There you are, minding your own business, casting a big, paddle tail swimbait, when all of the sudden, mid retrieve, your bait feels like it was hit by lightning. As you reel and fight the fish, your mind races to think of what could be on the other end of your line.
Just as you get the line within netting distance, you see a flash of pearly green that looks to be over two feet long, and then bam, the line snaps, and it is all over as fast as it began. A muskie just stole your swimbait. In this guide I share my best musky fishing tips so you can learn how to catch muskie like a pro.
That flash was unmistakable. The color of a muskie is like no other freshwater fish. While there are a few variations that differ in appearance, a clear muskie is easy to identify. Let’s look into these variations and color patterns and learn more about identifying muskie.
What Do I Need For Muskie Fishing? (Must Have Equipment & Setup)
Rods and Reels
Because muskies have the potential to grow quite large, rods and reels need to be the same. While fishing for a pike may require a medium-fast action rod, a musky setup will need heavy medium action. There is no mistaking a hit from a musky, so the sensitive action on a lighter rod is unnecessary. A muskie rod and reel setup will also be used near weeds and structures, so the potential for pulling fish through debris is always present. Having a heavy rod with a size 3500 or larger reel is the norm. Baitcasters are the reel of choice for most muskie anglers, but a conventional spinning reel will do just fine for casting.
Trolling for muskie is nearly the same as a trout or salmon setup. A large levelwind baitcaster in the 5000 size is the norm. A rod will be an 8ft heavy so that you have the backbone to crank in a fish while the boat is moving.
Landing nets and large basket nets are common in the musky world. Either will work, but because the fish are so mythical, releasing them healthy should be your primary concern. For this, use a net with rubberized webbing rather than the nylon or mesh versions. The rubberized webbing causes less damage to the fish and has less potential for harming gills. A fringe benefit is that hooks are less likely to tangle in the rubber versions than the traditional nylon type.
Muskie baits could be an entire article on their own. From bulldog swimbaits to pike minnows, the baits range far and wide. For live bait, people use smaller fish, plain and simple. A 6-inch pike or perch makes great musky bait but may be illegal in certain areas.
For this reason, most muskie anglers prefer to use artificial bait. When casting, large swimbaits and bucktails are the preferred lure. Trolling anglers run long lines with oversized crankbaits to entice a bite. Either way, think big. Because muskie will eat anything up to ⅓ their body size, the bigger the bait, the better.
Sharp Hooks, Jaw Spreader, Hook Remover
The fish of 10,000 casts only come around once in a blue moon, so you never want to give them the chance to get away once you hook them. Muskie anglers are known for keeping a file on their hip to sharpen hooks every few casts, especially after dragging baits through weeds or structure.
With all of those sharp teeth, removing hooks from a muskie jaw could prove difficult without a set of jaw spreaders. These are a handy tool that saves your skin while also preventing the hooks from causing collateral damage to the fish on their way out. For the price, jaw spreaders are worth having on the boat in any fishing scenario.
Hook removers are a necessity as well. They provide quick and easy removal of treble hooks that are dangerous when handled. A long set of hook-removing pliers will make for quick releases that are beneficial for both the angler and the muskie.
Line and Leaders
Setting up your rod and reel with the best line for musky fishing is easier than some other species. Because they are such a ferocious eater, using terminal tackle and steel leaders is the norm for these fish. Where large swivels and clasps would scare off a picky eater, they provide a strong setup for muskie.
For casting, I would run a 30-pound braid backer and a steel leader to my bulldog or bucktail. Most leaders will have swivels attached, but I would use one on both ends if not. This will prevent the backing from twisting during casts, fights, or figure 8’s.
Trolling would call for a 30-pound monofilament mainline and the same steel leader. The mono provides a bit of stretch, which helps set the hook without pulling it straight through the fish's jaw while the boat is moving.
Where Do Muskies Hang Out? (3 Main Habitats)
1. Catching Muskies in Rivers
Muskie that swim in rivers are strong and fast. Figuring out how to fish for muskie in a river could prove difficult. Because their environment is constantly changing, they adapt on the fly and attack whatever they think is food before questioning whether or not it actually is.
Rivers provide a great trolling atmosphere because you can cover large amounts of habitat in search of a large predator. The muskie will most likely be found near weed line edges where they can ambush passing prey.
2. Catching Muskies in Lakes
Lakes are more simple to figure out. Because the muskie has more time to decipher what is or is not a potential meal, they will hide in thick cover and analyze your presentation. This is where muskie can be seen following bait for entire retrieves and then falling away once in view from your boat.
A figure 8 method entices them to strike when they would otherwise pass. If I were fishing a lake for muskie, I would target shallow flats under 20 feet deep. Look to place your casts on the outside of weed lines to draw out the muskie. Retrieve fast so that the fish can not wait to decide whether or not they should bite, but will strike instinctually.
