Muskie, the popular abbreviation of the muskellunge, is a freshwater fish native to North America. Found in lakes and large rivers from Northern Michigan and Wisconsin through the Great Lakes region, it can be located as far south as the Tennessee River Valley.
An ambush predator, it eats every kind of fish present in their ecosystem, including other muskies, along with occasional animals falling in the water.
How to choose your gear
First of all you will need a roomy fishing backpack to store all of the equipment. This desired game fish is hard to catch, being more difficult than most fish and also a fighter which can prove very hard to take out of the water.
Elusive, often found at the top of the food chain if they occur naturally, they are also fast and quite dangerous, as they have rows of sharp teeth.
Regarding gear to use, there are some specific things you need to have before starting fishing – given the particularities of this fish. It is a not so cheap hobby.
One item that is not always required for other types of predatory fish is the release tool. To keep the sport going, it is essential to be able to release the fish quickly without harming it.
The catching equipment is also pretty specific. A long telescoping fishing rod is recommended – they have to be strong enough to throw large baits while also being soft enough to glide and retrieve the lure.
Reels should be durable and reliable, with particular attention being given to their maintenance and operation. 100-pound test braided line and 150-200-pound test fluorocarbon leaders are recommended as the baits are usually expensive and no one wants to lose them.
How to choose bait
A typical fishing bait is the so-called figure 8. This model resulted from the strange feeding habits of the muskies, apex predators in all waters they inhabit and where they were naturally introduced.
They follow potential prey before attacking it – this is why you must make them follow your hook. This method requires you to put the tip of the rod in the water, drawing large 8-shaped patterns with 2 feet of line out. It is an extension of your cast and mastering it takes a lot of training.
Musky fishers commonly use soft plastic baits. Retrieving these with a manner mimicking the movement of a dying fish should be successful, as the muskellunge is a relatively lazy hunter who will not work too much for a meal.
Bucktails and glide baits are again popular, together with crankbaits and swimbaits. Their size should be adequate to persuade the game fish into following them.
Different techniques to try out
There are different fishing techniques for every season. Knowing the patterns and behavior of muskies will make it easier for you to catch them. They can be caught pretty much all the time, apart from the colder winter days.
Once the ice starts melting, you can try to catch some. Apart from seasons, there are particularities for every environment, depending on the lake structure and currents.
The early days of spring will find the fish in transition, leaving the winter habits and preparing for the warmer days and spawning period. In early spring, the water will have a surface temperature only a few degrees above freezing while the deeper areas will be warmer.
Where to find muskie fish
The fish will be located nearby their future breeding spots, prepared for the moment the water becomes warmer. Shallow flats will be poorly populated by the muskies, as it might still be too cold. Fish the drop-offs and nearby waters to their spawning sites, using swimbaits or soft plastics.
Once the shallow waters become warmer than the drop-offs, the fish will move towards them. It is an excellent opportunity for fishing, as the females will feed intensively to support the future spawning process. Fish in the shallow sand or weed agglomerations with glide baits or swimbaits for optimal results.
During spawning, there is little chance of catching the muskies about to spawn or already in that process. However, those still in the pre-spawn period are easy to catch.
After the stressing and exhausting spawn, the females will become less energetic, allowing their bodies to recover; males will be lazy but remain active feeders.
The best period for musky fishing is after the spawn, about two weeks after the actual process. During this time, both males and females start eating heavily.
Another good time can be in the summer, even though sometimes it can become confusing and frustrating, especially if the water becomes too hot or there are many activities taking place in the lake, such as jet skiing.
Habits of this species
Muskies do not feed during the hot summer midday, so it is advisable to go fishing either at dawn or late in the evening. Another advantage of doing so is the lack of noisy sports and activities, which could scare the fish.
Nighttime fishing is also recommended, being not only productive but also quite thrilling and exciting. No different techniques are required for this, the only requirement being to retrieve much slower.
In early fall, the fish start migrating towards the shallower water and can be caught with bucktails and soft plastic baits. There will be much fish in the weed flats and around other structures.
As the days become colder, the surface water becomes colder than the bottom layer, and the layers start mixing – in this period, one can use glide baits, swimbaits or soft plastics.
The last chance for muskie angling is in late fall, a period which produces fat fish. This is because their metabolism slows down as the weather becomes colder, to store fat in their bodies for the oncoming winter.
Fatty and easy meals are sought after at this time of year. Opportunistic feeding is another characteristic behavior, so adapting your technique to the new situation is crucial.
Big soft plastics and jigs are recommended; regarding the method, you have to fish very slow, in steep drop-offs and open water. Near spawning sites, you can also obtain some great results.
Despite the difficulties of catching them, muskie fishing remains an angler’s favorite and if you know the techniques and have enough patience to gain experience, it becomes productive and highly enjoyable. If you’d like to find out a bit more about canoes, be sure to check out our most recent article.