this list, it really does depend.
Depend on what? Well, on what the muskie is in the mood for. But, here is general, all-season list to get you started.
- Casting: Remember the old adage about muskie being the fish of 10,000 casts? Whether you’re fishing from the boat or the shore, you can employ simple techniques to entice your target. If you are fishing from a boat, however, one techniques really stands out. Most anglers agree that the “Figure 8” method (or it’s cousin, the “Figure O” movement) work best. Basically, you will retrieve your lure by lowering your rod trip and tracing either an 8 or an O. Maintain a steady retrieval speed and make sure you are allowing for wide turns as you want a pursuing muskie to be able to contain chasing your lure.
- Trolling: This is the preferred method for many muskie anglers. You can have multiple rigs out at the same time and can even cast with your free rods. Speeds will differ depending on your body of water, but maintaining a pace of around 3-5 mph is a good starting point. You can adjust as needed or to account for different lures and presentations. Likewise, you will want to adjust your lures to different depths. Trolling allows you to cover far more ground than casting, so don’t be afraid to experiment. Using a quality depth finder will pay dividends, however.
Additional Reading: Best Muskie Fishing Books
There are countless articles (like this one) that merely scratch the surface when it comes to muskie fishing. To be truly successful, you can read, research, and prepare all you want. But nothing takes the place of just getting out and fishing.
If you are looking for some informative (or simply entertaining) reads, however, we would recommend the following books:
- Secrets of a Muskie Guide and Secrets of a Muskie Guide II by Tom Rizzo
- The Complete Guide to Musky Hunting by Jim Saric and Steve Heiting
- Time on the Water: One Man’s Quest for the Ultimate Musky by Bill Gardner
Want to share you favorite muskie fishing stories, spots, and techniques? Let us know in the comments below!