Monday, February 20, 2012

My Musky Addiction

Esox masquinongy, or muskellunge, affectionately known as musky or muskie, often seems like mythological creature to many anglers.  After all, it's also known as the fish of ten thousand casts.  I've only caught a few of them over the years, mostly by accident while fishing for bass or walleye.  Although I've always been fascinated by these magnificent predators, it wasn't until recently that my fascination turned into an infatuation, and even more recently, into an obsession.  And, I think that before long, it will be my next addiction.

One year, we planned a trip to the French River in Ontario for a week, and I purchased my first musky rod and reel combination along with a few musky lures.  I didn't get a musky on that trip, but my friend Bob caught one that went about 54 inches long.  A few years later, my brother Kyle, you can read about his story here, decided to fish my local river for walleye, and managed to catch several muskies, and became hooked on catching them too.  He introduced me to that type of fishing, and that began my infatuation.  On the Canada trip and fishing locally, we were targeting other species and musky were the bonus fish, but our tactics didn't change.  We still fished smaller baits and lighter tackle.  Walleye were on all of our minds at the time, but the toothy bigger muskies had my attention too.
My brother Kyle with a natural river musky caught from shore while targeting walleye.  It's his fault I'm currently obsessed with musky fishing.
Can you target musky with that tackle?  Yes, but maybe the answer is that we shouldn't.  Catching them by accident is one thing, but targeting them with light tackle is another.  We owe these powerful fish a better chance at survival, and light tackle just isn't going to cut it.  They are not a particularly durable fish, and it's not worth wearing them out just because we can, and just because they will bite smaller baits.  If we use smaller lures to target these beautiful fish, they should be teamed with beefy enough tackle to bring them to the boat quickly and efficiently.

In the past, my lack of success catching size and numbers of musky directly resulted from two factors, logistics and tactics.  With regard to logistics, having access to good musky water is a huge benefit, and in my area having the right kind of boat makes a huge difference.  Most of the musky close to my home inhabit the shallow rocky Eastern rivers nearby, typically known primarily for excellent smallmouth bass fishing, along with some fine walleye fishing. 

To effectively fish for these fish in these rivers, the best way to get to them is with a jet drive aluminum boat that can take the abuse that these rocky rivers can dish out.  The jet boat allows you to run and gun, and without a prop, negotiate very shallow water, to cover enough holes to improve your chances at "raising" these fish or hooking up. 

The other way to fish these rivers is to fish from the bank or wade.  Although it's possible to catch them this way, to be effective you'd have to fish prime musky holding water, and there aren't really that many good holes to go around.  There are some though, and savy shore bound musky anglers have caught some dandy "skis".  Kayaks and other small craft can solve the access issue, and they catch their share of these mighty fish.
My brother with a natural musky caught on a Rapala Husky Jerk while fishing for walleye.  He solved the access issue by paddling the river fishing for walleyes in his kayak.
From my point of view, what prevented me from catching more of these fish was a flaw in my tactical approach.  The tactics that I used treated musky as a secondary target, and for me to be successful at catching them, I had to change my tactics.  When the logistics were right, I still brought tackle to fish for other species, ones that bite on smaller baits, like walleyes and bass.  I'd bring some musky tackle along, but rarely used that big stuff.   Why?  Lack of confidence mostly, and without confidence, your musky lures won't be in the water long enough. 

I'd typically have good success fishing for bass or walleye, or whatever was biting.  Since those species have higher population densities, and often bite regularly, it was easier to be more successful targeting them.  Like many anglers, I hated getting skunked.  And that was the reason I didn't catch more musky on a regular basis.  To catch more musky, you need to risk getting skunked.  When they hit and you land them, that's a bonus.  A good day may consist of a follow or two, perhaps a hit, and even better, a fish to the boat.  Is it worth it?  I say it is.

That said, anything can happen.  My buddy Howard, while we were walleye fishing, hooked and landed two muskies in about five minutes on a Rapala Husky Jerk while fishing from the bank on our river!  We were targeting walleye, quite unsuccessfully I might add, when these fish made his day.  Unfortunately, for me, I had a run in with the skunk monster.  Yet, those fish made a huge impression on me.  I wanted one, and I've been determined to become a real musky angler.  But this type of success also could lead one to believe that this is the most effective way to fish for them.  But again, it's not that we can't catch them using light tackle, the question remains, should we?  For the benefit of the fish, we should use tackle matched to ensure their survival.
My buddy Howard with one of two "twin" muskies caught on nearly back to back casts while fishing for walleyes from the river bank.
Only recently, my last two trips on a jet boat, did I leave the smaller tackle at home.  If you only bring musky gear, and that's all you can toss, then your chances go up.  And mine did.  On my first trip out, I set out to catch a "lunge" and I did.  I forced myself to use the musky tackle, and it paid off.  So now, my confidence is much higher.  Success breeds success, right?
Not a huge musky, but one that caused my current obsession.  This fish engulfed a Musky Innovations Realfish in the sucker color.
I haven't had much experience fishing correctly for these fish.  And honestly, I hadn't researched it all that much.  On that trip, looking back, I did a lot of things wrong.  I didn't work the baits the right way, and I had some preconceived notions about these fish that just weren't the case.  I didn't realize that they were all that active on colder water, and how wrong that was.

