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

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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Tough Guys Fish Muskies...

Posted by: Travis Frank Updated: June 14, 2010 - 1:13 PM


Sean Bailey proudly displays his first muskie of the season caught with Travis right when the conditions all came together!

Sean Bailey proudly displays his first muskie of the season caught with Travis right when the conditions all came together!

It wasn't until the rain picked up and the wind started to blow that I was reminded just how tough muskie fisherman are.  I laughed and my buddy Bails giggled when we zipped up our rain gear and continued chucking our baits.  About a dozen boats zipped past us ducking behind their windshields on the way back to the access.  The rain was pounding the water, and the waves had reached maximum size for that lake.  We found a few others tucked behind a point sheltered from the wind.  For Bails and I, we were just getting started.  His comment went something like this..."Here we go fish, Bring it!"

I've said it before and I'll say it again.  Muskie fisherman are the most dedicated and hard-core angler on the water.  When the weather turns bad and conditions aren't favorable, most anglers head for shore.  Funny thing is, these are the conditions that I savor.  I'll find the windiest part of the lake and tear it to pieces.  Water crashing over the front of the boat usually means muskies in the net.  If you fish bass, odds are that you'll be waiting the wind out from shore, or hiding in a calm spot.  Walleye fisherman often think they've lost control of their boat and call it quits.  Panfisherman only consider a good day on the water to be high sun and no wind.  I'm not knocking anyone here, but truth be told, it appears muskie fisherman are the only ones tough enough to take the abuse.

This past Saturday I was reminded just how crazy we really are.  Taking it from the top - I had a short window to sneak out on the water.  The conditions were shaping up well and a front was within range of letting the flood gates open.  My brain went crazy and I just knew the muskies were going to snap.  I called my buddy Sean Bailey, aka: Bails, and he quickly said yes.  This wasn't his first time being thrown into the muskie elements.  We've been doing it together for several years.  We've also been catching muskies in these elements for several years too, so it was no surprise when we pulled up on the honey hole and saw a fish within our first 3 casts.  She was a dandy in the 50 inch range, but chose to save her meal for a fish without hooks.

A few minutes later and we were on to spot number 2.  As the wind switched 180 and hit me directly in the face, I jokingly made a bold prediction.  "Bails, you are going to catch one on this cast."  He laughed, but nodded his head in approval.  His lure was in the sweet spot and the change in wind was an obvious trigger.  I almost wet my shorts when 5 seconds later his first muskie of the year exploded from the water carrying Bail's bait.  You just couldn't draw it up any better.  It's times like this that you wonder how the heck they can be called a fish of 10,000 casts.

After a quick photo he released the fish to fight another day.  After joking about the entire scenario, he picked up his weapon and threw it again.  Instantly another muskie came from the depths and tried to eat his lure boatside.  Not quite ready for the instant opportunity, he pulled the bait and missed out on his chance for 2 muskies in two casts.  By this time the waves were starting to grow and you could see the action level rising.  The perfect example in how and why it pays to be a hard-core muskie dude.  In that 10 minute window the wind went from west at 5, to east at 25.  Extreme weather almost always means extreme fishing if you chase the mighty musky.  It almost seems that the nastier the better.

Over the next hour and half we jumped from spot to spot and did everything we could to keep the muskies from coming in the boat.  I personally made a few mistakes and so did the fish.  It was an obvious lesson in muskies 101, but I failed to photograph any of the interested muskies that wanted my lure.  In total we had 8 encounters.  By the time we left the water we were one of only a few remaining boats on the lake.  Of the few remaining, all were chasing muskies.  A testimony to how tough we really are.  But, when you look at the results, you understand why.  Give a muskie fisherman a storm and he'll give you a picture of a muskie.  Until next time, keep on livin' the dream!

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Minnesota Muskie Opener

Posted by: Travis Frank Updated: June 7, 2010 - 11:30 AM


Matt Hennen caught this 44 inch muskie with Travis Frank on the opening morning of the 2010 muskie fishing season.

