Travis Frank

Travis Frank’s motto is "Livin’ the dream." That means he’s on the water or in the field 300 days a year. He’s been a fishing guide at Trophy Encounters for the past 10 seasons chasing Minnesota’s toughest fish, the muskie. When he’s not on the water, he's in the deer stand or chasing Midwest fowl.

Posts about Muskie

Muskies on the Brain?

Posted by: Travis Frank Updated: June 1, 2012 - 11:09 AM

Are you one of the crazy fools that devote June through December to a slimy green colored fish with a bad attitude?  Welcome to my world.  It's time to eat, sleep and breathe muskies.  Are you ready for battle?

Sean Bailey holds a nice early season muskie caught on a metro lake.

Sean Bailey holds a nice early season muskie caught on a metro lake.

Every year my mind gets cluttered with muskie junk.  Is there a hot new bait?  A hot lake that I just have to fish?  Do I have any new goals this year?  Where should I start?  What lure will I use?  I could go on and on.  I've shared a few conversations with other muskie dudes - clearly I'm not alone.

Until we hit the water, it's all just a guessing game.  It's not like any of us actually know what to expect until we cast our big baits.  Even then, it will take a few hours, maybe days, to get things straightened out.

Here are some muskie thoughts on my brain as I think about the "official" opener.  They are in no particular order...

Don't burn out... It's a long season.  I've watched a bunch of my friends get all jacked up in May, fish like crazy until mid-June and give it all up because of a tough spring bite.  Sometimes the early season can be tough.  That's the reality of muskie fishing.  If there was a month to fish muskies 7 days a week, I wouldn't pick June.  As a general rule, it only gets better throughout the season.  Be patient and stick it out.  A good month of September can make you forget about a bad June.  Make sure you have the gas to stay in the game until fall.

The right lake at the right time... It seems that some lakes are better than others at specific times of the year.  For my boat, Minnetonka seems to start out slow.  Why?  I don't know, it just does and I've accepted that.  But, the beauty is that June and July can be dynamite on other lakes, so I move around.  Don't be afraid to try new lakes until you find active muskies.  When you hook up, make a note of it and use that success to your advantage.  Muskies are creatures of habit.  Odds are good that you'll be able to repeat your success at the same time period for years to come.  Muskie fishing is 90% about being in the right place at the right time.  You could be fishing the right lake, just the wrong time.

Starting out Small... I believe it's a myth that you have to start throwing small muskie lures early in the season.  I may be wrong in telling you to leave your small baits at home on the opener, but I have had some of my best luck early in the season on Pounders and big blades.  I've read a pile of articles on this, and it seems everyone has a different opinion.  All I can speak about is my facts.  In the past 10 years, most of my early season muskies have come on big baits.  The bigger the better.  Theory #1 - All of their forage is at least 1 year old.  Muskies are use to eating larger offerings in June.  Theory #2 - After the spawn, there seems to be a few weeks of heavy feeding.  During this time the muskies seem to favor a big meal to help them bulk up in their attempt to recover from the spawn.  Give 'em what they want.

Fishing open water... I have had some good results fishing open water the first few months of the season.  Muskies can disappear from structure and will literally cruise the main basin gorging on bait fish.  I'm still learning good techniques to catch these fish, and I don't have all the answers.  I can simply recommend that you give it a shot.  And I will say, 45 minutes of open water trolling isn't an honest effort.  Give yourself 2 or 3 full trips and you'll be amazed.  Trolling big flashy baits at speeds of 3 to 5 mph is a good way to get started.

What are the best hours to fish?... Obviously the answer is "whenever you can."  But, if you can choose your hours, I have found some to be better than others.  All of our Minnesota muskie lakes are pounded.  The fish seem to have us fisherman patterned.  Most of us get off of work and then hit the lake around 6 pm and fish until sunset..  For this reason I've found the afternoon/evening to be the most difficult time to land a lunker.  The best times in my boat year in and year out have been the first hour before sunrise until a half hour after sunrise.  Then, sometime around 10 am there always seems to be a good push of activity.  In the evening, I seem to score the most strikes the first hour after sunset.  Because my livelihood depends on it, you can bet that I'm keeping tabs on every strike and fishing accordingly.  These have been the top 3 time periods in my boat for the past few years.  They are not stupid creatures, and it pays to be there when they want to eat, not when we want to fish.

