TV Tips For Your Personal Best

By Jim Saric, Editor

I am pretty fortunate in that I get to chase muskies all across the U.S. and Canada. Like many of you, no matter where I travel, it doesn’t mean the muskies will always cooperate. Filming a television show is different from a “fun” day on the water — there’s pressure to produce each day until the show is completed.

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t have an entourage of boats scouting waters or locating muskies for me. On some of my shoots I fish with guides who are friends. This certainly helps locate the muskies faster, and helps cut filming expenses. However, this really is no different than when any of us go on a musky trip and get some information from friends.

The author with a big tiger musky that became a TV star when it bit.

The author with a big tiger musky that became a TV star when it bit.

My point is that finding the muskies is only part of the equation and we all have to rely upon our skills to respond to conditions on every given day, manage our time, and ultimately trigger muskies to strike. Filming “The Musky Hunter” television show has forced me to improve my time management, because quite often I only have a few days to complete a show. Likewise, my days are shorter than a typical day on the water as there is a lot of daily camera preparation required. And, filming in inclement weather is difficult at best, so that also requires making daily strategy adjustments to cope with weather conditions. Finally, I have been fortunate to fish with some of the top musky anglers across North America and pick up on the subtle nuances each brings to the water each day.

I want to share with you a few things I have learned from them, as well as a few lessons that I have learned while filming that may help you catch your personal best this upcoming season.

Speed In The Heat

The summer of 2014 was certainly not the warmest, and it seemed like it took forever for the water temperatures to climb. I fished a lot of different parts of the country during the spring where it took slower-moving presentations to trigger musky strikes. As we entered summer, water temperatures were cooler than normal and, naturally, I continued with slower bucktail retrieves anticipating that’s what it would take to get the muskies to bite.

My friend, Tom Sullivan, and I were filming a show in early summer and reports were that smaller bucktails and slower retrieves were the norm. Late in the afternoon on the first day, with limited results, we decided to change things up. Although water temperatures were still in the low 60s, air temperatures were in the 80s with high humidity. I felt my own body heating up from the sun and thought maybe the muskies were doing the same, so I switched to a Cowgirl Junior which has two No. 9 blades. I also have some custom models with an extra two ounces of weight which keeps the lure beneath the surface at high speeds.

I decided to ignore the water temperatures and season timing, and respond to the warmth the sun was providing by burning the Juniors to the boat, which resulted in large muskies from the next two spots, including a 52-incher. Tom made the same change and as the weather stayed stable the next couple days, we lit the muskies by matching the summer heat with speed. It was interesting as the slower speeds did trigger a few bites and follows, but the high speed retrieve had the muskies crushing the baits, and the result was they were hooked extremely well.

The Shimano Tranx PG was essential in this case because it allowed us to rapidly increase the speed with large-bladed bucktails with ease. Simply point your rod tip toward the lure, keep it low to the water, and crank. There is no question that this is one piece of equipment that can be a game-changer and is worth every penny.

Remember, when dealing with speed you may need to add more weight to your bucktails to keep them in the water. Pick a few of your favorite colors and get a few custom-made Cowgirls for situations that require more speed. Don’t ignore those situations when the environment is telling you that everything is heating up. When that happens respond with speed, and be ready.

Entry To The 8

The figure-8 has been written about and discussed in hundreds of articles and seminars. In its simplest form, the figure-8 is moving your lure in a figure-8 pattern at boatside after every cast.

Yet, triggering strikes on the 8 is much more than making a large 8 with big turns. Sure that will work, but if you want to increase your catches, change your attitude toward the figure-8 and take the approach that every musky that follows is catchable. We all know that’s not true, but having a “catch them all” attitude can make a difference. I spend a lot of time thinking and analyzing the figure-8 every day on the water, and with every musky that follows. I am constantly searching for a particular movement of the lure that will trigger following muskies.

One thing that I have found effective across the entire musky range is to focus on the entry or transition from the retrieve into the figure-8. It’s important to start the figure-8 sooner with a smoother transition. Eliminate the L-turn at the beginning of the figure-8 and consider executing what I call the “inside-out” transition.

Here’s how it works, if the first turn of the figure-8 is going to be to your right. (Remember to always make your turns away from you, toward the outside.) As the lure approaches the boat start swinging your rod tip to the left (inside) and as the lure enters the figure-8 you turn your rod tip to the right (out), moving the lure into the outside of the first turn. The transition maneuver at the beginning of the figure-8 causes the lure to move to your left and then smoothly move to the right in one jumbo turn to the outside. This gets the musky focused on the lure sooner, which makes it turn earlier than it realizes.

This may seem subtle, and it is, but it’s something that has worked in all types of waters in a variety of conditions. If you can get the musky focused and quickly moving into the first turn it can increase your conversion percentage. Once the musky is committed to the figure-8, that’s when variations of speed and depth in the turns can trigger strikes. However, you first have to get them committed to the figure-8 and focused on the lure. This inside-out move can make it happen.

