NOTE: This Article was written for Muskie fishing in Ontario. Most of it applies to Muskie fishing elsewhere in North America.
The best way to show someone how to catch A Muskellunge or Muskie is to eliminate all the folklore that surrounds them.
- You have to troll really fast for them - WRONG
- You have to use 30 pound test - WRONG
- You have to use really big lures - WRONG
You can catch Muskie trolling fast with heavy line and big lures but you can catch many more if you refine your strategy. But first a quick introduction to Muskie.
There are two kinds of Muskie found in Ontario. There is the indigenous Muskellunge and the Tiger Muskie. A natural Muskellunge can reach great sizes, and in some areas, the fish has to be 48 inches to keep. Many Muskellunge in the 40 to 50 pound range are caught every year. Tiger Muskie, are a highbred between a Muskellunge and a Northern Pike. Tiger Muskie average around 14 pounds but big ones in the 30 pound range are caught. A 45 inch Tiger Muskie would be a trophy by many but considered a medium sized Muskellunge
The natural Muskellunge is more common in the Great Lakes and the bigger waterways in North Western Ontario. Many big rivers running into the Great Lakes will hold populations of Muskellunge as well. They are making their way down the Trent-Severn Waterway from Georgeon Bay and can be found in some of the big lakes that are connected to the Great Lakes.
Tiger Muskie have been released in many lakes and rivers in Southern, Central and Eastern Ontario. The Tiger Muskie were thought to be sterile but as the guy said in the Jurassic Park movie, nature will find a way. Tiger Muskie are breeding in the Kawartha Lakes and have basically eaten the lakes clean. 15 years ago, you were lucky to catch 5 in a whole year and now we are catching 10 in a weekend.
Muskie are like Pike is some ways, they like to ambush their prey. I don't think anyone would disagree that Muskie are considerably more aggressive. Muskie will hang around rock shoals, weedy lines, river current or deep holes. Where-ever there is a large population of other fish, Muskie will be there.
How to catch them.
- It's true that you should troll a little bit faster then you would for walleye but don't go screaming down the lake at 15 miles an hour. You can catch Muskie going fast but not near as many as you would going at a slower speed.
- People do catch Muskie using big 8 inch long crank baits and swim whizzes but you will catch twice as many using a nice 4 or 5 inch floating fire-tiger or orange Rapala. The jointed Rapalas work even better. Fire-tiger is best during the day and the orange is best at night or just before dark. If they are not hitting either, go to a brown or silver color.
- Like any fishing, the thinner the line, the more fish you catch. Like most fresh water fish, visibility of the fishing line makes a big difference on whether the fish will strike or not. In a lake that does not have very many weeds, you should use 8 pound dark green line. If you are in a weedy area or an area that has sharp rocks or Zebra Muscles, then you might want to go to 10 pound test. If you use 15 or 20 pound test, you will not get near as many hits.
- Salt and scent - Muskie are very sensitive to human smell as well as other chemicals like gasoline. You should wash you hands with sugar before you handle your lures. Also, you should always use fish scent on the lure. Another trick is salt. Both Muskie and Pike have receptors on the bottom of their jaws which react to positively charged water particles which are created when feeder fish swim through the water. If you want to boost your fish scent, add salt to it. Believe me, it really works.
- Muskie also are very sensitive to motor sounds so when you are trolling, try to have at least 70 yards of line out. If there are a few people trolling out of the same boat, try to have your lures out the exact same distance to give the appearance of a school of fish. This also helps attract attention.
- Crank Baits - In early to lake Spring, Walleyes and Bass are is the shallows spawning. This is when a lot of big Muskie come right into shore and feed in 1 to 3 feet of water. Try casting with a spinner-bait or a Rapala towards the shore like you would for Largemouth Bass.
- In the last couple of years, we found that while using silver leaders, we were losing fish. Actually, we would have a hit and then the whole lure was gone. What we believe is happening is the Muskie sees the lure and also sees the leader and hits what it thinks is the head of its prey. Thus it's hitting the end of the leader and biting through the line. When we switched to black leaders, the problem disappeared.
- For those of you who are experienced Muskie hunters, we have a question for you. Do you ever notice the first Muskie is the hardest to catch. Then after that it seems a little easier. You will notice it in a lake with an extremely high Muskie population. Once we got our first Muskie, we would let the Muskie go but after, rub the lures in the slime that the fish left on our rubber mesh net. It seems to work. Maybe the smell of another Muskie eliminates a fear factor. Not quite sure on this one.
In conclusion, the best results for Muskie is to use a medium rod and 8 to 10 pound test line dark green line. Use medium size jointed lures with fire-tiger, orange and chartreuse colors. Be very careful to not get any gas on your hands and always use lots of fish scent. Muskie will be found along weed beds, off rocky points, at river mouths or deeper holes that hold good populations of feeder fish. If you have a lot of experience fishing for Muskie, then use your proven techniques. If they don't work, then try some of my suggestions. Just remember, every lake is different with a different food chain, thus techniques should be slightly changed from lake to lake.