3. Catching Muskies from Shore
Muskie fishing from shore is tough. Try to find a point where the land edges into deeper water and transitions from rock or gravel to weeds. Casting bucktail to mimic a small bird that has mistakenly ended up in the water will work as well. These fish are always on the move hunting, so do not plan to cast out a bobber with a worm and expect to catch a dozen muskie. Cast and retrieve as quickly as possible while moving from location to location.
How To Catch Muskie (4 Muskie Fishing Tips for Beginners)
1. Move to Shallow Waters
Musky like to hedge their bets as far as feeding goes. The shallower the water they are hunting, the less real estate the bait has to swim to safety. This is why musky like to hang around in the shallows. It is also a great place to pick off bullfrogs and small unsuspecting birds that may be within striking distance of the water, perfect muskie food.
2. Go “Long Line Trolling”
Longline trolling is a great way to cover water. Because these fish are so few and far between, long lining lets you search all over a lake or river system trying to find them, keeping baits in the water the entire time. It also provides the muskie with an opportunity to follow the bait for long distances until they decide that your bait is edible and strike.
3. Patience and Persistence
Muskie do not just jump on hooks for anyone, in all conditions. These fish require tons of time on the water and research to catch. Patterning bait habits and water temperatures will give you the best chance at catching, and even after that, it is only a chance.
4. Use the Right Equipment
Luck is the residue of preparation. If you have all of the factors you can control in perfect alignment when the time is right, you may end up being able to land one of these majestic creatures. Using fresh line, strong terminal tackle, a proven reel, and a strong rod will leave no room for error when your time comes.
Bonus Seasonal Musky Fishing Tips (Tricks To Get Muskie Fast)
1. Muskie Summer Fishing
In the heat of the summer, transition to night fishing for muskies. The water is usually calmer, and the fish have a harder time seeing the boat, making them more susceptible to catching. Target weeds and rocks in about 10-15 feet of water to have the best chance of catching a stud muskie in the cover of darkness. This will be one of the best chances of landing a fish all year.
2. Muskie Spring Fishing
In the spring, muskie eggs hatch before most other fish. This lets the young fish get a jump start on the growing cycle, and by the time most other fish are hatching, the juvenile muskie are ready to feed on them. This pattern sticks with the muskie. Every spring, they key in on hatching and juvenile baitfish in large quantities. This provides the perfect opportunity for anglers to cash in on the feeding cycle. Using swimbaits and jerkbaits works perfectly this time of year, and you can expect to catch a higher quantity of fish in the spring.
3. Muskie Winter Fishing
Winter muskie fishing is the most predictable bite. Because water temperatures do not fluctuate as often in winter, fish can be found in schools outside of spawning grounds. The muskie will be on flats in the deeper water, conserving energy, waiting for the spring. If you happen to get a shad-style bait in front of them, they could bite. This is usually the least active time for musky, making it the least likely time for you to get bit, especially in the North.
4. Muskie Fall Fishing
Fall is the best season for muskie fishing. If you want to catch a large fish, one that has been feeding all summer long, autumn is the time. The fish will be stocking up for winter and feeding on everything they can. Because leaves are falling, bringing bugs into the water, baitfish are feeding on those, and muskie are feeding on the baitfish. November muskie season in the North is one of the best fishing seasons of the year. Trolling is the preferred method this time of year.
People also Ask (FAQs)
Musky or Muskie? Which is the correct spelling?
Muskie is short for muskellunge, the proper species name. Some people spell it with a "Y," but real anglers use the direct spelling, which would be muskie.
How do you catch musky on the fly?
If you want to cast your arm off with the idea of getting a single bite, you can fish for muskie on the fly. Using a large streamer to resemble a bird or baitfish, patrol the shallows and use your polarized glasses to sight-fish. Cast out beyond the target and retrieve past in a 90-degree orientation. Muskie like to attack from the side, so you will not want to run your bait parallel to them.
Can you eat muskie?
In a survival situation, I am sure you could eat a muskie. These fish are so few that it is best to release them back once caught. If you are looking to catch dinner, use a similar fishing method to catch pike in similar settings. They are great for eating and very plentiful across the entire continent.
If you have the chance to hunt for muskie, there are a few key takeaways from this article. The first is to do your homework; these fish are not easy to catch, so using your fish finder to target potential spots and weather reports to fish the most opportune times is vital to be successful.
The next is to use proper gear; there is nothing worse than having a fish of a lifetime get away because you had cheap leader material. Lastly, let them go. Muskie are so few that it is important to release them once caught. They can live as long as humans, and you would not want someone killing you for fun after surviving for 30 years in the wild, respect these fish in the same way.