Simply Unforgettable: Longtime Lures Overlooked By Today’s Anglers
By Tony Grant, Editor
Looking in my tackle box these days seems to be a bigger task than during my early years of guiding. Over the last 10 years the musky market has been flooded with bigger, brighter, flashier lures that raise the curiosity of nearly all musky anglers. While most of these baits have proven themselves worthy, newer isn’t necessarily better. Old favorites that we tend to forget still have their place and time, often being just as productive if not more.
Probably the most overlooked presentation today is the jerkbait, yes this technique has literally put hundreds of muskies in my boat for clients and me over the years. My favorite thing about such lures is their unpredictable action — I want an anything goes reaction with each pull of the my rod.
My all time favorites are the Sledge from Sledgehammer Lures and the Burt from Drifter Tackle. Probably the most unique thing about these lures is their buoyancy, with their greatest asset the ability to rise quickly when needed over weeds or lay-down timber. Both baits have put giants in my boat in the spring of the year, and their back-up-in-your-face motion creates an easy target for big muskies that otherwise have spawning on their mind. The Squirrely Burt has always been a fall favorite of mine, and many anglers find tremendous production trolling the big Sledge.
My best tip for working this type of jerkbait is rod selection, because what works best is different for every angler. I personally like a longer rod with a softer tip that helps me get the bait a little deeper, while other anglers prefer a shorter, stiffer rod. Try working the lures with different rods to determine which one gives you the action you are looking for.
Tossing big rubber has become one of the most prominent methods used by today’s musky angler, and baits from 10 to 16 ounces are commonplace in the tackle box of many fishermen. However, the biggest complaint I hear from many anglers is they fatigue quickly with these giant lures, which leaves them fishing fewer hours. Fewer hours generally mean fewer fish. The problem is anglers often believe bigger is always better with rubber, but that’s not necessarily true. My clients and I found great success with the regular-size Bull Dawg by Musky Innovations as far back as the mid 1990s — well before the larger versions where even made — and still regularly catch muskies on these less-fatiguing baits. Whether north or south, I get more casts out of my clients over the course of the day when mixing in the regular size Bull Dawgs with the larger versions.
Glide baits have always been a big producer for my clients and me dating back nearly 30 years. Their slower, minimal-forward movement may be your highest percentage choice at times. Deadhead Glide baits have always been one of my favorites; the side-to-side motion is deadly under colder water temperatures during the early season and again in late fall, whether I’m targeting weeds or timber. A stiffer, shorter rod is a must for getting the best movement and hook sets needed with gliders. I like the Elk River ERX 7-foot-3 model, and simple taps of the rod tip create a fantastic pull out of the bait as it glides right to left.
A lure that is easy to work and has a great history of putting muskies in the boat is the Hellbender crankbait by Heddon, which for many years was on the top five bait list for southern reservoir anglers. The angler must add most the action to most crankbaits but not true with the Hellbender, which has a sporadic movement by simply reeling it back to the boat. Cranking them over deep weeds and tipping the tops can result in some amazing action, and their ability to run through timber with minimal hang- ups is second to none. Their buoyancy allows the bait to readily rise up out of trouble when cranked into the timber. Trolling Hellbenders around weeds at slower speeds around 3 mph has been a consistent producer, but they’re even better when trolling timber.
My most productive single lure over my fishing and guiding career has been the Grim Reaper 1-ounce spinnerbait. Not only is it simple to fish, but its versatility is second to none— it can be productive with a simple straight retrieve, slow-rolled, trolled, or just bubbled on the surface. In the first ever PMTT event on Cave Run Lake in 1999, my partner Don Pfeiffer and I trolled Grim Reapers just under the surface over weeds to capture two muskies in the last hour of the tournament to earn a top five finish. My biggest musky to date of over 45 pounds was taken on this classic.
Last but not least on my list of overlooked lures is the buzzbait. With the amazing number of companies offering prop-style topwaters, these subtle, smaller-profile surface baits have become less popular, which is unfortunate. How many times have you been on the water during what seems to be prime topwater time with no results? The answer may be as simple as a change in sound and or water displacement, and a buzzbait may be the answer.
We all have our favorite lures which are consistently the first to come out of our box, but making a change to a forgotten bait may be the answer your next time out. Brush the cobwebs from some of these lures and I’ll bet you’ll find awesome results.
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