What's the best lure to throw?...It's good to mix things up, but I believe that it is even better to get completely dialed into a single lure.  To the point that you run the bait without giving it any thought.  It should be instinctive.  The reason for this is simple.  Muskies eat when they want to.  On most lakes they probably see hundreds or thousands of fish swim past them daily.  Many of them are easy meals.  If you don't believe me, stick a camera down on your favorite muskie spot and watch the schools of bait fish swim around the muskies.  I believe that most of our success is directly related to the exact time that the lure crosses their path.  If they are ready to eat, I don't think the color matters much - they will eat.  I also believe that every lure in your tackle box looks like food to a muskie.  Sure there are triggers and some baits are better at a certain time, but ff you can work a single lure correctly when that fish wants to eat, your odds go way up.  It's better to be good at one thing than decent at a bunch.

Figure eight is your most important tool...With the high amount of pressure that Minnesota muskies receive, the figure 8 has become the difference maker.  It's the difference between a follow and a fish in the boat.  In my boat alone, the figure 8 has accounted for over half the muskies boated during the past few seasons.  At times, reaching over 75% of my fish.  Do it every cast, and put some love into it.  Wide sweeping turns while raising and lowering the bait in the water column will trigger more strikes.  The goal is to make your lure look like a wounded fish/creature trying to escape.  If it's just flopping around the surface, the muskie will laugh at you and swim away.  If I quit doing a good figure 8, I might as well go home.  It's that important.

Long fishing poles... Why are the new super long poles important?  I'm talking 8'6" to 9'6".  If you want to do a proper figure 8, you will need a long pole.  If you want to cast big heavy lures, you will need a long pole.  If you want to fish all day without the wear and tear on your body, you will need a longer pole.  If you want more leverage during battle, you need a longer pole.  I firmly believe that people that swear by their 6'6" and 7 footers simply haven't thrown an 8'6" or 9 footer yet.  Once you do, you will never want to go back.  The longer pole lets you fish with less wear and tear on your body, which in turn allows you to fish more effectively.  If you don't wear down as quickly, you will be ready for the moment of truth.  All of your casts really amount to only 1 or 2 per day.  It's important to be ready.  Plus, if 3 out of 4 fish come on a figure 8 and a longer pole allows you to do a better figure 8, then the facts speak for themselves.  It's just another difference maker in a sport that needs it.

Proper release tools...This might sound elementary, but our sport depends on proper catch and release.  If you aren't prepared you will regret it.  Bring a big net with a deep basket.  Also, a long-nosed pliers and hook cutters. Leave the fish in the water until the hooks are out and then have the camera ready before you take it out of the water.  Don't hold the muskie vertical, it kills them.  Don't lay them on the floor to flop around, this may also kill them.  Lastly, don't drag them backwards in the water when you are reviving them.  It drowns them.  Sorry, this is my only rant, but it's so important that it needs to be mentioned.

Looking at the current conditions, I'd say that the muskie bite should be good on the opener.  The spawn should be completely wrapped up and hopefully the fish are putting the post-spawn feed bag on.  Water temps have cooled in the metro to the mid to upper 60's.  The weed growth appears to be ahead of schedule, so all indications are that you will catch a muskie on the opener, or you won't!  Anything else would be too ridiculous to predict.  I wish you the best of luck this year and hope to see you on the water.  Until the first muskie strikes, keep on livin' the dream!

For more fishy information, check out www.trophyencounters.com

A 'New' Muskie Lure for 2011?

Posted by: Travis Frank Updated: May 5, 2011 - 9:10 AM

 

Travis Frank hoists a 50 inch muskie caught during the 2010 season.

Travis Frank hoists a 50 inch muskie caught during the 2010 season.

