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 Fishing

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, 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!

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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!

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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!

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Bucktail Basics and Beyond...

Posted by: Travis Frank Updated: June 24, 2010 - 11:49 AM

I've never tried to claim an "expert" title in my fishing adventures.  All that I know is that I have a huge passion for the sport and I've been lucky enough to do it a lot more than the average fisherman.  With that said, I've been asked many times to explain in detail a little more about what works for me.  This is just my opinion, you can take it or leave it.

For more reasons than I can fit on this page, I'll start with a bucktail.  It's easily the best muskie lure ever invented and accounts for a large majority of the muskies in my boat each year.  I'll just go ahead and jump to the obvious bucktail of choice.  It's a Cowgirl.  Since it's creation this lure has boated more 50 inch muskies than probably any lure on the market.  It simply catches fish, and big ones at that.  In muskie chatrooms, forums or anywhere on the water, they're called, blades.

There are several versions of blades and all are worthy of a place in your tackle box.  They are the Cowgirl, Cowgirl Jr, Siligirl, Showgirl and the Super Model.  How, where and when to use these lures will determine your luck with them.  I tend to use just the original Cowgirl, the Showgirl and the Super Model the most and here's why.

For confidence I throw the original.  It can be fished slow, fast and anywhere in between.  One of the biggest factors that determine how I use it is the fact that every angler on the water has 'em and throws 'em.  If I am shallow I will try to burn it in.  It hurts the arms, but moves tons of water and triggers a strike.  If I'm fishing an outside weed edge or deep water, I'll consider the super fast retrieve or the super slow retrieve.  If you watch almost any angler on the water, they are likely reeling the same middle ground speed at all times.  Fish catch on to this consistency and can shy away from another bucktail cruising 3 feet below the surface.  Burn 'em or slow roll 'em.  I've given up on the in-between stuff.  When I say slow, I mean so slow that it is painful to reel it in.  Try to catch a weed with each cast, you just might hook a ski.  Also, you'll want to make sure you have this baby with at night.  It's a must.

Next on my list is the showgirl.  This lil' fella has boated some monster fish for me in the past.  I choose to use this lure when I want to work my upper arm muscles before a hot date.  Just kidding on the date part, but serious about the upper body strength.  If you can't burn it, you might as well leave it at home.  The best reaction strikes you will ever witness can come from this lure.  There is no such thing as too fast.  Depending on the lake, I'll burn it over shallow sand, rock or weeds.  There is something about the speed this lure kicks out that make the fish eat.  I'll be honest here, the Showgirl is just one of a few bucktails that I use this technique on.  The orignal mepps muskie killer is another great choice, or something similar.  Despite popular belief, I've caught muskies all year long on this technique.  The speed triggers the reaction strike and it's not always about their attitude.  With that said, the warmer water does tend to trigger more fish and I'll catch more in August than June.  If you can withstand the pain of screaming the lure in, odds are that you will get bit.  You can't outrun a muskie.

The Super Model is quickly becoming another popular choice.  If there is one bait that moves water and calls muskies to the dinner table, this just might be the best yet.  The large profile seems to give muskies the dinner they want.  In my opinion there is no such thing as too big.  Like the original cowgirl, this can be fished fast or slow.  I prefer to just creep this bait in, but sometimes it calls for a high-speed retrieve.  Again, I choose one or the other, but seldom the mid-range stuff that others seem to throw.  The best rule is to try both and let the fish tell you what they want.  Every day can change, and sometimes it will change during the day.  Night time is the right time for this one too.  The noise and water displacement this bait puts out will give you a great chance to score after the lights go off.

While the Musky Mayhem series of bucktails are top choices, there are others that will consistently produce.  I went old school last year and was blown away by the reaction the fish gave me.  It seems that they forgot about some of the old tricks.  It was worth noting that I didn't need two blades on my bait.  Once again my top producer was slowly creeping the bucktail along the bottom.  This may or not be a method you use already, but its worth trying.  The key element to this technique will be your boatside maneuvers.  I'd say 75% of my fish came on the figure '8' during this slow procedure.  The lure creeping along the bottom followed by the dramatic straight up to the surface directional change almost forced the fish to eat.  Once they commit they are yours.  You'll either see a pointed nose under your bait, or an open mouth.  It's a rare sight to get a musky vertical, but if you can pull it off, they almost always eat.  I have to thank my fishing partner Mike Tengwall for teaching me this method and pounding it in my brain.  "If it aint absolutely vertical when you bring it up to the surface, then you are reeling it too fast.  Slow down, Travis," he'd say.  I'll just say that he is right.

Of all the bucktails and their presentations, the most important aspect to putting it all together becomes your figure'8'.  It's more important than almost anything you do.  Regardless of how you retrieve your lure, you'll want to make sure you give the fish enough room to eat.  Long, wide sweeping turns are best.  Long rods help make this easier.  I've fallen in love with a new 9 footer.  As the bait approaches the boat, I'll start to make it dive.  This diverts the fish's attention downward instead of staring straight at me and the boat.  Once I get a muskie to commit on the turn, then I raise the lure in the water column on the turn.  I'f the fish doesn't strike on the turn, then I'll bring it back down deep and raise it back near the surface for the next turn.  I've found great success by changing speeds while doing this maneuver as well.  The rise, fall, speed up, slow down and directional changes are all good triggers.  Work on it all the time and make sure to do it every cast when fishing dark or lowlight periods.  It can increase your catch by double or triple.  Not only is it good to catch a few extra, it's an exciting moment when she eats under your feet.

