Whitefish Bay Camp minutes from Whitefish Bay Camp. Located near the bottom end of whitefush Bay. You see the tip of the tail fin break the surface, and see the telltale S-shaped swirls behind your lure. You tense, wondering whether the fish is going to eat and what you can do to trigger a strike. Suddenly the water explodes, you feel the weight of the fish, then you set the hook firmly and the fight is on. Muskies are notorious for jumping, running directly at the boat head-shaking with mouth wide open, cork-screwing their way down in a roll, and making runs for cover. It’s angler against muskie and the outcome is never really predictable. This is what makes muskie fishing so intriguing. However, if I limited my approach to topwater baits like the Giant Jackpot, I would be missing out on a great number of fish. In short, it simply makes good sense to acquire and learn to present a somewhat larger base of lure groups within your arsenal if you truly wish to succeed at muskie fishing day in and day out. One group of lures that quickly comes to mind is what I refer to as blade baits. I’m not talking about those long metal baits often used in the pursuit of walleye during the cold water periods - I’m referring to bucktails and spinnerbaits. Bucktails are generally a straight wire shaft lure with a spinning blade at the front and one or more dressed treble hooks at the other end. They get their name from the hair originally used to dress this style of lure - the long, buoyant hair from the tail of deer. The spinnerbaits all share one common feature in common - a V-shaped wire formed like a safety pin. One end of the V carries the blade(s), while the other tip has a hook molded onto the wire form with a weighted body, which is dressed with “hair”. The lure is attached to the line at the center. The blade(s) of spinnerbaits and bucktails assist in providing necessary lift in the water on the retrieve. They will also to some degree, regulate or limit speed of retrieve. The wire shaft of the bait is somewhat more important in the construction of spinnerbaits. In most cases thinner wire means better transfer of vibration, which can result in better productivity. Shaft lengths are another very important consideration. The best design for counting down of dropping a spinnerbait would consist of the main wire and the forearm being very similar in length. When looking at a spinner
bait from the fish’s perspective, there are two conclusions one can draw from its design, based solely upon its visual appearance. It may be that the predator - in this case the muskie - interprets the lure as a large single target, such as a smallmouth, crappie, whitefish or any other deep-bodied forage. Or the muskie may see the lure as a smaller predator relating to a group of even smaller prey. Strike King has now introduced a bass version based on these same observations. Regardless, whether your choice is a spinnerbait or bucktail, you are presenting from within one of the two most versatile and productive lure groups in the sport today. When, where, why and how to use a spinnerbait are all questions that will eventually need addressing. Adapting to fit the conditions can make all the difference, as was the case years ago while fishing with Marv Kiley. We were on one of the most famous muskie lakes in North America, but the conditions we faced made it hard to succeed. The skies were high and had been so for days. The system we were fishing was deep and clear. What was the answer? We fished mid-lake humps, some of the most isolated and often remote locations in the system. Marv convinced me we would need to slow-roll very heavy spinnerbaits over and around barren humps topping off at no more than twenty feet. The results were incredible. Marv was aware of the presentation’s value, the fish were there, and the spinnerbaits mimicked something that appeared natural to the muskie. It’s not uncommon to find muskies suspending off deeper structure during such conditions. Let’s examine the entire slow rolling technique. The key is to let the lure fall naturally after the cast, counting it down to the desired depth. The spinnerbait’s blades will helicopter during the free fall if the lure balance is correct, and this is a key to the technique – many strikes will come on the initial drop. Think about this: have you ever been in the presence of another muskie angler and heard them tell of getting a backlash while casting a spinnerbait, only to end up getting bit in the process of retrieving their lure after removing the backlash? I have, and it’s not all that uncommon. Next, as the name implies, simply retrieve your bait slowly while trying to keep it in the fish’s zone as long as possible. These slow, passive deepwater approaches can often be met by the powerful resistance of very large fish. When you feel the blade vibration stop mid-retrieve, set the hook! On another trip, Tim McCully and I were fishing together on Lake of the Woods during a very tough period. We were confident we could catch fish every day, and we did. However, they proved to be much smaller than expected. During the last few days of the shoot I decided to concentrate my efforts on smaller weedy areas offering a slightly deeper than average access for the muskie. My primary targets lay just in front of sandy beach areas containing cabbage, coontail and walleye. The walleyes in this case were as important as the vegetation. The problem was getting the muskies that were in the area to respond. I decided on the last day to slow roll an M&G Muskie Tandem through an area. On my very first cast with my M&G, a 53 ½ inch monster totally devoured my spinnerbait with a slow roll presentation. An almost impossible week was capped off by three fish in less than a half hour from this single little weed bed, including a 49 incher and a 45 incher! Another great technique is called bulging your spinnerbait. The best lures for bulging will have Colorado or Indiana blades – with their wide profile, these blade styles create a large amount of lift and vibration. The key is to keep your spinnerbait high in the water column while sometimes making contact with submerged objects such as vegetation, in an attempt to draw muskies from their cover. Your location will more often than not be relative to weed beds. Bulging has been going on for years and should be considered when other presentations are failing, such as calm sunny periods when you can expect the muskie to be using heavy weed beds. How many of us actually concentrate on spinnerbaiting the bulrushes? When Lindy reintroduced the M&G spinnerbait, things began to change. On a Simply Fishing episode, Matt Thompson and I found ourselves concentrating on a bulrush pattern that was developing before our eyes. We noticed on the first few days a small amount of crayfish activity taking place on the fringe areas of the bulrushes. We had been seeing some muskies outside the bulrushes on Poe’s Giant Jackpots, but as the trip progressed, they seemed to go away. We Churn It Up with an Assassin-X Bigger the blade, better the thump. But be aware they will also be harder, much harder to pull.