Every angler wants an advantage.  In muskie fishing, this takes on a whole new meaning.  The smallest details make all the difference.  Whether its a longer rod, a high speed reel or particular moon phase, everything comes into play.  As a diehard angler and fishing guide, I am willing to try anything that may put an extra fish or two in my boat.  Anything!

The past few seasons I have been searching for a particular swimbait that would give the fish something they haven't seen.  No blades, no topwater plopping.  I wanted the lure to have good action, and the ability to retrieve at high speeds.  The problem was this.  I kept running into lures that would blow out sideways when I picked up the pace.  They just wouldn't run true.

That was until I found the Shadzilla.  it's a new soft bodied swimbait made up in Canada.  I called the owner (Mike) directly and asked him if these lures run true at high speeds.  He assured me that they did and I purchased 2.  The rest is history.  On my fourth cast I picked up the speed and ran it past a known fish.  A large fish.  In the middle of that cast I experienced a strike that I haven't seen in years.  The 50 incher t-boned the bait with such recklessness that it scared me stiff.  There was no follow or advanced notice.  She came out of nowhere and crushed it.  To make the story better, it was high noon on a calm sunny day.  No moon phase in sight.  It was a pure reaction strike.

Was it a fluke?  Not a chance.  The next day I hit the water and made two casts on another known fish.  Again, I was scared straight.  The muskie flew out of nowhere and smoked the bait sideways.  These fish were attacking without any hesitation.  I remember looking at my buddy in the boat and his eyes looked like they were ready to explode.  I hadn't seen this kind of response since the cowgirl was introduced.  It was awesome!  The fish had no hesitations and wanted it bad.

The key ingredient was speed.  It's no secret that muskies react to fast moving objects.  The faster the better.  Plus, many of these fish have been conditioned to our bucktails, bulldawgs and topwaters.  I was excited to finally have something to burn that didn't have blades on it.  Swimbaits have been around for years.  This high speed technique was purely something different. 

The rest of the fall proved that the muskies were also excited about the bait.  I didn't spill the beans on my new approach last year because I wanted to enjoy it with my clients and buddies.  Truth is, it brought back memories of my first years chasing muskies.  When you found a fish, they would eat.  No follows.  And, we caught fish on it until the ice locked us tight in November.

As this muskie season approaches, you may want to throw this lure into your bag of tricks.  If you have the willpower to burn it, I believe you will put a few more fish in your bag.  I'm not 100% sure, but I think the only place in the US that carries the Shadzilla is Big Wood Musky Lures.  The owner of this website is Kyle Knock.  He's a great guy and will hook you up with what he has.  Just know, that it isn't easy to get your hands on these baits.  Mike can't build them fast enough.  So there you have it.  My favorite lure for 2010.  I hope it serves you well as we enter another season of Monster Quest.  Until then, keep on livin' your dream!

Catch more at www.trophyencounters.com

Muskie Stocking Support...

Posted by: Travis Frank Updated: September 1, 2010 - 11:13 AM

From one muskie angler to the next, I believe it is our greatest asset to stick together.  It is this very reason that I bring this topic to the surface.  By working together Minnesota has created a monster in the world of muskie fishing.  Big fish and lots of 'em have turned muskie angling from a small community of fisherman, to a large percentage of MN anglers.  Very seldom do we get a chance to voice our opinion on making a change for the better.  Now is our chance.  Here is what the DNR has sent out to the public...

The MN DNR is giving anglers an opportunity to voice their opinion on stocking 5 new bodies of water. If approved, the proposed stocking will take place in; Roosevelt Lake in Cass and Crow Wing counties, Upper South Long Lake and Lower South Long Lake in Crow Wing County, Tetonka Lake in LeSueur County, and the Sauk River Chain of Lakes in Stearns County. 

