By Joe Bucher
Muskie chasers are the only group of freshwater anglers who refer to “follows” as part of their fishing experience. The muskie follow is a huge part of the sport’s dialogue for sure, and one of sportfishing’s most unique phenomena. However, it can also become a key strategy once you understand how to capitalize on it.
Reality suggests that on any cast, you are likely to have a muskie following the lure instead of striking it. In fact, it’s a high probability. Unless you know how to react to a follow, the chances of scoring a strike are minimal.
This is why I have studied and refined my muskie fishing philosophy over decades and focused a great deal on how to deal specifically with the follow. Here’s my attack plan.
The first move on any follow is to immediately figure-eight the lure at boatside. This creates a frenzied action that excites following muskies. Longer rods execute large figure eights with your lure far better than shorter rods. Longer rods also give you a much better chance of keeping a large fish hooked on a short line after the strike. It is vitally important to perform this large subsurface figure with the lure itself and not necessarily the rod tip. In other words, watch the lure at all times and make sure the lure is traveling in an aggressive figure-eight pattern. Many figure-eight attempts fail due to poor technique. Work diligently to perfect this. Make large, round and deep “eights” using every inch of rod length.
What if that figure eight fails to score? All is not lost. The second move is a cast-back strategy. I discovered one of the best tricks to use on a nonstrike follower is to throw a surprise “change-up pitch” quickly. In other words, instead of casting back with the same lure, chuck something dramatically different. For example, one of my favorite cast-back tricks on any muskie following a topwater lure is to grab an outfit rigged with a large twin-bladed inline spinner.
The retrieve speed with the subsurface cast-back spinner should be extra fast. Create a bulging wake with this attempt and it is bound to be even more effective. This trick has triggered some incredible cast-back strikes. It’s as if the topwater lure fired the fish up initially, making a quick moving spinner almost irresistible.
Perhaps my best cast-back trick is to quickly change up to a small lipless crankbait on any follow and pepper the area with casts. Cranking the lipless vibrator straight and fast seems to work best. No fancy jerks, twitches, or rod manipulations needed. The sudden appearance of a fast-moving vibrating bait seems to trigger their predatory instincts. This trick has proven deadly on muskies that follow bladed lures.
The third move on muskies that fail to strike on the first two tactics is what I refer to as “the comeback.” Returning to the location of the big fish follow throughout the day has paid off numerous times. This come back has also been documented on a host of my YouTube episodes. I have successfully used this strategy on many muskies over decades.
My strategy on comebacks is to revisit the follow within 15 to 30 minutes. However, I also revisit a follow on any weather changes, wind shifts, or daily solar and lunar peaks throughout the day. A “last light” come back works well on busy boat traffic spots, as well as on any day with a noticeably weak daytime bite.
This three-pronged plan is bound to score hits from many muskie follows, but there are no absolutes. Yet, a game plan employing all three tactics is always in order. Hit them first with a good figure eight. Follow that up with change-up bait and an immediate cast back. Finally, come back to a follower again and again at various times throughout the day.