Three Keys to Catching More Muskies

One of the things I really enjoy is teaching people how to catch more muskies. I started teaching muskie schools with my good friend Joe Bucher back in 1982. When Joe decided to stop teaching his muskie schools, Steve Heiting and I started the University of Esox in 1996. Throughout the years I have been able to fish with many muskie anglers of different skill levels. Many of the students have become excellent muskie anglers, some of which are top guides and tournament anglers. So I wanted to share what I believe are three keys to catching more muskies.

What is interesting is, there are a few skills that many muskie anglers continue to overlook. They instead focus on a specific lure technique, such as working a glider jerkbait, or ripping a big soft plastic. Plus, every year there seems to be a new “magic lure” that brings eternal muskie hope. However, as any seasoned muskie angler knows, there is no such thing.

Although developing lure techniques will make you a better muskie angler, there are three skills that most anglers don’t take as seriously. Yet over the long haul, perfecting this trio will put more muskies in your boat than any one lure technique. The three must-have skills are casting, figure 8s and boat control. Let’s examine the importance of each.

Most muskie anglers I encounter are pretty good with a baitcaster, but they could become much better. Also, since we often make long casts to non-specific targets, muskie anglers aren’t nearly as accurate as bass anglers when it comes to hitting targets.


Reducing Backlashes

It is extremely important to focus on reducing backlashes with your reel, as well as being able to make both long casts as well as shorter, more accurate casts to targets. How many backlashes do you get in a day? If you answer more than a handful…your casting needs some work.

Actually, with today’s reels, such as a Shimano Tranx, having both a brake system and magnetic cast control, there really is no reason your goal shouldn’t be to have only a handful of backlashes each season!

If you are struggling with backlashes, try popping out or turning on all of the brakes on your reel. Muskie lures are heavy and will pull the line from the spool, so you won’t lose any noticebale casting distance doing this. Then adjust the cast control to let the line easily flow off the spool.

The most common reason for the backlash is improper reel position at the beginning of the cast. If you are right-handed, you should begin your cast with the reel handle pointed up toward the sky. If you are left-handed, you should start with your reel handed pointed down. Most anglers start their cast with the reel handle pointed to the side. This puts you in the wrong position, and adds more pressure to your thumb. Over time, your thumb fatigues, and you get backlashes. If you start with your handle up, you use your wrist, which places less pressure on your thumb to control the cast, resulting in fewer backlashes.

Reducing backlashes is extremely important. Besides a wasted cast, backlashes can result in lost lures on a windy day when fishing around rocks or other dangerous shallow cover. Further, backlashes damage your line. Even 100-pound braid can be weakened by backlashes. Multiple backlashes can result in the line breaking on a hookset, or even another backlash. This can cause you to lose a lure or even worse, a muskie. Concentrate on your casting position, focus on what you are doing, and you’ll significantly reduce backlashes.

Try to become more accurate with your casts. When casting, even to open water, pick an imaginary target to land your lure. Try making long casts as well as short casts. Further, when casting close to cover, try picking precise spots to place your lure. Try a contest with your boat partner. It’s amazing how quickly your casting accuracy can improve. This will ultimately result in more muskies, as you can cast to weed edges and pockets, resulting in less lure fouling and getting more strikes. Muskie fishing is a game of percentages, and throughout a long day, the more casts without backlashes and without fouling in weeds or rocks will produce more strikes.


Figure 8s

There have been lots of articles and videos, as well as the Musky Hunter television show, that demonstrate how to execute a proper figure 8 with a lure at boatside. Every year, I meet many muskie anglers, particularly beginners, who don’t believe it really works. To those more experienced anglers that don’t catch muskies in figure 8s—well, let’s just say that I am willing to bet your figure 8s need some work.

Figure 8s take focus. You have to anticipate the lure getting close to the boat, and make a smooth transition into the first turn. Then move along the straightaway and make another turn. You typically only need 12 to 18 inches of line between the lure and the rod tip. Certainly, a longer rod, such as an 9’6” Shimano muskie rod, really helps you make big turns during the figure 8.

I tell people to figure 8 the lure and not the rod. This keeps the lure moving in the water. You don’t want to ruin the action. Keep the muskie’s interest. Also, don’t be afraid to go deep or shallower with the figure 8 if the muskie maintains interest and keeps following.

I try to remain calm and watch how the fish is responding during the figure 8. If the fish quickly follows a fast turn, I move the lure along in a straight path and go into the next turn.

However, I use a slight hesitation of the lure at the end of the turn. It’s not a pause or stop, but a hesitation or split-second hang. If you are fishing a Cowgirl, you’ll see the flashaboo flare for a second. Then move back into the straight portion of the figure 8. Quite often, the hesitation move will result in a strike, or the muskie might snap and miss the lure. Repeat the hesitation on the next turn, slowing down slightly, and the muskie is yours.

In some situations, the muskie tends to drop back from the lure; is so, go slower and deeper with the figure 8. Quite often, the muskie might disappear, and then reappear 30 seconds later and bite. So, don’t quit on a slow or deep follow!

Think about those tough days on the water with minimal follows, where it seems like there are no muskies in the lake. Where do you usually get a strike? At boatside! You have to remain focused and committed to the figure 8 on every cast, as the one bite you most likely will get on those tough days is a figure 8 strike. That’s why I believe practicing and focusing on the figure 8 is more important than learning any specific lure technique.


Boat Control

My final point for you to consider is boat control. We have all heard the cliché that you have to make the right cast to the right spot to catch a fish. Well, making that cast relies upon boat control. If your boat is too close to the cover, or too far away from the cover, you won’t catch muskies. You have to visualize how a spot looks, where the muskies might be located, and then decide how to fish the spot.

Most of the time, I work into the wind, and use my trolling motor to slowly work the area. If I have a follow or find an area I want to make a couple extra casts, I simply step off the trolling motor, and the wind will let me drift away from the spot and make more casts; or I’ll hit the anchor lock button on my MotorGuide Xi5 and hold in position. Most importantly, I’ll use my Lowrance GPS to mark the spot to be able to precisely return to the area later in the day.

With today’s sonar, GPS and trolling motors, plus a little effort, you can become much better with boat control, and make the right cast to the right spot.

Anyone can work the boat on calm days, but it’s the windy days where boat control makes a difference. Work on your boat control, as it is the equalizer.

These three tips may seem fundamental, and they are, but they are the building blocks for a successful season. Think about how you cast, figure 8 and run your boat. If you strive to get better this season, I guarantee you’ll catch more muskies!



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