I am a Muskie guy first and foremost... that said, I really enjoy the early part of the season, which provides me an opportunity to catch large numbers of active gamefish like Crappie, Bass etc....before getting down to the serious business of generating a couple bites a day from the premier gamefish in our area...muskies.
Thanks to slot limits, reasonable harvest limitations and the idea that you can catch a fish mutiple times by handling it carefully, fishing for many species can almost rival "the good ole days," and in the case of Muskies the "good ole days" are right now.
I start the gamefish season every year by targeting crappies. This year, I was fortunate to hear about a hot bite on a local lake that turned out to be no secret, when I arrived the landing was full and I could see many boats in the "hot area." Pan fish are comonly overharvested and the tasty crappie is no exception...especially early in the season when they are mostly spawners...the future. I pulled into the hot area expecting the worst case scenario but was pleasantly surprised to see the majority of the fish caught being released... a few for the pan here and there but a large group of anglers practicing good conservation and having a great time with the eager crappies. The bite was on and many of the fish I caught showed evidence of previous capture...small tears and hook marks that were not caused by my capture. These fish had obviously survived previous encounters and were healthy, eager and hungry....and I was glad to have a chance to catch them and experience the encounter and release them to spawn, eat and fight another day. I suppose a fish or two may not have made it...or maybe were a bit less responsive making them an easier meal for a predator later on...but the bigger fish was going to find a meal anyway so the balance of nature remained intact. I am confident most of my releases "made it" and I know for sure they had a better chance of doing so by careful handling and a good release....the fry pan had significantly higher consequences, for sure. I kept a few for the pan as well... no harm there either as long as decent restraint is used. But the real fun was in the experience, watching kids and adults alike getting their fill of the outdoors.
Some folks get concerned when someone talks about catching dozens of fish in an outing, but my experience has been that the anglers experienced and talented enough to catch a whole bunch are the best at handling fish. A bass angler who catches dozens in an outing doesn't keep fish out of the water for minutes to get a picture...he already has caught hundreds or thousands and no longer needs a picture of every good one...he carries those pictures in his head.
Muskies are perhaps the poster child for catch and release...the prime reason muskie fishing is better today than ever. A few years back some Canadian Providences raised size minimums for harvest on muskies. Even on huge remote bodies of water like Lake of the Woods longtime guides report that average catch size increased shortly after these laws were put into place. On Lake Minnetonka, where I guide, the DNR estimated a couple of years ago that the population of adult muskies was around 1100 fish... a large number to some, but to put it into perspective around 100 adults hit my net every year and I personally know a handfull of others with similar success. If catch and release didn't work we would have literally eradicated the lake of fish years ago. So if the term catch and release doesn't sound right to you, try the term recycling because that is what is really happening...putting a fish back so it can be caught again.
Muskie fishing tackle has come a long ways in the past twenty years. Whether you have been fishing this great sport fish for decades or are new to the sport you should take advantage of the what the new gear has to offer.
Rods: different lures work better on different rods and most serious anglers carry at least a couple. Your main rod should be something in a H or XH fast action in the 8 1/2 or better yet 9 foot plus range. Longer rods offer a number of advantages but the most significant benefit is the ability to execute a top notch figure 8 boatside manuever. muskies tend to follow a lot of retrieves to the boat and doing a quality figure 8 can easily double your catch rate. Most anglers also carry a shorter 7-8' model for working walk the dog style baits, jerkbaits and jigs etc. My boat is stocked with the custom 'Predator" models from Thorne Bros tackle and some new models from Muskie Inovations to cover all my presentation needs.
Reels: with the increased availability of high quality light saltwater reels anglers now have many more options to choose from. One of the things that can really trigger strikes when using inline spinners like the popular Double Cow Girl is a high speed retrieve. In the past it was difficult to really generate speed with the reels of the day but models like the Schimano Trinidad series and Diawa Saltist with powerful high speed gearing really get the job done. Add a Schimano TE, Currado or one of the new Revo series from Abu for everything else and you have it covered.
Line: simple... any one of the new superbraids in about 100lb test gets the job done, some work better with different reels and applications but in general it is hard to make a really bad choice here.
Leaders: I use flourocarbon for most of my applications....low visibility, good durability and no kinking like steel are what make it my top choice. Make sure you are using something in the 130lb test range to prevent bite offs. The exception is on walk the dog style baits where single strand steel still gives your bait the best action. You can tie /twist your own or simply purchase them pre-made just make sure you have a good snap like the Stringease model...a cheap snap will cost you a fish...no doubt.
Nets; safer for you and the fish than hand landing, a quality net protects the fish's fins and allows you to keep the fish in the water while you unhook it making a successful release easier. Muskie Inovations, Beckman and Frabil all make a quality product that gets the job done.
Misc; release tools.. a long nose pliers or hookout tool at a minimum along with a small bolt cutter like the industry standard Knipex models....the bolt cutter lets you cut the tips off hooks making it easier to unhook badly hooked fish...and if the fish hooks you while you are unhooking it you will be REALLY glad you have them.
Lures: a book could be written here but I would not leave the dock without some modern day standards... Double Cow Girls, Super Models, Bulldawgs in a couple sizes and colors, Phantom Gliders and a few topwaters.
Questions, contact me or my friends at the twin cities muskie tackle headquarters...Thorne Bros tackle 763-572-3782
Muskie anglers around the state hit the 100 plus waters that hold what many consider the states top game fish. As always when chasing "the fish of 10,000 casts" results were mixed but overall I would call the bite good. Warm spring temps put the fish into spawning mode early and the fish were recovered and in early summer feeding patterns and they were willing to eat . Overall finess style presentations dominated with successfull anglers. Large minnow style twitch baits, the popular Bulldawgs, Soft-tailed jerkbaits and of course a few fish also were fooled by walk the dog topwaters. Power fishing produced some bites as well with large double bladed bucktails like the Double Cow Girl leading the charge.
Remember to mix things up a bit and don't forget the more subtle presentations when your first efforts come up short.