Friday, February 3rd, 2023
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Five ways to catch more muskies on minnowbaits

A selection of minnowbaits (top to bottom): Slammer, Grandma, Skinner, Magnum ShallowRaider, and Jake. All have slightly different looks and actions, but each one will attract muskies. (Photos by Steve Heiting)

By Steve Heiting
Contributing Writer

Nearly five decades of muskie fishing confirm that a minnowbait is the most versatile lure anglers can use for these big, toothy fish. Minnowbaits are effective from opening day of the muskie season until its end, in shallow water to deep, and when the muskies’ mood is aggressive or sluggish. It just may be the perfect lure.

A minnowbait is nothing more than a crankbait with flat sides. Because it has a diving lip, simply reeling it in will cause muskies to strike because of its natural wiggle. But there are ways to make them even more effective. Let’s take a look at five ways to do so.

1. Twitch ’Em 

Every angler has twitched a Rapala for bass. Muskies will hit a minnowbait twitched in the same manner. A twitched retrieve makes minnowbaits special.

Most crankbaits have rounded sides, but the flat sides of a minnowbait reflect light and, thus, produce lots of flash that makes them noticeable to hungry predators. Meanwhile, the stop-and-go motion of a twitched bait teases fish much like a bouncing ball triggers a dog’s instincts to chase.

The cadence of the twitch should be based on the muskies’ mood. When they’re feeding, a fast, ripping twitch can cause a nearby fish to come unglued. When they’re not aggressive, combining a hard snap of the rod tip with excessive slack line will produce little forward lure movement while prompting it to swap ends with a tantalizing flutter. That can be pure magic.

Muskies will almost always strike a twitched minnowbait during a pause between twitches. How long to pause leads into the next tip.

2. Boatside Rise

The pause between twitches can be exaggerated to allow the lure to float to the surface, a maneuver some anglers call a “boatside rise.” Do this twice during a retrieve – once well away from the boat and again near the boat.

My twitching sequence may involve two to four rips of the rod tip to cause the lure to dart, followed by a pause. Then, about one-third of the way back to the boat, extend the pause and allow the lure to float almost to the surface before resuming the twitch. 

This simple change in cadence often will trigger a following muskie. Then resume a normal cadence until the lure is about 20 feet from the boat. At that point, perform a true boatside rise. If nothing happens following the second rise, twitch the lure to the boat and conclude with a figure-eight.

3. Dead Stick 

Sometimes during a boatside rise a muskie will briefly appear, or the water will seem to glow beneath the bait as light reflects off a muskie’s side. This is the time to attempt a technique that buddy Kevin Schmidt and I developed, which we call the “dead stick.”

In this scenario, allow the minnowbait to float to the surface and simply bob in the waves. It’s imperative to watch the muskie closely and react to its actions. If its tail sinks while it flexes its jaws beneath the lure, wait it out and allow the fish to do its thing. The hope is that the muskie will slowly rise up and gently take the lure from the surface, sometimes as subtly as a brown trout sucking in a dry fly. 

Often the muskie will start to sink. If that happens, snap your wrist to cause the lure to wiggle slightly to try to regain the fish’s interest. Don’t give the bait a hard twitch, or the fish might spook. In most cases, the muskie will lose interest and disappear. But now and then, the soft twitch will reinvigorate the fish. It may take up to five minutes or more of playing cat-and-mouse before it finally takes the bait. When it does, set the hook downward to avoid pulling the lure from the fish’s mouth. 

Don’t expect the dead-stick maneuver to work. But when it does work, you will have achieved something special. That fish probably could not have been caught by any other method. 

4. Intentional Collisions 

When muskies are buried in thick weeds, casting a minnowbait into a vegetation pocket and then gently twitching it back while intentionally bumping the lure into the greenery is one way to root out muskies. 

Avoid the urge to set the hook when contacting weeds. Instead, use the rod tip to finesse the lure through the growth. If a hook hangs up on a weed’s leaf, a gentle twitch of the rod tip will usually pull it free with minimal disturbance. Do this enough, and eventually a giant fish will roar out and engulf the bait.

A great way to trigger a muskie in post-frontal conditions is to intentionally bang the diving lip of a large minnowbait onto shallow rock structure. A slow, straight retrieve works best because the collision between the diving lip and hard bottom is enough to cause the lure to move erratically without breaking the lip. Minnowbaits with wide, squared-off lips are best in this application.

5. Gear Up Correctly 

Smaller minnowbaits do not have much buoyancy, so they are greatly affected by terminal tackle. For best lure action, choose lightweight leaders made with quality components. For longer casts, choose a lighter-weight braided line such as 65-pound test, which has a diameter equivalent to 16-pound-test monofilament.

Minnowbaits are effective for muskies by themselves, but these tips may provide practitioners with even better results. Become a minnowbait master and become more successful for the entire season.

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