I've been talking to a few of my muskie buddies lately and we've all agreed on the following.  Trolling is the next big thing.  These pressured fish have seen it all.  They've been casted over and pounded in the head so many times that they will often move out into the middle of nowhere and abandon the ideal structure.  That, and the abundance of forage that roam main lake basins are reason enough to start learning how to troll.  There are many great options like crankbaits, swimbaits and more, but I still like to use the bucktails if possible.  The best part about this technique is you have so much flexibility with speed and variations of it.  Do not overlook a Cowgirl, Super Model or even Showgirl for any of your trolling runs.  It's the newest thing and it's quickly takin fish by storm.

Lastly, to dispell another myth, bucktails work all year long.  Spring, summer, fall and winter.  My last muskie came late November last year and it was on a Cowgirl.  The critics would have said my lure choice was no good.  Luckily for me, the muskies don't always follow our rules.

So now you have a few ideas for your next bucktail outing.  It's possible that you've read this before or used them yourself.  If not, I hope you put them into the water and strike gold on your next trip.  I think we'll talk topwater or rubber next time.  Any suggestions?  Until then, keep on chasing your dream!

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Posted by: Travis Frank Updated: June 21, 2010 - 4:51 PM


Sean Bailey and Matt Hennen hoist a fresh meal of walleyes during the 2010 trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

Sean Bailey and Matt Hennen hoist a fresh meal of walleyes during the 2010 trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

My annual trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area is officially in the books.  I believe a passing canoeist said it all on Saturday. He was paddling by and I asked him how he was doing, he smiled and said, "Better than I deserve."  If you've never been to the BWCA or as we call it, the B-Dubs, then you owe it to yourself to make it happen.

I have been fortunate enough to share this trip with the best group of friends in the world.  I don't know how, but I am greatful for it.  Each summer, nine of us friends take 5 days out of our busy schedules and enjoy life from the perch of an island.  Until you put the cell phones, computers and all technology to the wayside, you don't realize how peaceful, calm and relaxing life can be.  I'll be the first to agree that I am spoiled and get the opportunity to fish more than I deserve, but when I am up there, I am reminded about how it all began and why it is so special.  I can't explain it, I just look forward to each summer and I take it all in.

Walleye shore lunch is the obvious meal.  Each year we eat fresh walleye every day, and 2010 was no exception.  We caught and ate enough walleyes to make a fish factory jealous.  Many years we hammer the smallmouth bass.  This year was a struggled to catch them on every cast, but we still got a few and had several high flying jumps.  Since we have a few days and only set up camp one time, we find ourselves searching new waters and targeting new fish.  The last three trips have taken us into places where the giant panfish roam.  It's become a staple and once again we caught pannies too big for the frying pan.

While all of the above is great and worth the trip alone, I now have a newfound passion swimming in the pristine waters.  Pike.  Big pike!  Each year we have huge northern pike attack our walleye stringers.  You will be quietly fishing when a huge explosion occurs boatside and you realize that your stringer of walleyes is one short, or still in the mouth of a hungry giant.  I made it a point this year to bring some equipment and my goal was a 20 pounder.

I brought a few baits that I thought perfect for the job.  We pack light, so I only brought a couple. While I made good lure decisions, the down side to the equation was that I didn't give these big fish enough credit and I slacked on my rod, reel and line.  I figured that I could boat a giant on heavy bass gear and chose the ultra-light approach.  I tried a couple of smaller baits with minimal success.  It wasn't until I chucked the biggest bait in my box that I realized I was undermatched.  Upon the first cast of my muskie topwater lure, I became almost frightened when a giant pike exploded from beneath.  He missed the bait, but it was obvious that I found what they wanted.

For the next 30 minutes I had pike of every size exploding on my giant jackpot.  I could argue that it was some of the most intense fishing of my life.  It definitely rivals the excitement of a topwater muskie strike, but I will admit that it is even more fierce.  There is no warning.  They don't follow, they just explode.  After I thought I had it all figured out and my quest for a 20 pounder was going to be short-lived, it all came to an end.  As I worked my topwater lure over 20 foot depths and brought it boatside, a monster shot out like lightning, grabbed my bait and immediately shot back to the depths.  My years of boatside muskie strikes didn't prepare me for the intensity of a huge pike eating at my feet.  A big pike doesn't thrash around on the surface like a muskie.  Instead they immediately give the most powerful explosion downward and if you don't have heavy enough line, they will simply take your lure and leader with them.  This is just what happened to me, and after I wiped the water from my dripping face, I realized that I had hooked and lost the biggest pike of my life.  To make matters even worse, I lost my only giant topwater lure too, not to mention my dignity.  Apparently 20 pound braided line isn't enough for a monster attack boatside.  It took a while for my nerves to calm.  It was insane.  I assure you that next year I will be bringing the big stuff.  Shame on me!

While the fishing was great, the company was even better.  Time around the camp is the highlight of each day.  The fire is the center of it all and stories of years past and fishing tales never get old.  The best part is that each year we continue to make more.  For those of us that rise early, the sunrise over the island is an epic scene.  Sunset are pretty good too.  The weather was what you'd expect and changed by the minute.  We battled out a thunderstorm that would have made most cry for help.  Heavy downpours caused us to dig trenches and route gushing water away from our campsite.  A first time task that we hope is the last.  Like most years we experienced all that time would allow.  When I thought I had done everything possible, I was shocked yet again.  We found an inspiring group of kids and I was convinced to jump off of a cliff.  Yep, that's right, I can now cross that off my bucket list too.  If there is one bad thing about taking a trip to the B-Dub's, it's that at some point you have to pack up your gear and head back to reality.  It really is that good!  I want to thank Dusty, Sean, Matt, Ryan, Scott, Jason, Joe and Jeff for another trip of a lifetime!  Until next year, keep on livin' the dream!

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