Don't neglect the figure 8
It can be tough to put muskies in the boat. They’re not called “the fish of 10,000 casts” for nothing. So, when you actually make contact with a fish and get it to follow, it’s important to know how to trigger the fish into striking. Learning the proper way to do a figure eight really can increase the number of muskies you land.
“The success of a figure eight is in an angler’s mindset,” said Jeff Anderson, who guides for Leisure Outdoor Adventures on Leech Lake. “The No. 1 goal is to trigger the instinct of that animal into biting. Far too often, I see anglers just go through the motions.”
Anderson said there is far more to making an effective figure eight than just sweeping your lure around in the water.
“When I contact a fish chasing a bucktail, I’ll speed the bucktail up,” he said. “It’s a keep-away game. You want to speed it up just enough to keep him chasing.”
The shape of the figure eight triggers the fish into striking, Anderson said. An important thing to note is that the eight isn’t made just on a flat, horizontal plane. Rather, the lure should be low in the middle of the eight and sweep up on the outside.
When Anderson gets a follow, he will speed up to get the fish to chase. He plunges the lure down a couple of feet into the water as he goes into the figure eight. As he sweeps the bait around, he hangs the bait high on the turn, so it’s only about a foot under the surface, moving it vertically about 3 feet higher than when he started the figure eight. As he brings the lure back to the center of the eight, he plunges it again, only to bring it back up high on the opposite side of the eight. Of course, it’s critical to maintain the action of the bait throughout the process. For example, when using a bucktail, it’s vital to keep the blades spinning the entire time. To do this, reel up almost to the leader to keep a short line and make wide sweeps. Today’s longer muskie rods are beneficial for this.
“The whole key to a successful figure eight is the keep-away game, but don’t let the fish lose interest in the lure,” Anderson said.
Anderson is not just interested in getting the fish to strike, he wants it to hit at a particular time during the figure eight. He wants the fish to hit on the outside turn as the bait is rising. When a fish hits in this position, Anderson can set the hook back into the fish, hooking it in the corner of the mouth. This not only increases his hooking percentage, but also does little harm to the fish. What he doesn’t want is for the fish to hit on a straightaway. In that situation, the muskie often just nips the bait.
“In most cases, if a fish has contact with a bait but doesn’t get hooked, it’ll usually spook,” Anderson said. “We call that a ‘burned fish.’”
If the fish shows interest in the lure but doesn’t hit, Anderson will come back to it later in the day.
“Depending on angling pressure, we’ll wait for a change, such as a major or minor feeding window or a change in weather or wind,” he said. “The bait that the fish followed will be the first bait through. Then the second guy can cast something different. If the angler believes the fish is going to bite and looks aggressive, we’ll keep that same cadence. Fish get keyed in on different noises.”
Anderson said that because fish are keyed in to the particular noise or vibration of a lure, the lure that raised interest initially should be the one to cast on your return visit. If it doesn’t produce, however, he will sometimes downsize the lure and increase the speed to trigger a strike.
Performing a figure eight on a topwater bait is much more difficult than on a subsurface lure.
“If they appear they’re going to bite (a topwater on a figure eight), we’ll keep the bait on the surface and walk the bait around the boat,” he said.
For less aggressive follows with a topwater, he may pull the lure underwater for the figure eight.
“The biggest mistake people make while doing a figure eight is using too tight of turns,” Anderson said. “The fish doesn’t have the ability to track the bait. The other biggest mistake is allowing the fish to eat on the straightaway. Speed up so they bite on the turn.”
The best way to get a fish to hit your figure eight?
“I would suggest to practice those transitions before it actually happens,” Anderson said. “When it happens, people tend to panic a little bit.”