Matt Hennen caught this 44 inch muskie with Travis Frank on the opening morning of the 2010 muskie fishing season.

Like many of you, I consider the muskie opener as the 'real' fishing opener.  No longer do we have to fish for something else to pass the time.  This past Saturday was the official kick-off to the madness of 2010, and I'm proud to say that we started it off on the right foot.

Fellow guide partner, Young Ben, and I hit the water very early in the season.  3:00 AM to be exact.  A busy schedule for the two of us meant that if we wanted to get any significant amount of time on the water that we'd have to get out there early.  Shortly into our season we had the first nibble.  An explosion in the darkness that caused Ben to prematurely set the hook.  I followed that up with a few good chuckles and that is when we were reminded what specie we were pursuing.  It seemed fitting to have it start that way, and it certainly got the juices flowing.

As if we didn't have the perfect sign to start our season, God blessed us with a muskie sunrise that we'll never forget.  The canvas was covered with every color in the rainbow and I'm sure if you were on the water then you know what I'm talking about too.  For a while we seemingly forgot what we were on the water to do.  We stopped fishing completely..  With every second we were in even more awe and couldn't get over the brightness of the sky.  The water was calm and if there weren't trees in the distance, you wouldn't have been able to tell where the water ended and sky began.  Sheer beauty.  To make it even sweeter, once we finally started casting again, we got to watch our first muskie bulge the surface and create a wake behind Ben's lure from the start of his cast to the finish.  I could have ended my day right there and I'd have been happy.  The muskie didn't strike, but the day didn't end there either.

A view from the epic Muskie opener sunrise.

A view from the epic Muskie opener sunrise.

A little while later I was given the opportunity to join the crew on KFAN Outdoors for a live report on the water.  I have been lucky enough to be a regular guest on their program and we chatted about what we were experiencing on the water.  During this time, Ben had two more giant muskies come boatside and nearly gave me a heart attack while conducting my interview.  You can check out the full interview here.  Thank you Billy Hildebrandt and Bob St. Pierre for another opportunity!

Shortly after the interview Ben had to go to work and my partners changed.  I dropped Ben off and Bails and Hennen jumped aboard.  I was bound and determined to get the slime in the boat.  As it turned out, Hennen was just the man to do it.  About 30 minutes into his muskie season he landed the first toothy critter of the year.  A dandy 44 incher that put the icing on my muskie opener cake.  While I would have been satisfied to just be on the water for that perfect morning, I will admit that the muskie in da boat made me smile a quite a bit.  A great start to the 'real' opener..  If this is any indication, I'm very excited for what is to come.  Stay tuned - It's going to be a great season!  Until next time, keep on livin' the dream!

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Muskie Time - Are You Ready?

Posted by: Travis Frank Updated: June 4, 2010 - 9:58 AM


The author Travis Frank releases a 51 inch muskie caught during the early season.

The author Travis Frank releases a 51 inch muskie caught during the early season.

The time has come!  The anticipation has been mounting and I am giddy with excitement.  Tis a day for celebration in musky country.  The first follow of the year, the first strike, and hopefully the first slime in the net.  Does it get any better than this?  Like the rest of you muskie crazed lunatics, I am ready to chuck the big gear.  Here are a few things on my mind as we head into the 2010 season.

First and foremost, I think about the fish.  Do I have everything ready for a proper release?  I use a huge net that allows me to keep the fish resting in the water.  I never take them out of the water or lay them in the boat.  A long handled pliers helps to unhook them from the water, and a hook cutter is ready in case it is necessary.  I can't stress enough how important your release practice becomes when you start handling several muskies.  Remember, we are in control of this precious resource.  The camera is ready and a couple of quick clicks ensures the fish is back in the water within 15 to 20 seconds - max!  If you aren't willing to have a plan in place, I strongly encourage you to think again before you head out.  It's that important!

