Some Tips on Fishing for Muskies

Tim Belcher:

"Chance favors the prepared mind" - Louis Pasteur

I was once guiding an older gentleman and we had done fairly well. People were telling him how lucky we were. I still remember these words he said to me: "Luck", he said "is where preparation and opportunity comes together". For all the articles you read about best times, moon phases, etc, these fish didn't get this big eating once a month or once a week. 'They are going to feed' might sum it up best.


My number one item of advice is gear. Rods from 6 to 7 feet, at least 30 lb. test and a heavy duty reel. Salt water varieties work very well. I troll will a Penn 209 on a 6 1/2 ft. cue stick with 50 pound black Musky line. Big Game line works as well. Never go below 20 lb. To avoid nicks, check that line and cut 5 to 10 feet off daily and retie. Replace annually. I use mostly bait casters for casting. Varying gear speeds ranging from 3.8 to 1, up to 7 to 1 depending on the lure and the presentation you want. If you use a swivel or a leader, this is not the place to be cheap. Use a good ball bearing with a good clasp, 6 to 12 inches long.


Most of the Muskellunge I have caught have been trolling, probably 70 percent. Try to troll as fast as you can, generally ranging up to 7 mph. They only exception to that is after a cold front where I like to slow troll but snap jerk the bait. I have a low speed after-market speedometer that helps; others use GPS systems. This is faster than you think and may require weights. I have sometimes used slide weights up to 4 ounces. I am still experimenting with some bottom bouncers; not recommending them yet, still tinkering with the design. I generally troll around 75 feet back. This is pretty accurate as I have a line counter I use on one of my other rods. You can take two reels and match the length let out to the one without a line counter. Either count the times your spooler goes back and forth or with the line out, take a magic marker and put about a 6 inch stripe on the line. Have also caught a few prop wash trolling, but they were both small, although we had an old-timer at the lodge for years that swore by it and he landed some dandies.


A variety of crankbaits, double blade spinners and top water, about anything from 4 inches up to some 15 inches. For the most part, dark lures on dark days, bright lures on bright days. Minnows don't reflect light on cloudy days. I do a lot of customization, experimentation and designing some of my own. I have been known to troll a lot of baits that were designed for casting. Still most things off the shelf work just as well. Top lures in no specific order: Suick (10 inch), Bull Dawg (6 & 9 inch), Burt's Husky Jerk (8 inch), Mepps #5 spinners, Crocodile Spoons (5s), a number of soft plastics (large) and of course, the Super Spook (3 hook). I have been experimenting with several styles, colors and sizes of Cowgirls (#5 blades to #10s) that I designed and had made for me. No luck yet.


Low light always seems to be the best. This can be early morning, late evening including well after dark, (and yes I have been trolling at 2 am). My favorite is overcast and light rainy days. And yes, we did boat a 50 lb. plus at 2:00 pm on a blue bird day. Timing of the year and water temperature are major factors. Slow in spring (3 to 5 mph) into early June. From then on, speed up. Fall all the way into January, Musky really put on the feed bag. They are known to gorge themselves up through Jan. They do this by eating as much as possible and laying in the sun to speed up their metabolism... Which leads to the next subject.


The entire PA Club area is ideal. I have caught Musky from San Souci to Woods Bay. Shallow water with quick access to deep. Muskies can be caught in as little as a foot of water, particularly in the fall. Cross break points with rocks and weeds. One of the 50's we boated came out of 8 feet or less right in the middle of an acre or so weed bed. Another, like I said, was in 50 feet, middle of a blue bird day. Two have come casting off the dock in the Pa Club marina. Some of the areas I have done well are now out of water, but this too will change. Either end of Pratt is some of the best. From the front bay (chocolate drop) all the ways to the backside tip of the Island. Try figure 8 trolling pattern around the islands all the way to the back of Wa-Wa-Nosh. And of course there is the entire Port Rawson with its many bays and access to water over 70 feet deep. We have had over 14 landed around the islands between our island and Broad Island - within sight of our island.

The above "caught" means I or someone with me actually landed a fish. Remember some guides consider a successful day just to have a follow-up to the boat.

Rick Knipe:

I spend, at times, the whole week fishing just for muskies and come home happy even when I have not caught or raised a single fish. Musky fishing is like that. On my best week of fishing I caught three muskies in one day.

I only really fish the summer pattern. I cast big plugs or 6-8 oz. jerkbaits in every area I have caught a musky, heard of a musky caught (I'm still fishing a spot Al Sweet caught a 50 inch fish I heard a story about many years ago), seen another musky fisherman fish or just plain think there should be one there. I have caught nearly all of my fish in 12-18 feet of water but always near a deep bay for them to escape to. For this reason and the time of the year I fish, July-August, I don't fish places the springtime guys fish, like Clear Bay or Sucker Creek.

I troll when not casting. Speed is key. I like 6 ½ to 7 ½ mph. This can be a challenge to keep your lures under and not skipping out. A ¾ oz. in-line sinker, 5 feet up the line helps a lot, but you must use one additional barrel swivel to prevent line twist. I use a GPS to establish speed. I put out as much line as needed to not have lures skipping out. I use many different lures and bucktails. I like all colors as long as they are black. I like to fish rocky points with pine trees on them.

