A monster muskie is a freshwater trophy that will excite all anglers. Esox masquinongy gets its name from the Ojibwe “maashkinoozhe“-meaning “ugly pike,” and just one look reveals that these fish are close kin.
Although muskies are rare and difficult to target, there are some things you can do that will help to improve your chances of success. But patience is the most important thing. Remember that muskies aren’t the fish of 10,000 castings!
If you are an experienced pike fisherman you will know how to catch these giants. Their methods may still be a mystery to some. We’d love to help you find one of these formidable fighters. Here are some tips and tricks I’ve learned.
Do you want to catch a bigger and more powerful muskie?
Muskie: The Essentials
Although the natural range of the muskie is smaller than that of the common northern pike ( Esox lucius), it has been introduced to Maine and other states, increasing its availability.
Muskies are an elongated, torpedo-shaped predator that relies on sharp teeth, good eyesight and lightning speed. They like to be near plants and make full use of their camouflage to attack unwary fish.
Despite their similarity, Muskie can be distinguished from pike quite easily. Muskie has distinctive patterns of undulating stripes that bend toward the rear. The tail fins of muskies are more angular and speckled than those of pike. If you look closely, you will see 6-9 pores on their lower jaws. Pike only has 4-5.
Muskies are usually between two and four feet long and weigh between 15 and 36 pounds. However, they can grow up to six feet and 70 pounds. Like most species, females tend to be larger than their male counterparts.
However, muskies are slow to grow. According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources: “Muskies average about 11 inches in length after their first year of existence, reach 34 [inches] by year 7, 40 [inches] by year 9, and reach 50 [inches] by age 17.” This means that the really large ones will be as old as the best bass, and just as wily and cautious as the most experienced bass.
In their early years of life, they are also often decimated.
Pike spawn only a few weeks later than muskies, making them a prime prey target for these small predators. They are also surrounded by birds, mature pike, muskies, bass, and trout. They are less common than their cousin the pike and require legal protection to ensure their survival.
Tim Simonson is a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist. He explains that “Musky anglers are definitely leaders in fishery conservation… Voluntary releasing of muskellunge steadily increased since the 1970s to the point when many avid musky anglers now freely release every fish they catch.”
We strongly encourage you to practice catch and release in any area where muskies are protected and native. Your grandchildren and your children will be grateful that you are protecting the future of fishing.
Muskie Feeding Behavior
These predators are called voracious. They can devour prey up to 1/3 of their length with their cavernous mouth, full of rearward-facing front teeth. They are also susceptible to cannibalism. They will eat almost anything they catch, including birds, fish, frogs, and muskrats.
They wait–motionless–near healthy vegetation, and because they hunt by sight, they like clear water. Muskies are most active between dawn and dusk. They have an advantage over other prey species because they can see food faster than others.
The muskies hunt structure, in addition to the vegetation. Drop-offs and points, along with humps and drop-offs near weed beds, are prime feeding areas. Josh Stevenson, a professional working for Mighty Musky Guide Service prefers these areas.
Muskie Season: Get to Know Your Water
The water gradually warms to between 50 and 60 degrees. Muskies will then move from the depths to the shallows, especially in the south-facing shallows. They also enjoy the points where rivers and creeks join the main body of water, just like pike.
The mercury will rise slowly, but muskies will still be moving toward these areas. Fishing the edges of those areas near a steep drop-off can prove to be very profitable. Once that magical number is reached, they will be in shallow water, often only a few feet deep.
Early summer sees muskie still exploring the shallows and hunting weed beds for prey. You’ll find food wherever you look. As the water heats, they will seek out cooler water further away from the shallows.
This is a great time to focus on “deeper” structures: points, humps, and rock piles.
The muskies are more active in the daytime when it is colder than usual during summer. However, muskies can also be active after dark if it is extremely hot. A slow and systematic topwater strategy could prove to be a good idea.
The leaves are turning and the water temperatures dropping, so muskies know it’s time for them to gain as much fat as possible. They will return to shallower waters, but not to the same flats where they spawned earlier in the year.
Even though aggressive presentations are a good idea in autumn, muskies can be difficult to pin down due to the favorable water temperatures.