Obviously, this is where a longer musky rod has a big advantage. My 9-foot-6 Shimano Compre rod really makes this entire move exaggerated and allows a big fish to glide into the first turn of the figure-8 with its sole attention on the lure.

Stay Deep In Clear Water

I grew up fishing clear water for muskies, and love fishing there. Unfortunately, I find myself spending less time fishing in clear water simply because stained water muskies are easier to catch in a wide variety of weather conditions. When filming, my time is limited so I need to concentrate my efforts where I have the highest percentage chance of catching muskies, which often result in trips to stained water. I meet lots of anglers every year who are frustrated with their results on some clear waters. When trying to formulate an answer, I always ask these anglers how deep they position their boat.

Last summer, I filmed with Scott Jaeger, who owns North Shore Lodge on Eagle Lake in Ontario. Although Eagle has both stained and clear water, it is most famous for the big muskies roaming the clearer regions. Spending three days with Scott not only had me laughing, but it reminded me of my days growing up fishing clear waters in Wisconsin. Scott and I spent the majority of time with our boat over 22 to 25 feet of water. This meant when fishing weedy areas, our casts reached only to the edge of the weeds. More importantly, when fishing rocky areas or submerged bars or extensions, the boat was outside of the breakline or dropoff. This deeper boat position allowed us to make contact with muskies that use this deeper breakline, regardless if it’s summer or fall.

Years ago I caught many tournament-winning muskies that were roaming these deeper breaklines. Those who fish stained water are often less focused on the muskies using the deeper breaklines as the majority of the fish are frequently located in shallow cover or the edge of that cover. In clear water, remember to stay deep and resist the temptation to fish shallower. Obviously, there are exceptions, but if you are on a quest to catch a giant, no matter if it’s a smaller Wisconsin lake or a sprawling Canada water, stay away from the deeper break. Visualize fishing for muskies relating to the edge of cover and those using the deeper breakline as a travel route. Keep your boat outside that deeper edge and it doesn’t matter whether you are fishing a bucktail or DepthRaider, you’ll make contact with more big muskies in clear water.

Patience

As musky anglers, we all need to know our strengths and weaknesses. I try not to avoid or run away from my weaknesses, but rather try to get better at a specific technique or approach. However, there are a few situations that still are challenging to master no matter how much time you spend on the water.

The approach to master that will certainly help you boat more muskies is realizing when to camp on a spot or spots, rather than run-and-gun. The key point here is determining when you need to keep working a particular area, rather than continue searching for another “hot” pattern. The most successful musky guides are very good at this. They are very patient and thorough — after all, they fish every day and have the pulse of the system. They know where various packs or schools of muskies exist in their waters, so when conditions are tough they understand that they are fishing near muskies and by spending hours on the spot, sooner or later a window will open and they will get a bite or two.

Personally, this approach is very difficult for me as it’s generally not my preferred method of fishing. Plus, I don’t spend a lot of time on any one water throughout the season. However, without occasionally camping on spots there would be many television shows that would not have been filmed.

So, when should you quit running and simply camp on the spot and beat it to a froth? Not having the luxury of being a guide, as a weekend warrior you can rely upon information gathered from others to inform you a particular area is loaded with muskies, or you can try to read the weather and musky fishing. No matter the time of year you fish, if you wake up to a significant change of weather, particularly cool weather, use it as a signal that “camping” may be the best approach. Start your day out as if conditions are normal and the muskies are active.

As a general rule, if you haven’t made contact with muskies within two hours of fishing during a post-frontal condition or some other major weather change, it’s time to pick a few spots and camp on them. If there doesn’t appear to be any significant change in the weather, but the muskies that were all over a particular spot yesterday seemed to have vanished today, it’s probably time to camp.

Generally, muskies are not going to make drastic locational changes overnight. They are still in the area, it’s just that it’s going to take a different lure or their feeding window may be limited for some unknown reason. If you have prior knowledge about a spot such as this, camping can be an easy choice. Feel free to go fish a couple other areas just to keep the fish honest, but at the end of the day, my money is on the angler with the patience to stick it out and wait for the muskies to bite. It’s grueling, and when I am filming it is gut-wrenching. However, at the end of the day, most likely if you have patience you will prevail.

Now, if you don’t have any prior experience on this water, the muskies are not showing up, and you don’t have any intel on the water from others, my advice is to keep fishing normally. Rather than switching to “camp-mode” in two hours, give yourself at least half to two-thirds of the day. Then pick the two spots that you believe to be the best and stay on them the rest of the day. Just remember that the bite may occur at first dark, so don’t give up. Patience is a virtue.

I am confident much of this will help you catch bigger muskies this season. These are techniques and strategies I use every season on the water while filming the television show. If you want to learn more, just check out “The Musky Hunter” television show airing in your area. Pay attention to what it takes to trigger strikes, both as the weather conditions change and with individual fish at boatside. Most likely, you’ll have to deal with the same situation, and you’ll be able to execute when it matters most.

The author is Editor of Musky Hunter magazine.

Steve Heiting

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