Meetings are at the following location on September 2nd: Mankato - Gander Mountain, 11:30 a.m. - 8 p.m.
• Owatonna - Cabela's, 11:30 a.m. - 8 p.m.
• Waterville - DNR fisheries office, 50317 Fish Hatchery Road, 11:30 a.m. - 8 p.m.
• Brainerd - DNR office, 1601 Minnesota Drive, noon - 8 p.m.
• St. Paul - DNR office, 500 Lafayette Road, 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
• Montrose - DNR fisheries Office, 7372 State Highway 25 SW, 12:30 - 4:30 p.m
• Cold Spring - City offices, 27 Red River Ave. S., Cold Spring, 5 - 8 p.m.

If you cannot stop by one of the meetings near you, public comments will also be accepted from September 1 through September 30 online at muskie.comments@state.mn.us, and by mail to Muskie Stocking Proposals, Minnesota DNR, 1201 East Highway 2, Grand Rapids, MN 55744.

This is a huge opportunity that should not be taken lightly.  We have a chance to state our case for adding these new bodies of water.  Believe me when I say that the stocking effort isn't a gaurantee or a slam dunk.  It will not go down without a fight.  Just as we love our fish, there are others that oppose it just as highly.  They will be out there, and they will be voicing their opinions as well.  The DNR has stated that they want to hear all sides of the story.  They have set up 7 public meetings across the state on Thursday, September 2.  These meetings are open to the public and will give the DNR a better insight into what the public and fishing communities are looking for. Ultimately, this will lead to their final decision on whether to stock the new lakes or not.  All the information will be gathered from anyone willing to share their interest.  It's as simple as stating your preference.

Every side to this stocking proposal has a right to voice their opinion.   However, the loudest spoken will likely win.  As muskie fisherman I believe we are now in the neighborhood of 250,000 anglers across our state.  I find it hard to believe that we will be the minority in the voice to approve this effort, but I still feel it is possible.  Many of us think that someone will do it for us.  Like voting, many will say "my vote doesn't matter anyway."  Well, this is your chance to let your voice be heard.  The DNR doesn't often make decisions on public input, but they really want mine, yours and your fishing pals too.  It would be a sad day if new lakes got turned down because not enough muskie dudes said yes.

Here's how you can help.  Go to the meeting and give educated information on why you would like more muskies in the state.  Voice why you encourage it and give solid, sound reasons.  Fighting, ranting, negativity and loud mouthing will not help in this discussion.  If you cannot make it to a meeting for any reason, then you can simply email or call the DNR to let them know that you approve and encourage stocking in these bodies of water.  It's a win for muskie anglers and the state of Minnesota.  Proper education can also reveal to other anglers that muskie stocking can actually have positive effects on lakes too.  Voice your opinion and help others learn why this sport belongs in our state.  More water equals more fish and a great future!

Catch more at www.trophyencounters.com

Hot Water & Dead Muskies

Posted by: Travis Frank Updated: July 16, 2010 - 1:03 PM

 

A mid-40 inch muskie found dead on Lake Minnetonka during the hot water time period.

A mid-40 inch muskie found dead on Lake Minnetonka during the hot water time period.

In the sport of muskie fishing there are two things that don't mix.  Hot water temperatures and big fish.  As an avidly obsessive muskie angler, I find nothing more gut wrenching than to come across my favorite fish floating on the surface.  Sadly, this has been an all too common occurance as of late.  My home waters in the metro have reached surface temps in the 80's.  A number that I have vowed as being too high to fish.  I have put the big rods away, and until things cool down, they won't come back out.  As a fellow musky fisherman, I am asking for you to do the same.

I know that there are no laws being broken and I have no right to do this, but I ask this anyway.  In a growing sport that has more anglers than fish, I think it is only fair for us to consider the resource before our very needs.  The fact that my livelihood has been put on hold and I have cancelled all of my muskie guide trips until it cools down should tell you where I stand on this issue.  If we think that we have no effect on the overall resource of our lakes, then we are wrong.  The truth is that we are recycling the fish with proper catch and release, and the current water conditions are making this a tough task to correctly do.

