Those Moody Muskie's - Fixing Three of the Top Problems with Catching Muskie

Updated: May 28

May 23, 2022 - Segment #2

Mountaineer News | The Editors

'The Outdoors Specialists' - Fishing Tips

Our stream here in Upshur County is popular among avid anglers because of the plentiful muskies you can catch here. The Buckhannon River features a lot of submerged log piles, which creates a great habitat for muskies.


As we already know, muskies are moody. Without a doubt, it’s this fish’s temperamental disposition that makes them so frustrating to fish for, even for the most passionate musky hunter. You know they’re there, lurking; most likely watching your swim past without even showing a twitch of interest. Fortunately, the best musky lure can help tip the odds in your favor.


We bet you know the heartache of dropping a huge muskie. Truth is, it’s often your own fault. From proper prep work to fight techniques to end-game insurance, the following tips from our local pro will keep you from feeling that sting ever again.


THE PROBLEM: New Toys

“One thing I see a lot is guys showing up to fish with brand-new gear,” says Justin Sizemore, a guide with over 30 years experience. “But no reel comes out of the box ready to fish for muskies. Too many anglers simply don’t take the time to prep their gear because they’re in such a hurry. A drag that’s too loose may not matter when you’re retrieving big lures all day, but then a fish finally hits, the rod doesn’t bend when you set, and you never get the hooks planted.”


THE FIX: Lock It Down “On my reels, the drag is locked down to the point where you can barely pull it out without wrapping the line around your hand, because people go into shock mode when a really big muskie eats a lure. I’ve seen clients freeze up when a giant fish hits. They never set the hook at all, but with the drag locked, when that fish turns or head shakes, the odds are much better that the hooks will dig in. The tight drag essentially sets the hook for them.”

 

THE PROBLEM: Repeat Offending

“I talk to a lot of guys while hanging out with my friend who owns a local tackle shop. They’ll come in to buy a certain lure because it moved so many fish. I always ask, ‘Well, how many did it hook?’ If the answer is ‘None,’ then you need a different lure. Most of the time, if a fish moves or follows without eating, an angler will bomb the area with the same lure over and over trying to get it to come back. Sometimes it works. Often it doesn’t.”


THE FIX: Throw the Changeup “I do believe in the throw back, but you’ve got to think about what you’re throwing. If I’m fishing a topwater lure and move a muskie that doesn’t take, I’ll let it rest for a few minutes and throw a similar topwater that is a size smaller or bigger but most importantly makes a similar sound in a different pitch. That’s often the trigger. With other lures, sizing up or down for the throw back is smart, as is changing the speed of the retrieve. I would try that before switching lure styles.”

 

THE PROBLEM: Being Set in Your Ways

“Muskies often eat close to the boat. You see everything go down, and because it’s visual and surprising, anglers often lose composure when they react. One of the biggest and most common mistakes is setting the hook in the same direction the fish is moving. If a big muskie is charging toward the boat when it hits, and then you swing toward the boat, all you’re doing is pulling the lure out of the fish’s mouth.”


THE FIX: Side Swipe “I know it can be hard to remember, but if you swing to the side and away from the fish, your chances of a solid hookset increase dramatically. All you really need to do is make sure the force of your swing is countering the direction the muskie is moving. In a situation where for whatever reason it’s not possible to swing the rod sideways, swing downward. Do whatever you have to in order to make sure the lure isn’t moving the same way as the muskie.”

 

Fishing for Muskie - What do I need? There are many types of fishing rods; choose a rod that best fits your style of fishing. Fishing rods are usually rated for 2-16 ounce lures in 6-9 feet lengths. Longer rods are good for making larger figure-eights next to the boat. Short rods work well with jerkbaits and glide baits. It’s much easier to make quick twitching motions with short fast action rods. Bait casting reels rated for 50-100 pound braided line are also used. The gear ratio of a reel is important when you choose what type of lure to use. For example, a 6.4:1 gear ratio is suggested when using twin bladed buck tails, while a 5.3:1 is better for jerkbaits. Higher gear ratios let you retrieve faster using less energy.

Most anglers use braided line. It is smaller in diameter, resists scratches and doesn’t stretch like monofilament line. Anglers usually use leaders made of wire or fluorocarbon since muskies have sharp teeth that can cut or fray the line while fighting.

First-time musky anglers should use crankbaits and spinners. These are easy to use and don’t need a high degree of skill to make the correct presentation to a fish. Crankbaits come in a wide variety, but all are fitted with a metal or plastic lip that makes them dive to a specific depth. Crankbaits used in Iowa usually range in size from 6 to 12 inches. While one color will not catch all fish, match the lure color to the main prey species in the water body you are fishing. Crankbaits are equally effective for trolling or casting. When trolling, put the lure 10-60 feet behind the boat at a speed of 4 to 8 miles per hour. Use a depth finder to help you find submerged weed lines; troll just along the outside edge. For casting, find a likely spot, let the boat drift with the wind or move it slowly with an electric trolling motor and cast the lure as far as possible using a steady retrieve, reeling as fast as you can. A common trick of musky anglers is to make a "figure 8" motion with about 12-24 inches of line between the lure and the rod tip before they remove the lure from the water. Complete this motion at the end of all casts or trolling runs. Muskies are often caught right beside the boat after following the lure and strike only when there is a quick change in the lure’s speed or direction. Spinnerbaits have a metal spinner, in a single or tandem pattern, followed by a group of weights attached to one or two treble hooks hidden with hair or soft plastic body dressings. They come in many colors and patterns. The spinner attracts the fish and is usually very polished or finished in a fluorescent paint. The hook-hair portion of the lure is the body and is dyed in dull colors that look like natural food items. Some anglers attach soft plastic body dressings to spinnerbaits to add color and increase the action of the lure.

