Ryan McMahon admits he has an addiction. The 33-year-old Roseville native is a family man as well as one of the hottest up-and-coming fishing guides in town, so to purge his soul and hopefully help others in similar situations he recently produced a compelling video about the object of his obsession.
“Having a big muskie hooked is the perfect blend of so many emotions––sheer excitement and adrenaline,” McMahon said. “But I’m also terrified the entire time I have one hooked that it will get away.”
McMahon’s “The Musky Project” video may not be what you expect. It’s certainly not the typical shaky camera or head-mounted cam showing muskie strikes while heavy-metal music blares and viewers watch a one-dimensional montage of a guy catching a fish, followed by seeing the back of another guy catching a fish.
This web-only video is TV-quality, with HD-footage and high production value that tells a story ––not just McMahon’s story, but that of other anglers who’ve had similar heart-stopping experiences with “the ultimate predator.”
McMahon has made a name for himself for his ability to help both newbies and fellow muskie junkies hook and land trophy fish––up to and over 50 inches––right here in the Twin Cities. The aptly named website for his guide service, TwinCitiesMusky.com, features a jaw-dropping photo gallery of monster muskies caught in local waters.
“These giant muskies live in lakes right in people’s backyard,” McMahon told me as we slow-trolled for muskies last October on White Bear Lake, just a few miles from his house. “We’ve got a neat deal here. The way that the lakes have been stocked with muskies in the Twin Cities Metro area, you’ve got 15 lakes within a short drive that all have trophy muskie potential.”
Of course, those lakes aren’t exactly a secret. An old saying goes, “Bragging may not bring happiness, but no man having caught a large fish goes home through a back alley.”
Muskie anglers are notoriously tight-lipped, but nonetheless word gets out when a lake holds big muskies. Metro lakes do get hit hard, and muskies are a cunning predator who certainly get conditioned quickly, and often seem born with lockjaw regardless of how many lures they’ve seen in their lifetime.
That’s where McMahon comes into play. “There’s a lot of little tricks you pick up on when you’re fishing full-time and putting in so much sweat equity day after day,” he said. “Nothing is more rewarding than helping someone catch their first muskie, or their biggest muskie. But some clients aren’t focused on catching a fish during our day––they hire me so they can learn all about their local lake and how to fish it in the future. Or some people will hire me for a lesson on how they can better use their electronics, and that’s cool, too.”
For my part, I’ve always wanted to understand how to use live bait more effectively for muskies. So when McMahon told me we’d be user suckers on that windy October day on White Bear Lake I was excited for a chance to see how an expert does it.
McMahon hooked $15-a-piece suckers on a live bait quick strike rig by Stealth Tackle. He set our bobbers at 6-feet deep, then set out two rods with 60- and 70-feet of line, respectively. The goal was to slowly drag the bait at .6 or .8 miles per hour, but given the strong wind gusts we faced we occasionally had to accelerate to maintain our position along the weed lines.
“With these milfoil edges it’s easy to get in too deep or out of the weeds, and you really have to be right on the edge to keep your bait where the muskies are,” McMahon explained as he expertly navigated the choppy water. “Late in the season is the perfect time for suckers, and it’s also a great window to get a trophy.”
As we found that day with an empty landing at 9:00am and only one other boat spotted all day, the late season is also a rare chance to have some of these popular metro lakes all to yourself. Nonetheless, throughout the day I asked McMahon what his favorite tactics were for heavily pressured muskies––say mid-summer, when many muskie anglers are out chasing the giants.
Here were his three go-to strategies for hard-hit muskies:
1. Ripping a Magnum Bull Dawg
“It’s hard to imagine a Magnum Bull Dawg as a finesse bait, but in a sense it’s like a jig it. You rip the bait sideways, across your body, then point the rod back at the bait and wind in the slackline,” McMahon explained. “You’re ripping the bait away from the fish, then feeding it back down to them. The pause is the trigger.”
McMahon fishes the lure with Cortland Master Braid Line with a 180-pound, 14-inch fluorocarob leaders on a 9-foot, extra heavy Predator Rod from Thorne Bros. In clearer water, McMahon prefers natural colors such as brown, black or white, whereas in darkly stained water he’ll occasionally try UV or iridescent patterns.
2. Burning Bucktails
“There are two times to burn bucktails: June in a warming spring, and late summer/early fall when the fish’s metabolism is high,” McMahon said. “The stronger the wind, the bigger the blade you use, to help the fish find the bait easier. Cast with the wind and bring it back against the wind, and be ready for strikes in the first several seconds.”
McMahon likes Cowgirl Juniors and Kramer Bros. 8’s in the earlier summer, and DreamCatchers and Double Showgirls––especially on windblown areas––later in the season. He generally uses nickel, gold or metallic blades with double blades, and opts for more painted colors if using a single blade.
3. Casting Topwaters
“Topwaters are a big fish bait,” McMahon said. “Even when you think about a fish that’s going to eat a baby duck, as people talk about, it’s not a low 40-inch fish. It’s a high 40 or 50-plus inch fish.”
Low-light conditions with a slight chop are the best conditions according to McMahon, who also looks at throwing topwaters over open water stretches early in the year when fish are higher in the water column. Several of his go-to topwaters include the Pacemaker and Big Momma’s The Twisted Sister.
You can’t go wrong with black, or dark colors for topawter sin general, he says.
A few days before I fished with him, McMahon guided a fairly new muskie angler to an exciting muskie attack on a topwater bait. The angler had never caught a muskie before, and unfortunately the fish spit the bait a few feet away from an extended net.
“That’s a killer,” McMahon said. “I wanted that guy to catch one so badly. I’m going to be seeing that fish in my head for a long time. When you lose a fish like that, it can haunt you. In a sense, we’re tortured that way.”
Tortured, but unable to resist the hunt and instead pursue other species more agreeable than the famed fish of 10,000 casts.
“I watch to catch a fish that makes that excitement never wear off,” McMahon said. “A super fish, a monster fish––something’s nobody ever seen before. I want to chase that fish and catch it. I don’t know if that will cure by obsession, my addiction, but it might help.”
To book a trip with Ryan McMahon, call 651-206-8767 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, photos or videos, visit Ryan’s site at TwinCitiesMusky.com or “like” The Musky Project’s Facebook page video at Facebook.com/themuskyproject.
Editor's Note: I'd definitely recommend booking Ryan for a guide trip, but don't just take my word for it; check out his online testimonials.