Next, do I have all my gear ready?  I will admit that I have some hook sharpening to do, and I strongly encourage you to do the same.  More fish are lost each season by people fishing with dull hooks.  It's to your advantage to sit down and make 'em razor sharp.  If not, you will be one of those guys talking to your buddies about the one that got away.  It's the difference maker.  If your leader has a kink in it - throw it out.  If your line is weathered and old - throw it out.  You are already spending a ton of money on everthing else.  The connection between you and the fish is the most important aspect in all aspects of the battle.  You'll be thankful when that fish is in the net, or heartbroken when your broken down equpment fails.

Like most of you, I have some new equipment to check out.  I'm opting for a few different rods this year and I'm excited to see what a 9 footer can do instead of the short and stubby 8 footers.  Man has this sport evolved.  I can remember using a 6 foot stick and thinking it was the "cats meow."  When will we stop and where?  I hope we continue to raise the bar each year.

Every year I ponder where I will start and what goals I have for myself.  This year is no different and leads to great anticipation for what is ahead.  The beauty of it all is that we simply do not know and will not know until we hit the water.  For opening day, a good rule of thumb would be to try anything and everything.  If you live in memories of last year or the previous seasons, then you may be living in a dream that won't reproduce.  I like to think outside the box and continue to change it up EVERY DAY!  This keeps me ahead of the game so to speak and allows me to find fish that I might have otherwise overlooked.  I fish new waters on opening day of the season, and the last day of the season.  Even with several hundred days on the water each year, my goal is to learn something new every time out.  If I follow this rule of thumb, I believe the numbers of fish in the boat will speak for itself and I will be able to walk away with a successful year on the water.

To dispose an early season muskie myth, I will probably start the season with Pounders or another oversized muskie bait.  Think about it this way.  All of the muskie food in the water is at least 1 year old.  They are use to eating fish from the year before, and this year's spawn isn't even close to being ready for dinner.  My experience has shown a binge period for the muskies after their spawn is complete.  This will likely hold true this season, and I encourage you to think outside the box - go big or go home!

I also have a few rules that I live by on every muskie water and they may help you on your monster quest.  First, you have to be where the muskies are if you want to catch them.  Find their food source, and you'll find them.  This could be in 3 feet water or 30.  As my good friend Bob Turgeon likes to say "They are the top of the food chain, they don't lead the way, they have to follow."  Next, remember that all muskie lures resemble food to a fish.  Become good at using a few baits and worry less about throwing everything in the box.  It's called a confidence bait.  They will only eat when they are ready, and if you have your suff together, you WILL make it happen when the time is right.  It's on their schedule, not yours.  Lastly, focus on the key feeding windows and make sure you are casting over fishy waters when they are ready to eat.  Our pressured fish will only eat for short windows of time, and it is imperative to be fishing them when they turn it on.  It's possible to catch 3 muskies in three casts if you play your cards right.

The figure 8 should be your biggest asset on the water.  When done correctly you can up your catch by over 50%.  Do it every time.  Do it with enthusiasm and do it when you are sick of it.  Swing your rod tip deep in the water and change the vertical and horizontal angles.  Remembe that a 4 foot fish cannot change its direction in the water immediately.  Lead them and force them to chase down your offering.  It's exciting and it works.  Do it with passion and you'll get your muskie on the figure 8.

Finally, I head into the 2010 season with hopes of our sport growing yet again.  I'm proud to call myself a muskie fisherman, and I'm proud to be associated with each one of you.  I don't think there is another group so passionate about the fish they pursue and so proud of every catch.  We really take it to another level.  If it weren't for the dedication and love of "OUR" fish, we wouldn't have the resources at our hands today.  Share it, enjoy it and take care of it.  The sport is in my hands and yours.  To all of you that hit the water for the Minnesota Muskie opener this weekend.  Good luck! And, in the words of our resting muskie godfather, Jack Burns, "Catch a big one, and let it go."  Until next time, keep on livin' the dream!

