Ahh yes, the fierce strike of a muskie on your topwater lure. It doesn't get any better than that. The only problem is that after the dust settles and you come to your senses, you realize that there is nothing attached to the end of your line. While your knees are likely trembling, you find that it was all for not. Just what happened during that explosion, and how can you convert that strike into success? Here's a few ideas to ponder on your next outing.
As a general rule, muskellunge always feed up. This is common sense in the muskie community, but what it comes down to is that topwater lures are a great method to score. Here's where the tricky part comes into play. When fish feed, and muskies included, they not only lunge toward their prey, but they also have a suction that occurs when they flare their gills. This helps pull their prey into their mouth. When they attempt to attack a meal above the water, they loose this suction because they aren't completely submerged. This is the first reason for a missed strike.
Reason number two. A muskie has eyes on the top of its head. When they strike, their mouth is open, and they can no longer see the food that they are pursuing. This means that they must have it completely dialed in before they try to eat it. If your lure is moving eradically, it is likely that the bait won't be in the same place the muskie last saw it, meaning that it could end up with a mouth full of air and water upon the strike. When you couple this factor with the loss of suction when they try to inhale the bait, it is a little bit easier to understand why they can miss a meager lure moving across the surface.
So what does this have to do with you and your success? If you consider these factors when choosing your lure, it may help to try something a little bit more simplistic. Walk-the-dog style lures are great for finding fish, but they tend to miss about 80% of the time. If it is windy and large waves are rolling, fast speeds might not be the ticket. As a general rule, I try to keep it slow and steady for the muskies sake. If the muskie I am after is hungry, he'll take a swipe at any of the topwater baits on the market. I just want to make sure he can grab the lure when he tries. I typically opt for a prop style bait that just crawls through his strike zone. I will throw this at sunrise, sunset, midnight, noon and everywhere in between. Topwater simply works at all times. Just as long as they can eat it.
Once the muskie decides to do his part, it is imperitive that you do yours. If it shows up behind your lure and gets ready to eat it, there is zero chance for a connection if you set the hook prematurely. Premature hooksets are the biggest reason for missed fish. Sometimes I think we would be better off fishing blind folded. Its not that you want to set the hook early, but its because somewhere deep down inside, it scares the pants off of us, and we instinctively pull away. If you stop reeling, twich, jerk, or speed up, the game can sometimes end right there. However, if you can show nerves of steel, many times that fish will continue striking until it finally gets the bait in its mouth. My rule of thumb goes like this. Watch the fish explode, keep the same exact retrieve, count to three and if I still feel the weight of the fish, then I set the hook. If there is nothing there after three seconds, I just keep on reeling and waiting for it to come back. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don't. That's muskie fishin'.
And by the way, any color works, as long as it is black.
Keep on Livin' the muskie Dream!
Travis Frank - Travis@trophyencounters.com