On my next trip, I learned another valuable lesson.  When using large musky lures and heavy tackle, and even though my chances were much better to catch a musky, there's no guarantee that you'll catch one, or get a bite, or even get a follow, even though you're fishing prime water.  The trick is to obviously learn these fish, what they react to, and how to work your baits in such a way as to provoke a strike.  Going into both trips, I knew that these fish aren't easy to catch for a reason, and I risked getting skunked so that I could learn. 

The real learned lesson was that sometimes your big lures catch big fish of other species.  My biggest walleye to date, my personal best, was caught on a twelve inch nine ounce lure!  The lesson was that big lures catch big fish, of all species, even those you aren't targeting.  Now, every bass angler is fully aware of that concept, but it's tough to imagine many fish hitting a twelve inch lure, but they do.  Many a musky angler could easily boast about catching huge largemouth, smallmouth or walleye, on musky tackle.
Using huge musky lures led me to catch my personal best walleye, a fat twenty six and a half incher, not a musky, but a heck of a consolation fish!
My buddy also learned a valuable lesson on our first trip, and believe me, I did too.  At one point, later in the day, we were fishing a river eddy that we had musky follows in the past.  We knew that muskies liked this spot, and we worked it thoroughly.  My buddy was using a Rapala Magnum X-Rap jerkbait, and had a musky follow it to the boat.  The musky stopped and sat there, staring at his lure that was still dangling in the water.  Had he moved it a foot more, it would have hit.  He's yelling, "Kevin, do you see that?  Do you see that?", as loud as he could yell, not hearing me simultaneously yelling back, "Figure eight!  Figure eight!".  By the time he heard me, the fish sank below the boat.  We tried desperately to raise that fish again, but to no avail.

So, the lesson he learned was to use the figure eight at the end of the cast.  The lesson that I learned was, to do it after each and every cast, not just when you see a musky follow.  Had I done that figure eight at the end of my cast, the musky may have seen my lure and hit it even though he had pulled his from the water.  That way, you can tag team these fish.

I was watching Joe Bucher on the television yesterday, and he made a huge point about teaming up on these fish.  If the guy at the front is using one type of lure that draws a follow, often the guy in the back of the boat using a different lure, especially a bucktail, will get that following fish on a figure eight when the fish ignores the other guys lure after his figure eight.  These fish are not shy by any means.

The river closest to me only recently developed a wild strain musky population, and the funny thing is that nobody knows how they got there!  They weren't intentionally stocked, but they found their way into the river and established a breeding population.  Because of that, the muskies in our river aren't that big compared to other nearby rivers.  They simply aren't that old, or perhaps the forage base isn't as strong.  Will they get bigger?  Time will tell.  For now, they provide enough action to feed my addiction.

Ed Lewandoski with a 45 1/2" beautiful river musky.  Ed has been a positive force and advocate for musky anglers and the musky resources in our area.  I've learned much from him and other avid musky addicts.  Photo courtesy of Ed Lewandoski.
Years ago, the State stocked tiger muskies, but the past several years stopped for two reasons, because the tiger muskies carried possible disease (from out of state hatcheries) so they stopped purchasing young tigers, and also possibly because the natural muskies established a population and reduced the need to stock tigers.  Anyway, I'm not going to get into that, but maybe will delve further on the politics of musky in my state in a future post.

So, what is all this about my addiction?  Is it the challenge, the fact that they are tough to catch?  Is it the fact that they are one mean toothy predator, and just plain cool to hold and to make for awesome photographs?  Or is it because you can chuck lures that weigh as much as the fish that most people catch and these apex predators will chomp on them readily?  I'm sure that as I grow in this segment of the fishing world, that my addiction will grow accordingly. 

At fifteen to twenty dollars a pop, or more, amassing a collection of lures to target these things will be quite an investment, not to mention the other tackle and tools that I'd require.  That's an addiction all its own that I've fallen victim too, the tackle buying addiction, that is.  After all, I find it just plain cool to open up a package and pull out a lure that weighs about a pound.  I'm like a kid at Christmas!

I don't get a chance to get out and target them that much, and currently depend on my friends to take me fishing on these local rivers.  But, I'm determined to purchase a jet boat, and if all goes well, I'll have one in the near future to solve my logistics problem.  But right now, all I think about now is solving the tactics problem.  I'm learning as much as I can about fishing strategies, on the internet, magazines, television shows, and fishing forums.  I've been fortunate to meet some great musky minds on-line, like Ed, and have learned greatly from them.

Now that I've caught one almost the correct way, I'm hooked.  I'm now obsessed, about getting the right boat, about saving money and purchasing a musky tackle arsenal.  I've had a good start doing that, and about learning about these amazing toothy mystical creatures.  And, as I learn more, I'm sure that you'll see more musky related topics on this blog in the future, expanding on my addiction and sharing some things that I've learned, and have yet learned.  It's all I think about, all day, every day...


CHRGD said...

Some very nice fish Kevin. Looks like you guys are having a great winter. Congrats

Fat Boy said...

Thanks Jeff! If I could only get out and fish more!!!!! Things like taking care of the house, family, and work get in the way, LOL.

Jin G said...

Those are great fish...that walleye is a stud! Congrats!

Fat Boy said...

Thanks Jin! Gotta love big lures for big fish!