What does all this mean?
- Clearwater and vegetation are important. Muskie loves water with low turbidity. This is where sunlight can reach the underwater plants and encourage their growth. These ambush masters require the vegetation to provide cover. This means that you should focus on thick vegetation and weed beds when hunting for muskies.
- Muskies are very aggressive. For most species, finesse and subtlety are important. But not for the powerful muskies! They will strike most lures with an attitude so don’t be afraid to throw it too big or fish too aggressively.
- To find prey, Muskie relies upon their vision and lateral lines. This means that flash, color, and vibration are important in lure selection. Live bait is also a solid option.
- Muskie eat at dawn and dusk because of the importance sight has to ambush predation, it is often the best time to work. The 90 minutes between sunrise and sunset are the most productive.
- Muskie is shallower in spring, more so in summer, and again in fall.
Tips and tricks for Muskie Fishing
Use the correct line
Braid is a favorite among muskie fishermen because of its small diameter but impressive strength. Anglers will often pack their reels with super lines that are extremely strong.
Ask them why they made that choice. They might mention improved abrasion resistance or knot strength. These are very common answers. These ludicrous answers will also be heard.
It’s not even close to accurate, but it does sell lots of expensive braids!
We have dispelled some myths and taken a closer look at the lines before. For more information, please see our article “Myths Debunked”. These answers are a reflection of some of the misconceptions we want to correct.
Braid is not very abrasion-resistant. It is undisputed that braided lines have a higher tensile strength than mono and fluorocarbons.
This is a simple truth.
However, tensile strength is not a measure of abrasion resistance. And, despite being unbelievably strong braided lines don’t do a good job at absorbing nicks or other invisible damage.
Look at the photo above. That’s too much wear for you to keep casting!
Braid is made up of many small strands that are super strong and then woven together to create the final line. The line’s strength will drop dramatically if just a few of the strands are broken by a muskie’s tooth.
Gary Poyssick explains that braided lines are made by wrapping multiple strands on top of each other. This allows them to separate. They allow water to penetrate a sealed surface if they separate, which can happen when something sharp scratches it. They can become damaged by water if they are opened up. We can assure you that big fish will escape from those stressors.
Head-to-head testing revealed that braid was less abrasion resistant than mono and fluoro, in diameter to diameter. You can increase that resistance by increasing your weight. But the question is: Why?
Why pick the lowest abrasion resistance option and then make it better?
Braid is weak in knot strength braid is slippery because the polyethylene fibers used to make it don’t bite very well on each other. This can happen especially when there is sudden, extreme force. Slippage can be a problem, even with knots such as the Palomar or San Diego Jam.
TackleTour tests showed that the average knot strength was only 49 percent using a variety of premium braids. This means that a 20-pound line will experience knot failure at 9.8 pounds.
This is one reason anglers use super-heavy braided lines – they’re compensating the weak knot strength.
Braid is an essential tool for any angler. It’s strong, sensitive, and low-stretch and is a great choice for bass fishing. Mono is our favorite line because it has some stretch and cushion. However, muskies are known for their hard fighting.
Trilene Big Game monofilament is recommended for this large, nasty fish. It is strong, ties well, has high knot strength, resists abrasion, and offers great shock strength.
TackleTour actually found that Big Game’s knot strength was 94 percent lower than its rated strength.
This is a knot strength of 94 percent, and no braid can match that! This is what it looks like!
It’s very difficult to beat quality mono in terms of abrasion resistance. The nylon it is made of is not only very soft and easy to scratch, but it’s also extremely round, which makes it difficult for muskies to cut.
We don’t see any reason to throw braid and skip mono.
A leader is a good choice
No matter what mainline you choose, braid, mono, or fluorocarbon will stand up against muskies’ teeth. Sometimes you may be able to miss the mouth razors but it is almost always over.
A long leader is important for muskies, as well as pike. A few inches of leader won’t be enough to protect your mainline, so I recommend at least two feet.
One option for the spooky muskie is to use heavy fluorocarbon leaders, such as Berkley’s 100-pound leaders. Fluorocarbon, while invisible as mono, is stiffer and more sensitive than mono and has been proven to be an excellent leader material over many years.