Here are a few things to consider when it comes to hot water and muskie fishing.  A muskie will battle to death when they are hooked.  This is no secret.  Having a good gameplan ensures that they are quickly put in the net, unhooked, measured and released before they fight too long.  When a muskie goes into battle they give it their all.  Similar to a human going from a resting position to running a 2 mile sprint.  Consider this anaology in that at the end of the 2 mile sprint, someone dunks your head under the water for 45 seconds.  While this might seem dramatic, it might be a fair comparison to what takes place when we battle a muskie.  Now consider doing this exercise in extremely hot temperatures.  I think you get my point.

Some other things to consider is the oxygen level in hot water.  I'm not a biologist, but research has shown that oxygen levels decrease as the temperature rises.  When we catch a muskie, they need time to recover.  This usually occurs boatside and on the surface, which is the hottest water in the lake, with the least amount of oxygen.  During a battle, muskies build up lactic acid in their bodies, and if the conditions don't allow them to appropriately recover it ends in death.  The hardest fact to consider in this equation is that it doesn't always occur immediately.  Studies have shown that muskies caught in hot water have been released only to die days later.  A sad fate for a fish that we cherish.

While I have put an end to my muskie fishing until the temps drop, there are some things to consider if you still plan on fishing.  First, plan your trips during cooler periods.  Night fishing can cool the surface slightly.  If you do choose to fish for muskies, come extra prepared and know exactly what you will do once a fish is hooked.  Time is of the essence.  Limit the amount of time you handle the fish.  A dozen pictures with your trophy will likely result in a dead trophy - even if you watch it swim away.  If you must take a pic in hot water, then a shot of the fish in the water is the best choice.  Leaving the fish in the water is by far the best option.

Next, fish with a friend.  I don't want to step on any toes here, but if you plan on fishing solo, I would strongly encourage you to wait a few weeks until it cools down.  Another set of hands can make a huge difference in getting the fish back in the water and on its way to a speedy release.  Plus, if a picture is what you are after, trying to do it solo is a tough chore with a struggling fish.

This should apply all year long, but especially now - once you catch and release a fish, wait around for a while to make sure the fish is doing okay.  I can't tell you how many times I have seen fish swim away and resurface a short while later.  They need time to recover and we owe it to the fish to make sure they get back on track.

Lastly, become an educator.  If you are a musky fisherman that has the opportunity to be an influence on your friends or other anglers, then you should take the time and be the difference.  Become a positive mentor for another angler who simply might not know right from wrong or proper techniques.  You would be surprised at how a few technques and ideas can positively influence an angler that has never handled a 35, 40 or even 50 inch fish.  Positive encouragement goes a long way to preserve our resources.

On a positive note, this can be the best time of the year to head north.  All reports and personal experiences have indicated a good bite happening on big time muskie lakes up north.  I'm not saying you need to spend a bunch of money on travel, but lets be honest here.  A tank of gas is the same as 2 muskie lures and we all have way too many of them in our box to let money get in the way of our passion.

Whatever your plan, please consider that we are responsible for the state of our muskie fishing.  I am just one of the many muskie addicts that have taken the stance to wait until the water cools down.  I think I speak for many when I ask for you to do the same.  Besides, the wait will be over before we know it and the fishing will only get better.  Until the temps cool, catch a bass, a bluegill or a catfish, just keep on livin' your dream!

Catch more at www.trophyencounters.com

Persistence Pays In The Muskie World!

Posted by: Travis Frank Updated: July 12, 2010 - 1:09 PM

 

Matt Hennen proudly hoists his big muskie caught while fishing with the author, Travis Frank

Matt Hennen proudly hoists his big muskie caught while fishing with the author, Travis Frank

Sometimes they come easy...and then there are the others.  In  muskie fishing, it's often the latter.  I usually don't like to talk about the "ones that got away," but this story has a happy ending so it's worthy of sharing.

To make a long story short and get to the good parts, I'll recap and get to the point.  I've been craving Mille Lacs muskies for the past two weeks.  Hot water temps in the metro have limited my muskie desire around home to nil.  With big fish on the brain, I've had three opportunities at the big girls on the big pond.  The first time came a few weeks back with first time Mille Lacs muskie junkies, Ben Brettingen and Eric Wolf.  The action came fast and occured often, but after 4 hours of fishing, we found ourselves with 8 encounters and nothing in the net.  A night outing and a short morning before a storm revealed 4 fish that missed our topwater, 3 intense figure "8" opportunities and 1 hot follow that simply vanished.  A fun outing, but nothing to show for our efforts.

