Muskie fishing is one crazy sport. It pits man vs. nature in a kind of blind struggle; your adrenaline starts pumping, and muskie fishing takes on a fanatical proportion for the day. Serious muskie anglers quit fishing for every other species and pursue muskie with a vengeance, most often for the rest of their angling lives.
But it doesn’t have to be as hard as we make it, especially for the first-time angler. In fact, with fall fishing directly upon us, muskie are available right now, even for the casual angler on a limited budget.
In fact, thinking back over the last few years, I’ve fished fewer hours for muskie and caught more fish! This is because I’ve focused on fishing key lakes at key times of the year using whatever pattern is producing.
When you think fall fishing, you think of two things: live bait and big fish. In muskie fishing a big fish is over 45 inches. To the average angler, a big fish is a 30-incher. Most muskie caught are between 30- to 40-inches up to about 20 pounds. Fewer than five percent are bigger than 45 inches. Some anglers spend a lifetime pursuing that fabled 50-incher.
While some muskie purists still insist upon using giant lures to catch fish, a large, live sucker will get the attention of a lot more fish once the temperature starts dropping, and the fish start filling up their bellies for the winter.
A quick strike sucker rig like the Tony Rizzo models made by South Bend Tackle Co. get my nod as one easy-to-use rig. The large hook up front is big enough to accommodate the largest suckers, and the quick-set hook can be adjusted to just behind the dorsal fin on the top of the sucker’s back.
One top fall method is to fish the edge of a sharp-dropping, weedy shoreline with a sucker under a float dragging behind the boat, while casting to the weed edge. I like to use a five- or six-inch Thill Big Fish Slider slip float with my quick-set-rigged sucker set halfway to bottom.
By casting a Tony Rizzo Trophy Tail spinner to the edge, a following muskie will hopefully turn and grab the sucker at boatside. What’s different about the Trophy Tails compared to other bucktails is that these are made from real marabou feathers which “breathe” in the water for a more alive-looking presentation. They are also thinner than most other lures and have a plastic molded squid body which seems to attract more fish. A lot of bucktails are too big and bulky. I know several good muskie anglers who cut up their bucktails to thin them down in order to get more strikes.
One angler should always be casting as you slowly troll or drift a shoreline while the other angler watches the floats. I’ve used this technique with great success over the years. Lately I’ve scaled my tackle down to using smaller lures like the trophy tails, lighter line (Berkley 20-pound test XT), and a bass-sized casting reel locked into a Tony Rizzo seven-foot, six-inch Signature rod. The longer rod makes for a longer, smoother, and easier cast. it also helps make a deeper, wider, figure-eight as well as a nice, sweeping hookset.
Once a muskie is on with a lighter setup, you get a much more enjoyable fight, yet the longer rod and monofilament line will give you less chance to lose a fish due to slack line than a stiffer, heavier pole loaded up with 40-pound test Dacron line.
This October get out and try muskie fishing. When the sky gets cloudy, and the weather gets rough, muskie go on a feeding binge, and that’s the time to be on the water. Give the techniques I’ve outlined a try. Remember, a muskie is just a fish like any other; she loves live bait and will hit a smaller, slowly-retrieved, shiny lure more often than a giant hunk of wood with hooks!