Bill Hasely:

Good News and Bad News

Musky fishing in the waters around the Pennsylvania Club is definitely a good news and bad news situation. I'll start with the bad news: The Moon River area is not generally considered a place to catch large numbers of muskies. The action can be slow. Even serious musky anglers can go days between musky action. As an example, and though I hate to admit it, I failed to boat a musky during an entire week in June of 2010. Despite lots of exciting action, an August week in 2009 produced the same results. And anybody who has fished with me knows that these were not weeks of fishing just a couple hours between breakfast and lunch when the weather was nice. I worked hard at it and had nothing but "almosts" to show for it at the end of the week.

Now for the good news: The waters around our Club are some of the best in the world for catching a true trophy musky. Many experts list the Georgian Bay as one of the best bets for producing the next world record. As recently as 1988, Blackstone Harbor which is only about a half hour boat ride from our docks, gave up the all-time Canadian record, a "hawg" of over 65 pounds! There are muskies in our area waters that will make your knees shake. Just a few years ago I had a fish at boat-side that I feel would have challenged the Canadian, and possibly the world record. The fish swirled at and then followed a lure my eleven year old nephew was casting. It lay two feet from the side of my boat for what seemed like five minutes while my nephew frantically tried to entice it to hit. Then it turned and slowly swam away. I had caught and released a heavy, 52 inch fish of probably close to 40 pounds just the day before. This fish made that 52 look like a hammer-handle pike. My nephew was incapable of coherent speech for about an hour. I wasn't much better.

There's more good news. Some years back, Ontario identified the provincial waters most capable of producing world record class muskies. They then instituted very restrictive minimum size limits on those waters with the goal of producing exceptional fish. The Georgian Bay was one of those waters. The "smallest" musky that is legal to keep at the Pennsylvania Club is now 54 inches! Since that very large minimum size limit has been in effect, I have seen not only more muskies overall but more truly big muskies than ever before. I have been fishing almost exclusively for muskies at the Pennsylvania Club now for somewhere around 35 years and can honestly say that the musky fishing is as good now as I have ever seen it.

So what is the secret to catching these big girls? In a word, persistence. (Some may call it stubbornness!). To have consistent musky action you have to be willing to pay your dues. This means be willing to keep throwing that big jerkbait while your buddies are nailing the smallmouth on wacky worms. It might mean rolling out of the sack way before daylight to take advantage of a key solunar period. Or, maybe it's just breaking out the rain gear and fishing through a day when all the sensible people in camp are inside playing cards or reading westerns. All this "dues paying" becomes worth it when you see something that looks like a small submarine flare its gills and suddenly engulf that crazy looking lure you've been pitching for 3 days.

The bottom line is that I don't have a magic formula. Methods? I am primarily a caster. I will troll when the situation calls for it, but I enjoy the up close and personal action that casting can bring. That said, trolling can be a very effective method and there are some very good musky fisherman in the Club that do very well trolling. Lures? I like them all. If there were an organization called Musky Lures Anonymous, I would be a charter member. I've caught muskies on jerk baits, glide baits, all manner of crankbaits, in-line spinners, spinnerbaits, rubber baits, and topwaters. I've even had action on jigs. I tend to go mostly with natural colors in our clear water but have also caught fish on some ridiculously colored baits.

I guess if there is one characteristic that my musky lures have in common it would be size. The smallest bait in my boat is probably significantly larger than the largest lure in a bass or even a pike fisherman's box. Sure, muskies can be and are caught on small lures. Personally though, I've had much more success since I started using the big stuff. Find a couple big lures you have confidence in and can use well and use them. Location? I'm not about to broadcast my favorite spots. I will tell you that in the summer and fall I tend to look for structure that is fairly close to deep water. Look for those out of the way or overlooked spots. And one more hint... those favorite smallmouth bass honey holes of yours are often good musky spots as well.

Best time to fish? A wise man once said, "whenever you can" and I agree. I fish whenever I can, though I do admit to liking some conditions better than others. I do pay attention to moon phases, but I feel local weather pattern trumps all other factors. Give me an approaching storm front after a long period of sunny weather and I'll be a happy fisherman. Throw in a medium south or west wind and put some fall color on the leaves and you won't be able to keep me off the water.

I guess it all sums up to be pretty simple: Find a couple big lures that you like and can work well and cast or troll the paint off them around structures that are fairly close to deep water. The first time you see 50 plus inches of gill flaring, shaking, twisting, musky come out of the water in a jump that would make a smallmouth proud, and realize that it's attached to your line, you will be glad you did!!

One final word... Unless you honestly believe your musky is a potential record breaker, take some good measurements, a few good pictures (don't keep her out of the water too long) and release her to fight again. The replica mounts they make today are every bit as realistic as any skin mount. And the feeling you get as you watch your trophy swim away, well, it just doesn't get any better.