As I let my 7-inch Slammer rise to the surface, the water beneath it glowed as a muskie slowly materialized in the greenish water. The muskie’s jaws flexed, and its tail seemed to sink as it eyeballed the cisco-colored lure. I wanted badly to give the bait another twitch. I didn’t need to tell myself to let it lie still, because my buddy, Kevin Schmidt, was doing so for me.
“Hold still. Hold still,” he hissed. “Its jaws are moving … he’s going to eat it.”
Almost imperceptibly, the muskie closed the distance until it was just inches beneath the motionless twitchbait. Then, with just a pop on the surface, the muskie’s lips closed on the Slammer and I rammed the hooks home.
I probably let out a chuckle or two every time I fight a muskie, but this time I was giggling like a kid.
Catching a muskie with what we’ve started to call the “deadstick” technique was a first for me, and I knew we were onto something good. After all, it proved to me that what I previously thought were “uncatchable” muskies really weren’t.
Those of you who fish with twitchbaits or jerkbaits have seen it before. You’ve worked your bait back to within 20 feet or so of the boat, and as you’re letting your lure float toward the surface, you spot a muskie hovering beneath the bait, sometimes even moving its jaws as if it’s trying to smell or taste the bait.
If you let your lure float to the surface, the muskie turns around and lazily swims away. If you try to trigger a reaction strike by snapping the lure back under the surface and pull it into a quick figure-8, the muskie disappears.
I used to wish these muskies wouldn’t bother showing themselves at all, because nothing I tried seemed to work.
That changed when Kevin and I hammered out a technique that was uncannily predictable. You just have to get past the idea that muskies always feed in an aggressive or ferocious manner.
It all started years ago when a muskie lifted up beneath Kevin’s Suick and seemed to hang there, wasting our time.
“You’re never going to catch that fish,” I said, and fired another cast. And another, and another … until, suddenly, I heard water splashing from the back of the boat.
“I just let the lure lie still,” Kevin said. “Nothing seems to work with these kinds of fish, so I decided that as long as it was going to lie there and do nothing, I was going to let my lure lie there and do nothing. Then it started to flex its jaws, came up slowly, and grabbed it.”
It took a while before we figured out all of the twists. Fishing the deadstick pattern is dreadfully slow. If you think jig fishing for muskies is about as exciting as watching paint dry, wait until you try this.
It’s not like you can start the day trying to catch a muskie in this manner; you just have to perform the technique when the opportunity presents itself.
The opportunity occurs when you’re fishing twitchbaits (flat-sided crankbaits like Slammers, Shallow Invaders, etc.) or dive-and-rise jerkbaits (Suicks or Bobbies) and a muskie appears beneath the lure, slowly moving its jaws.
Or, if you’ve fished through an area with other techniques and you know for a fact there are several muskies in the vicinity because they followed but didn’t eat, the situation is ripe.
It’s simple, but it requires patience. Let your lure float to the surface without any forward movement. If the boat is drifting or your buddy won’t turn off the trolling motor (he’ll learn), put your reel in free spool and pay out line. It’s imperative that your lure not move beyond bobbing in the ripples or waves.
If there’s a muskie beneath the bait, watch its actions. If the muskie continues to rise, jaws moving, get ready to set the hook. If it seems to lose interest and begins to sink or starts to turn away, give the lure a very subtle twitch. A snap of your wrist is enough. A hard twitch usually will spook the muskie, but a tiny sign of life can renew its interest.
When fishing an area known to hold muskies, let the lure lie motionless for 20 or 30 seconds or so, and if a muskie suddenly appears beneath the bait, keep the lure in place as long as it shows interest. If no muskie appears, twitch the lure hard a couple of times and let it rise back to the surface, and then let it lie for another 20 or 30 seconds or so. This isn’t for the heavily caffeinated angler.
Eventually you’ll be in a position where a muskie is hovering with a head-up/tail-down attitude beneath the lure, jaws moving. Mouth movement appears to be the indication the fish will bite. Then it’s just a matter of making sure your reel is engaged, that you don’t have too much slack line to set the hook, and waiting until the fish takes the lure.
Fish that seem to hang beneath the lure but don’t “go vertical” and move their mouth usually will not bite.
Seconds may seem like minutes as the fish inches closer. Its mouth will open wider than previously, and suddenly it will grab the lure with a small splash. No swirl, no explosion, just a small bulge of the surface.
Set the hook with a hard, downward sweep to the side. Remember, the muskie is looking up as it grabs the lure and if you set the hook upward, you’re likely going to pull the bait from its mouth.
And it will, eventually, grab it. When it works for you, don’t be surprised if you find yourself giggling as you battle a muskie that otherwise would not have been caught.