What You Need To Get Started As A Musky Angler

By Steve Heiting

The sport of musky fishing continues to expand with new anglers joining the ranks every year. And what a fantastic time it is to start chasing muskies — stocking by fisheries agencies has established them in waters where they never before existed, and they keep getting bigger thanks to catch and release. There are more and bigger muskies almost everywhere. 

On the downside, never has it been more confusing to start. Information is available from an almost infinite number of sources, with some of it questionable at best. You’ll find that out quickly if you believe everything you see and read on social media! Spring is time to buy the gear you’ll need for the coming season, and with that in mind I offer the following tips. 

Musky fishing keeps growing in popularity because catching big fish is fun! Use Steve’s tips here to get started.

While buying new stuff is always fun, if you’re trying to do this on a budget you don’t need to get new equipment. Musky fishermen are constantly upgrading, so you can readily find bargains through fishing clubs, eBay, and various forms of social media. Musky anglers almost exclusively use baitcasting gear, so that is what we’ll discuss here. And I won’t get into boats because you can fish from shore or by wading, or very simply from a kayak.

• Rods — If you have ever golfed, you know every golf club has a function. Most musky rods are just as technique-specific. Rods function as levers, which means the longer they are the easier it is to cast, manipulate your lures, set the hook, and perform boatside figure-eights. For these reasons, pick a rod measuring at least eight feet long, and a nine-footer is not out of the question. If you want to start with one rod, a medium-heavy to heavy action rod will suffice for many lure applications. Choose a rod that is designed for musky fishing — its backbone will better handle the abuse dished out by big baits, whereas you’ll take more of the abuse if you try to get by with rods designed for pike or bass. A new musky rod will cost at least $100 and some sell for five times that amount.

• Reels — Big baits, long rods, and no-stretch line (more about that later) put incredible stress on reels, so it’s best to look for quality here. Do your research and pick a reel that is highly-rated by users. You’ll want what the makers call a 300 or 400 size. Reels have different retrieve ratios, which is the number of times its spool revolves for each crank of the handle. A reel with a retrieve ratio of around 5:1 will work for almost every application, so choose this for your first reel. A retrieve ratio of 4:1 is slow speed, and 6:1 is high speed. You’ll probably add reels with these ratios at another time.

• Line — Perhaps the single-greatest improvement in musky gear in the last quarter-century was the introduction of no-stretch braided line made of Spectra fiber. Zero stretch provides better lure control and hooksets. This line is incredibly thin, so you must choose your line according to its diameter rather than breaking strength. Wider diameter better absorbs the shock of a backlash (everybody gets them) and prevents line from digging into the spool when under pressure. Most musky anglers use 80-pound test braid, which has the diameter of 18-pound test monofilament. Some use 65-pound test for smaller baits, while some use as great as 100-pound test when fishing areas with lots of rocks or woody debris that could damage the line.

• Leaders — Muskies have sharp teeth, and if you don’t use a leader you will regret it when a fish takes your whole lure in its mouth and cuts your line. Many beginning anglers try to get by cheaply with leaders when they should do the opposite. Cheap leaders may seem fine in a straight pull test, but their snap or crimp may twist open when a large musky is thrashing at boatside. The best leaders such as those made by Stealth Tackle (stealthtackle.net) are a little more expensive because they have quality components which won’t break or pull apart.

As you become immersed in the sport you’ll learn how specific leader styles work better with certain bait styles. I use seven different leader styles depending on my presentation at the moment. A solid wire leader with a ball bearing swivel and a locking snap that tests at least 124 pounds, and measuring six to nine inches in length, will get you started.

• Lures — Lures are tools and not magic. Although avid musky fishermen may have hundreds if not thousands of them, you can start with less than a half-dozen and have the water column covered. Choose a surface lure with a spinning tail prop, a bucktail (a large spinner with deer hair, marabou or flashabou on its tail), a minnowbait (a crankbait with flat sides), a diving crankbait, and a jerkbait, and you’re ready. Choose your first lures with natural colors such as perch, sucker, white, silver, etc., because they’ll work in clear or dark water. You can always add brighter colors later. Buy a small flat file and learn to sharpen hooks.

• Release tools — With more musky anglers, catch and release has saved and improved the sport. Your release tools are as important as anything else mentioned in this article.

Buy a net with a deep, treated bag, bigger than you think you’ll need. A long-nose pliers, measuring at least 11 inches long, is needed for unhooking fish while keeping your hands clear of their teeth. A mini bolt-cutter is essential to cut hooks when muskies are impaled by multiple hooks. You’ll need split ring pliers and extra hooks to replace those you’ve cut. Jaw spreaders come in handy with deeply-hooked fish. Finally, choose some kind of gloves to wear while unhooking your fish — I use microfiber gloves which provide protection and dexterity.

A musky is said to be the “fish of 10,000 casts.” If you’re outfitted correctly, you’ll find success in this sport much more regularly.

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