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I walked up the river, casting to any decent pockets I saw.  Most of the water wasn’t striking my fancy, but I came up on a fast run that cut through a deep hole just right.  There was an excellent well defined seam between the calm and fast water, and the fast water was very fast and deep.  I casted into the calm water and worked my Manta towards the fast water.  As the glider hit the seam it started to swing down river.  It made it about a foot before it got clobbered.  The musky was big, got itself into the current, made a break for it, and pulled free from the hooks.  On my next two casts, I hooked and landed 45” and 40” muskies that both struck in the exact same place as the first.  The first one was much larger than the second two.  To this day, it is the only time I have ever taken three strikes on three consecutive casts.

Nothing But A Rod And The Clothes On My Back

Nothing But A Rod And The Clothes On My Back

The only gear I had with me that day was a rod and reel, two lures, a few tools, and a disposable camera.  Things were simpler in those days, I didn’t have much money, but I still caught fish.  Without the use of electronics, I had to rely solely on my instincts and my ability to read the water.  Sometimes, when I think my connection to the water and the fish isn’t what it used to be; I grab a rod and my back pack, then I head to one of my streams in northern WI and I reconnect with my roots.

Much of the time, hopeful musky anglers wonder what it is they can buy to improve their success in the sport.  Newcomers to the sport often think that throwing money at muskies will bring success because they put more faith in expensive technology and perceived magic lures than they ought to.  For the beginning musky angler experiencing limited success, this is only natural due to all of the media surrounding expensive boats, electronics, 9’ rods, and heavily promoted lures.

Every time a large musky is caught on TV or pictured in a magazine article, inevitably the angler is standing in a large state of the art heavily rigged boat worth more than most people make in a year.  Often, it was also caught on a trendy new (and expensive) rod with the “hottest” new lure.  However, most anglers will discover that purchasing any or all of these items brings no miracle cure.

One of my main goals with this website is to educate others on how to maximize success while putting in as little money as possible.  Honesty and straight forwardness is not a part of most marketing plans, but I am tired of gimmicks and endless excessive promotions.  Like those who employ such tactics, I am also looking to make a living in this industry, make no mistake about it.  However, I promise only solid education, entertainment, and useful (but not magic) products, all at a reasonable price.

With that mission statement in mind, I offer a productive method for catching muskies that requires as little expense as possible.  It is perfect for those who just want to give muskies a try all the way up to seasoned anglers who are looking to get away from the crowds that have shown up on lakes during the last decade.  This tactic is fishing streams and rivers on foot; and all it requires is a rod and reel, a few lures, a few tools, and a backpack.  Also, a pair of waders is helpful during cool water seasons, but they are not a must.

Across the entirety of the musky’s range in North America, under utilized streams and rivers exist that contain large numbers of muskies as well as large individuals.  The smaller the stream or river, the less boating pressure it receives due to increased navigational hazards.  Boating pressure slims down to nothing proportionally to the size of the river.  Smaller waters receive the least pressure and are the easiest in which to encounter muskies.  If the river is no more than a cast length wide it is possible to present to every musky in the stretch you fish if you fish thoroughly.

Fish specific locations in the river based on season and water temperature.  In cool water (36-59 F) muskies hold in deeper areas with as little current as possible.  Towards the warmer end of this range, shallower and faster areas will begin to hold some fish.  At moderate temperatures (60-74 F) muskies will disperse throughout the system.  Look for concentrations of forage to locate muskies.  In water 75 F and up muskies will stress due to depleted oxygen and over exertion.  Therefore in warm water, they will almost always be located in fast and often shallow water where oxygen is highest and runs across their gills with no effort on their part.  A $2 fish tank thermometer can be used to take exact temperatures.

During spring, muskies migrate up-stream to spawn and concentrate below obstructions such as dams and falls.  They will also move into upstream backwaters, especially if there is heavy current everywhere else.  Amazingly, falls in the river must be over 4’ tall to stop the up-stream migration of determined spawning muskies.  Summertime sees musky location based on the temperatures listed above and even more importantly on forage migrations.  If you are seeing lots of suckers or other forage, muskies won’t be far off.  During fall, muskies move into deeper and usually slower water, they also will move long distances if forage species are making any sort of fall migration.  During winter, if there is open water and an open season, feeding muskies can be found in deep slow water.  All types of structure have the potential to hold fish at any time of year.  Experimenting and careful note taking from trip to trip will be helpful in determining structural preferences.

I recommend musky weight tackle, but if you don’t want to spend any extra money, a medium weight spinning rod with down sized lures will work at times, but most often true musky lures will be necessary to get action from the largest number of fish.  Good down sized lures include #14 Rapala Husky Jerks, #12 X-Raps, large Rapala Tail Dancers,  Heddon Zara Spooks and Torpedos, Arbogast Jitterbugs, large in line spinners, and bass sized spinner baits.  Spool up with 14-20 lb. braid or mono paired with a light steel leader.  I think Fireline is the best braid on a spinning reel.

When choosing standard tackle, any musky weight rod and reel will do fine, it’s most important to enjoy the tackle you’re using.  Standard musky weight line and leaders are the best.  Bring only a small selection of your favorite lures.  All styles of lures will work at times.  Manta Hang 10’s are good gliding jerkbaits.  Bobbie Baits are good diving jerkbaits.  Depth Raiders are good crankbaits.  Jackpots and Top Raiders are good topwaters.  Mepps makes a wide array of good spinners.

Slow presentations work best in cold water.  In warmer water, experiment with speed and let the muskies tell you what they want.  In shallower water with lots of rocks, wood, and/or weeds, surface lures and other shallow runners will hang up less and produce the best.  When working a deeper hole, fish it through first with a shallow presentation then scour the depths out with a deep-diving crankbait to thoroughly fish all the water.  Cast different presentations back on followers to trigger strikes; a smaller twitch bait or soft plastic often does the trick.

Many of the terms I used earlier are very relative.  For instance, in a very shallow river or stream, a 4’ hole is deep.  Deeper small rivers may bottom out at 25’ or more.  Seasons are relative as well.  In the southern part of the musky’s range spring can start as early as February, at the northern end spring may not start until May.

Walk as much water as you can to encounter the most muskies.  If the shore line is not too steep or wooded, fish from shore to avoid spooking fish.  If you must be in the river, stay as far as you can from the structure and water you are targeting.  Walking upstream is best to avoid washing mud and debris into water you haven’t fished yet.  Working presentations with or across the current is best, but don’t be afraid to work against the current as well.  In warm water, swim trunks and water sandals are the most comfortable.  In cool water, chest waders provide the best protection.  If you know you will not be entering the water, just wear something to protect your feet and legs from rocks, underbrush, bugs, and thorns.

Muskies live in small rivers and streams across the entirety of their home range.  A little homework will have to be done to determine which streams and rivers hold muskies.  In most states, the agency that manages local fisheries will usually be more than capable and willing to point you in the right direction in terms of stocking reports and population surveys.  Most of our nation’s rivers can be legally accessed at marked locations, roadsides, and bridges.  Most river shorelines are also public access to the high water mark.  Make sure your access is legal, and take safety precautions when fishing rivers, both currents and depths can be deceptive, changeable, and very dangerous.  Enter rivers slowly and make sure not to fall into treacherous waters.

Very Next Cast

Very Next Cast

In my opinion this is the most effective way to catch muskies on a tight budget.  It is also a great way to escape crowded lakes and pressured fish.



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