A heavier mono of 80 pounds or more is another option. Trilene Big Game can be used in tests up to 130 pounds and makes an excellent leader at a fraction of what fluorocarbon costs.
As many anglers know, metal is the only way to protect your mainline against a muskie’s bites.
Rio’s tapered lead, a single-strand notable wire covered in nylon, is one of many excellent metal options.
Terminator Titanium knottable steel wire is my favorite if you like to tie it yourself. It’s simple to use and it can be ripped through titanium by a muskie.
Ryan DeChaine, Wired2Fish’s chief tying expert, has clear instructions for you:
Muskie doesn’t fear! They are unrivaled predators and will eat anything they can find. This is why I love to throw soft baits between 5 and 4 inches. I also like crankbaits and Jerkbaits that are 3 1/4 to 4 inches. Whether you are fishing with live bait or dead bait, it is almost always better to go bigger.
Upgrading Your Hooks
Although the hooks on lures might seem very sharp, they are usually an affordable option that keeps costs down for the manufacturer. Mono lures can be stretchy so I prefer to replace my hooks whenever possible.
You can learn a lot from the pros by trading your factory treble hooks for Gamakatsu, which is a premium quality alternative. Premium hooks are subtly different in form and will keep your fish hooked to your line better than bargain alternatives.
This is particularly important when you are running a single hook as you do for soft plastics.
The Infamous Eight
If you see a muskie following your lure but it isn’t taking it, it’s time to stop and do a figure 8. That will trigger a strike 9 out of 10.
Muskie Fishing Strategies That Work
Make a Bucktail
Bucktail spinners and any other dressed spinner are magic on muskies. They are a popular choice for any season because they combine irresistible action and flash and vibration. They can be thrown quickly for a country mile and can be used quickly to cover a lot of water in a short time.
Take a look at our top picks for musky lures
Three of my favorite recipes use a slightly different method to achieve the same effect.
Musky Double Showgirl, a large, triple-hooked spinner with two #8 blades, is big and treble-hooked. This is a great choice for burning weed around the edges and overgrown areas.
The Shumway Flasher is a maribou-style lure that takes maribou to the next level. It has a large, fuzzy body with two spinners to stimulate a muskies lateral line. This lure is a favorite of mine and has proven its effectiveness repeatedly.
The BigTooth Tackle Straight Wire is last, but certainly not the least. It was a double-hooked design that featured a long blade, skirt, and soft plastic body with a wriggling tail to entice strikes. It doesn’t matter if a muskie takes the hook up by the tailor near the blade, it will find one of the sharp hooks.
Use Power Tubes to Jig
Pike anglers who are skilled know the value of this technique. Here, you will find similarities between pike, muskie, and other pike species.
A large tube jig can be used to fish for bass and can be set up on a heavy head jighead. This will create one of the most deadly muskie combinations. The 4 1/2-inch No products were found. rigged on a 1/4 ounce YUMbrella money head. The muskies will rush to grab young fish they see when the lure is fished close to a weed bed.
It can be a crime to jig these bad boys at the correct depth when you are working with rock piles, drop-offs, and humps.
Flukes in the grass
A 5/0 hook suspended 18-24 inches below a large barrel swing swivel can make big Zoom Super Flukes muskie-gold. A substantial leader between the hook and the swivel gives you assurance against its teeth. It also provides a tasty wriggling meal that can’t be missed.
Top Water for High-Summer
Topwater action is a deadly weapon when the heat is on. A slow, steady, propeller-equipped topwater lure can get muskies to strike with a vengeance, especially after dark.
River2Sea Whopper Plopper is a super-realistic pop lure that vibrates at the muskies’ lateral lines. It is one of my favorite muskie lures. You’ll be surprised at how effective this lure can be if you resist the temptation to throw him across the water.
Experienced anglers fishing on the Great Lakes will tell you patience is key when fishing for muskie. These monsters are not as prolific as pike and take longer to grow. To catch them, you will need patience as well as luck. Once you get the bug, you’ll be hooked!
These tips and techniques will help you to catch a trophy. If they work for your, or if you have any other suggestions, please comment below.