Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

By Dan Craven

Many of you would like nothing better than to see a friend,
wife, son, or daughter catch his or her first muskie. As a guide in
northern Minnesota, this is a challenge that I have had many times
with clients, as well as with family and friends. Let’s talk
tactics and techniques that will assist you in helping put the
first muskie in the boat for a novice esox angler.

The challenge

By nature, muskie fishing is a challenge. It is difficult enough
for the dedicated, experienced angler to contact a fish and get it
to strike. A lot of money, time, and effort is invested. Whoever
said that “patience is a virtue” must have been a muskie fisherman!
Let’s face it on many days the difference between a so-so day and a
good day is getting one fish to bite. When it comes to helping a
novice catch a first fish, we consider therse factors.

Increasing your odds

Now is not the time to fish Eagle Lake, Ontario. Eagle Lake is a
wonderful lake (huge fish and a lot of them), but it gives its fish
up in “flurries.” Between the flurries of activity, hours of
inactivity can occur where you may have follows, but the fish won’t
hit. Eagle is notorious for slow, lazy follows where the fish hang
around the boat for up to five minutes. Seeing huge fish, which
Eagle is known for, is cool, but it can be very taxing on a rookie
for three or four consecutive days.

The lake you need has good numbers of fish. They don’t have to
be huge. Action is the key. You want to contact as many fish as
possible. This keeps the rookie’s attention-factor high while also
allowing frequent contacts to supply good practice on all the
techniques used while fishing muskies (casting, figure-8’s, setting
the hook, and proper lure presentation).

Do some homework

There are a number of lakes in many states that have been
stocked with muskies during the past 15 years. These lakes are a
good option, but you need to find them. State DNR records are a
good place to start your homework. DNR Fisheries at the state and
regional levels have records that are easy to access. Ask the right
questions, and your state workers will point you in the right
direction on how to access that state’s files.

The muskies in these stocked lakes tend to be more aggressive
than muskies that are “natural,” so this is one more way to improve
your odds for success. Some of these lakes have hybrid muskies.
They, too, are quite aggressive, so don’t rule out hybrid

Another option is to fish Canada. I believe that your research
here, in Canada, is more on a “word-of-mouth” basis. Seek out
muskie fishermen who have traveled in Canada and experienced a
number of different muskie fisheries. Avoid the guy who fishes the
same lake every year.

After finding several muskie hounds who have traveled
extensively in Canada, explain your situation. Describe the type of
fishery you want to target, and tell them that you are trying to
tie a rookie into a first muskie. Most of the people from this
group are verbally constipated about giving up hard-earned
information. The saving grace is that they probably aren’t
interested in “numbers” lakes anymore they are probably focused on
large fish. This is the information they pass on, so if you contact
four or five of these “grunts,” you’ll probably get good
information from at least two.

Many times the Canadian lakes that have numbers of fish are
small lakes off larger bodies of water, yet connected by a river.
Traveling up a river and over beaver dams to get to the lake only
improves the quality of the experience. Some take extreme measures
such as taking a boat in by snowmobile in the winter. When summer
arrives, either portaging in by canoe, hiking, or flying may be the
only way to access these remote lakes. Your reward is simple no
competition and a unique experience.

Examples of larger bodies of water in Ontario with connected or
nearby “numbers” lakes are: Eagle Lake, English River
System/Winnipeg River system, Atikwa, Little Vermilion, and

Time to fish

Make sure your rookie has practiced with quality baitcasting
equipment prior to your outing. Knowing how to perform the basics
such as casting and holding the rod properly make the experience
much more enjoyable.

Discussing figure-8’s, setting the hook, and other presentation
techniques can occur as soon as you begin fishing. Modeling the
appropriate figure-8 technique is very important. If you neglect
this, expect a large fish to foil you boatside.

When discussing following muskies, always inform the rookie to
focus his or her eyesight behind the bait as they pick up the lure
visually. It is far too common for people to focus on the lure
(rather than behind the lure) and totally miss the muskie.

As far as lure choice, crankbaits, surface baits, or bucktails
are the best choice. Rookies in my boat usually have floating
surface baits on until they can show me that they can cast without
backlashing, otherwise the lure may sink to the bottom and the lure
can be lost. And those lures aren’t getting any cheaper.

When the rookie is casting with few backlashes, a bucktail or
crankbait is the next in progression. Bucktails that retrieve
easily should be used. Small, French-fluted blades allow fishermen
to fish all day without wearing out their arm. Crankbaits of medium
size and medium to small lips don’t pull very hard, yet supply more
than adequate action. If you aren’t tired, you pay attention and
fish more efficiently.

Catch and release

When the magic moment has arrived and your rookie has landed
his/her first muskie make sure several things happen. This should
be a memorable and positive experience, so bring a camera, or

Instruct the rookie on how to hold the fish; stressing that they
need to hold on at all costs. Get the shots. Get the fish back in
the water ASAP, but get the photos.

Remember that this is their first fish. If it is 28 inches,
great! It doesn’t have to be huge. They still had to do a lot of
things right to get the fish in the boat. Celebrate with them, and
they are already on their way to another big one!

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