For more muskie fishing information from Travis Frank - check out

Prelude to a State Record Muskie Quest...

Posted by: Travis Frank Updated: October 29, 2009 - 9:47 AM

Ahh yes, it's about that time again.  Time for the big girls to come out and play.  For most, November means deer hunting, pheasant hunting, or just hunting in general.  For me, this still applies, but I also go hunting for the one.  The biggest, fattest, meanest fish swimming in fresh water.  I tend to give her a personal name like Diane, Edna or Ruth, but we all know her best as the state record muskie.

If you haven't followed my quest in the past, here is a bit of info to get you up to speed.  Each fall, specifically the month of November, I begin a quest to land the next state record muskie.  I know this might sound rather stupid to think that one can just go out and catch a state record fish, but it really isn't that out of line.  See, in the fall these fish grow quite a bit larger.  Given the right lake with the right forage, these muskies can literally weigh an extra 10 pounds heavier during November than at any other time of the year.  Finding the right locations and timing things perfectly put the odds in your favor to land muskies exceeding 50 pounds.  This isn't simple by any means and it takes great patience and persistence in the worst elements mother nature can throw out, but the rewards can be incredible.

For the last two seasons I have been concentrating my efforts on Lake Mille Lacs.  It is no secret that this lake holds some of the largest muskies ever grown.  Coupled with the tullibee population, these beasts reach peak weight just before the ice forms.  It is cold, it is exhausting, but I have found ways to cope and I have found fish willing to strike.  Two years ago I landed a fish that still leaves me wondering.  She was a beaut that no doubt surpassed the 50 pound mark.  The next day I scored another giant that might have only been a few pounds shy of the record as well.  It was those two fish that fueled my fire to catch a fish larger than the current record.

Last season was another epic quest that gets me excited to start this years journey.  I located 3 fish that I figured would have topped the scales around that elusive 54 pound mark.  Two of them were near the record, and one of them totally blew the rest away.  I nicknamed her Diane, and we fished her hard when the weather would allow for the better part of two weeks.  I estimated her at about 60 pounds, and I am not making this up or exxaggerating.  Some days I could get her to follow and others she would have none of my business.  When she would come to the boat, it was a sight out of this world.  Picture a five gallon bucket nearly 60 inches long following your bait and you will understand what I am talking about.  She was almost surreal.  I don't remember the date, but there was one time that we got her to eat.  It was with my good buddy Mike that day, and after releasing a nice mid 40 inch muskie, we quickly drove to her location hoping the short window of opportunity was till open.  I pointed to her home, and Mike landed the lure spot on.  She devoured the bait the second the lure hit the water, and chaos broke loose.  It was a battle that I will never forget, and one that left Mike in tears on the back deck of the boat.  As the fish came around the boat, she did a barrel role and the over-sized lure popped free.  It was an experience that you literally had to be there to understand.  Sure it's only a fish tale at this point, but something so large and powerful still leaves me sleepless at night.  I know what we had, and we had the next state record inches from the net.

So with that, I hope you understand my quest for the one.  It is not made up, it is not exxaggerated, it is not a ridiculous feat to accomplish, but it is the most insane fishing one can imagine.  As the water temps continue to fall to the perfect degree, I will soon be trailering the boat north.  When you are in your deer stand, I will likely be on the water.  When you are ice fishing the first frozen lakes, I will likely be chipping the access free to launch my boat.  When the weather cooperates and the winds lay down, I will likely be somewhere on that big pond.  This year I will have more guests than ever before.  Clients, Newspaper writers, television crews and good fishing friends are all on the menu to join the insanity.  It's all gonna be a hoot!  What will we do when we land that beast?  I just don't know, but I hope that you follow along and join me for the entire experience.  Until the state record strikes, keep on chasing your dream!

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