With all the action I was eager to return.  Fast forward to the 4th of July weekend and two new guests named Mike Ernst and Matt Hennen.  On our journey north to a Brainerd area cabin, we couldn't resist the chance to toss a few muskie baits.  Knowing we only had a short amount of time, we went right for the juggular and hit some "prime spots" that have produced countless times over the years.  Once again the action was there, and once again we had fish miss wildly on our topwater offerings.  Four to be exact.  Our 2 fishless hours on the water set things up perfectly for the climax of the story - Friday night.

It seems every time I am lucky enough to have Todd "Muskie" Mosher in the boat, good things happen.  This past friday was no exception.  Joining us was my other lucky charm, Matt Hennen for his second shot at the slimy Mille Lacs beasts.  This time we weren't on a time schedule, and this time we were going to fish until the muskies were ready to do the darn thing.  With two extremely lucky anglers in my boat, I was confident that my persistence would finally pay off.

As the sun started to fade, the conditions set themselves up for an epic night on the water.  You could feel the intensity with each cast, and for the first time in a while, I could sense that my "Muskie Mojo" had finally returned.  Todd was the first to thrash the surface with a ski.  Shortly after the lights went out, a muskie grabbed his bait boatside and took him for a wild ride.  Fortunately, for the fish, Todd was not on the winning end of the tug-o-war.

A few moments later came our first monster sighting.  A giant appeared like a ghost in the darkness and chased Matt around the boat several times.  The fish brought the game to a whole new level.  Knowing that we were in the presence of a giant, we were all on high alert.

With the increase in activity we knew that it was only a matter of time.  A few casts after the monster appeared I was throttled on my "8".  This time the muskie ran full steam into my rod while trying to T-bone my bait.  I assure you that I was more startled than the fish, and afterwards I had to check my shorts to make sure I was still clean.

Was it the big one?  That, I didn't know.  As I started to wonder that very thought, Todd stole the show when he hooked a beast.  A boatside strike that sent the water churning in every direction.  It was absolute chaos!  The monster threw water in every direction, and just when I thought that we had finally done it, she came unhooked and swam away.  Heartbreak was an understatement and I thought Todd was going to cry.  Deep down, I think I was too.  She was "the one" and all Todd was left with was a mangled bait.

Still, we pushed on.  Hopeful for another opportunity.  After all, it had only been an hour into the night.  As we circled our pod for another chance, I started to count up the number of fish that had recently won the battle.  In my head I was up to 16.  An astronomical amount over the last three outings.  Luckily, Matt was determined to win the boatside battle and make sure that the number didn't reach 17.  As luck would have it, we didn't have to wait very long.

A quiet grunt and a whisper revealed a muskie beneath our feet yet again.  I guess that was his cue that he was hooked up.  This time Matt was ready for the boatside game and this time he took the bull by the horns.  As I turned my headlamp on, I was surprised to see a dandy being drug around the boat like a dog on a leash.  A tactic that I was hoping to see when a big one ate boatside.  This textbook maneauver resulted in chaos at the boat, but also Matt's first night muskie and his first one on the figure '8.'  Not to mention the end to a horrific streak of "the ones that got away."  The second the fish hit the net we exploded with excitement.  It was like a 500 lb weight had just been lifted off our shoulders.  The skunk was gone, the jinx was broken, and we had finally taken back our spot as the top predator on the food chain. 

The picture will forever retain that memory, but words cannot explain the moment the three of us shared.  As Matt released the fish back into the darkness, I patted him on the back and said "thank you for bringing my mojo back!"  Our evening ended shortly after and as we drove across the dark water I thanked the big guy up above for such an incredible opportunity to fish, persevere and succeed.  In the muskie world, persistence does pay off.  Until the next monster strikes, keep on livin' your dream!

Catch more at www.trophyencounters.com

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