Muskie fishing expert and guide Bob Turgeon represents a new breed of angler who seeks these big freshwater fish. Times have changed, he says in the interview below, from the "old days'' of muskie fishing, when these behemoths were primarily the stuff of lore and mystery -- and knowledge about how to fool them was closely held by a relatively small group of anglers. Today, Turgeon says, most everything about muskie fishing has changed.
Q Old-school thinking about muskies suggests the fish are rarely caught, and instead are the stuff of mythology. Is that still true?
A Certainly muskies are the most difficult fish to catch within inland Minnesota and Wisconsin waters. They're the highest predator, and as such there are fewer of them. There might be 1,000 bass in a lake but only relatively few muskies. Still, muskie fishing opportunities have grown, and more lakes have fishable populations. What's more, knowledge about how to fish muskies has expanded among anglers. If you're doing the right things at the right time of year, and also considering specific weather conditions, you have a good chance to hook up.
Q How does an angler get started muskie fishing and gain access to the information needed to be successful?
A Muskie fishing and how to do it was a very quiet thing in the old days. The secret spots, the secret presentations weren't talked about much. And for good reason. Muskies were often killed back then when they were caught, so spreading the word about where they could be found was putting fish at risk. As a consequence, beginning muskie anglers found it very difficult to learn. Now there are muskie fishing seminars, the Internet, specialty tackle shops like Thorne Brothers. You can walk into these shops and walk out in a half-hour with a selection of baits that are going to work. Whereas in the old days, you had to seek out the old guard and try to get their secrets.
Q It's one thing to hook a muskie, another to catch one.
A The mythical old Iron Jaws of yesteryear that "lived on a point just down from the resort'' had been hooked by 15 people but never caught. Or so the story went. In part that was because of the equipment used back then. Five- or 6-foot rods and stretchy Dacron or monofilament line. Hand-carved cedar baits -- which basically were baits made of soft wood, with small hooks. All of this made it very difficult to set a hook on a big fish. Because the lures were soft, fish would clamp down on them. But the minute the fish opened its mouth, the lure would came flying out.
Q Today's longer rods and braided line help set hooks.
A You can get a great hook set. With a long rod -- some I use are 9 feet -- you can move twice the line you can with a short rod, moving through the arc of the hook set. Also with modern rods, once you get the hooks in a fish, with the soft tips, the bait doesn't dislodge as easily. Most manufacturers today also put significantly larger hooks on baits. So the hooks get better penetration.
Q Smaller-sized bait-casting reels are popular among many muskie anglers. But you use very large reels, some of which are designed for saltwater fishing.
A That move is driven by the baits we're using. Big fish prefer big baits, because they expend less effort overall to fill themselves. They can catch one meal, and eat, as opposed to catching a lot of smaller things. But as baits have gotten large, they pull a lot harder. The long rods and big reels allow you to work these baits more easily and efficiently. And big reels allow you to retrieve big baits incredibly fast, which often is important to trigger a strike. A few years ago, when the big, hard-pulling baits came out, we kept beating up reels. So we started using Shimano Trinidads and similar reels, which are made for pulling halibut out of 150 feet of water, for example. Now, instead of going through three reels in four or five outings, our reels hold up all summer. And the drags on these reels are extraordinary.
Q Inexperienced muskie anglers miss fish because they often set "up,'' rather than to the side.
A Anglers who come from the bass world often do make vertical hook sets. That works for them because most hooks on their lures point up. But most muskie bait lures hang from the bottom. If you try to set "up'' using these, you leverage the mouth open, which is not what you want. The top part of the mouth is all bone and cartilage. Plus, doing so brings the fish to the surface, where it is able to throw the lure better. Instead, pull low and to the side, which pulls the bait stright ahead. You've got a better chance for hook penetration. This also puts your rod in a much better position to fight the fish.
Q Muskie anglers use their electronics to "fish a spot,'' in ways both similar to, and different from, the way walleye anglers use their electronics.
A A walleye angler is commonly going to move onto a spot, look down using his electronics, and hope to see fish. If he doesn't, he might not even fish there, but move on. Muskies are a low-density fish, so we don't necessarily expect to see fish with our electronics. Instead, we're looking to identify spots; to position the boat close to weed edges and other structure that typically might hold muskies. Then we use our electronics to move us along those edges. Being a predator, muskies -- as do most predators -- like edges, where they can hide while waiting for smaller fish to move by.
Bob Turgeon can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.