Spinnerbaits work well for both trolling and casting. They sink, so you must delay your retrieve to let the lure to get to the correct fishing depth.

Jerkbaits, made of wood or plastic, imitate injured baitfish. Best used by experienced anglers, they are named for how you retrieve them. The lure floats on the surface until it is retrieved; it then dives sharply and darts side-to-side. Some jerkbaits have a metal tail that you can bend to change the action. Otherwise, the angler must supply most of the erratic action. Jerkbaits come in a variety of colors and styles, but no pattern is best at all times.

Jerkbaits do not dive as deeply as crankbaits; they work best in shallow water, especially over submerged plants or other structures near the surface. They are usually fished in 6 to 8 feet of water.

Cast as far as possible then jerk the lure in a zig-zag motion to retrieve. Additional Tips and Tricks Muskies spawn when water temperatures are between 48-56 degrees. Anglers may see many muskies in shallow water during the spawning period, but they are tough to catch when they’re actively spawning.

As water temperatures start to rise in early spring, muskies can be seen in shallow bays soaking up the sun. In reservoirs, find them in the upper arms and inflows. Sight fishing, a common technique, involves slowly moving along in a boat to look for muskies. Cast large jigs tipped with a large soft plastic, such as a 6 inch twister tail, ahead of the fish and slowly work the jig combo back towards the fish. Look also in deeper water next to spawning areas for baitfish species such as sunfish and suckers.

Try twitching large crankbaits along areas between shallow back bays and main lake drop offs early in the spring. Look for any aquatic plants that have started to grow. A few sprigs of green aquatic vegetation may be all you need to attract a fish of a lifetime. After casting the crankbait, work the lure with twitches and pulls of the fishing rod while retrieving. Glide baits work like crankbaits, but instead of diving, they display a zig-zag pattern. A long pause or “hang time” between twitches of the rod is the key to effectively retrieve both of these baits.

Fishing techniques used during the summer are similar between natural lakes and reservoirs and often depend on the forage base. Cast spinnerbaits and topwater baits when fishing in and around emergent vegetation, such as bulrush. These baits are designed to avoid getting snagged on vegetation. Use spinnerbaits, jerkbaits, bucktails and topwater baits in shallow submergent weed beds, such as curly leaf pondweed and around boat docks.

Use deep diving crankbaits, bucktails and large plastic jigs in deeper weed beds . Bucktails, jerkbaits, and crankbaits work well when fishing rock areas. Both casting and trolling in the deeper water are good options. Try fast retrieves and fast trolling speeds to entice muskies to strike. Don’t be afraid to “burn” baits (retrieve very fast) when water temperatures are warm.

During the fall, muskies continue to build up energy reserves before the winter and spring spawn. Use deep diving crankbaits, large jigs, large plastics or glide baits.

While male muskies rarely grow to 40 inches, females will reach 40 inches by age 5 in many waters. Avid anglers usually practice catch and release and it's required to do so in our Buckhannon River. Proper handling is essential to safely release fish and avoid injures to anglers.

Where to Find Them Muskies are often caught in the spillway below reservoir dams or downstream of low head dams. Some muskies are caught with live bait or twister tails in eddies and other current seams.

Side scan sonar, underwater cameras and GPS systems can help you find a weed line along with specific key features within the habitat such as inside turns, small points that extend out into deeper water or clumps of aquatic plants that are denser than the rest of the weed bed.


Use a GPS unit to help you come back to these locations throughout the fishing season. Once water temperatures reach the mid-60s and after the fish have recovered from the spawning season, muskies start to eat more often. Find active fish in weed lines close to drop offs on natural lakes, bulrush beds and rock reefs. Boat docks can provide excellent cover for muskies to trap their next meal in lakes that lack lots of aquatic plants. Look for muskies in creek channels that wind through flooded timber. Rock jetties and armored shorelines, such as the face of a dam, will also hold muskies. Try also road beds, constructed rock piles, earthen mounds and brush piles. Look for places where many habitat types cross, such as where a weed line meets an old road bed with rock piled on it.



Be sure to tune in next week as we share some more outdoor-life pro tips! Don't miss 'The Outdoor Specialists' segments right here, every Monday at Mountaineer News!


Always follow local and state laws as It is required to procure a license(s) for fishing activities in the State of West Virginia. CLICK HERE for more information.