Few realize how fortunate we are in Indiana. We have some of the best muskie fisheries in the country right out our back door. I had the chance to go fishing with muskie hunter, Chris Walker. While fishing was tough I did get two fish in the boat, which, instead of climaxing a lifelong dream, it made me hunger for more of these massive toothy critters. Like many other newbies, I came away with more questions than answers. I recently caught up with Chris, and he gave me the answers to the questions posed by Hoosier Muskies.
1. Every article I have read says to hunt muskie on the outside edge of vegetation, yet you are wildly successful targeting muskie suspended over deep water. What do you know that other experts aren’t telling? They will move shallow to spawn, but once that is done they follow the baitfish back out into deeper water, and suspend two to twelve feet down. The muskie we fished for were targeting balls of bluegill in deep water.
2. Many experts claim smaller bass-size stick baits work fine on muskie, yet every lure on your boat was over 8” long. Why? When over open water, you want to use a larger bait that really moves a lot of water so the muskie can sense it on their lateral line and key in on it.
3. If a newbie like me is interested in becoming a muskie hunter, what gear should we start out with? You never want a weak link in the chain. The most common mistake is to use a cheap leader and hook it to a thirty-dollar bait and try to catch a forty-five inch muskie. I prefer to use eighty-pound braided line, not because the muskie is going to break your line; if you rat-nest and suddenly stop your line with a big bait you’re going to snap lighter lines.
4. The gear you use sees much more use and abuse than the average fisherman. What do you use? I like a heavy-action eight or nine-foot St. Croix muskie rod, eighty pound test braided line, a one-hundred thirty pound test fluorocarbon leader, and a Shimano Calcutta reel. The reel has to stand up to casting and working big baits. You’ll end up spending more in the long run if you go cheap.
5. Articles claim a muskie hunter should have a bucktail rig and a stick bait rig. What is the difference? A bucktail rig needs to be more limber to throw lighter baits. A stick bait rig is usually shorter and has more backbone to throw and work heavy stick baits. If you use a more limber rod, it’s not going to work the bait well.
6. If you were limited to three lures, what would they be? I like top waters. I use a walk-the-dog type bait, like a Zara Spook, but larger. I also like a double cowgirl-style bait, which is a large, double-bladed bucktail. Since they have come out, they have won more tournaments and caught more trophy fish than any bait on the market. The last would be a big swim bait like a Bull Dawg or Kickin’ Minnow. You can’t beat a big rubber bait on Indiana fish.
7. Every tackle shop in America sells steel leaders for pike and muskie, yet you use fluorocarbon. Why? The fluorocarbon leader lasts much longer, without kinking.
8. I normally catch fish twenty to twenty-eight inches, yet we didn’t catch anything smaller than thirty-eight inches.What is your secret? We were targeting bigger fish out over open water. Smaller fish hang near weeds and shallower water so they won’t get eaten by their bigger sisters.
9. Muskies have a habit of following a bait and striking right at the boat. You did a study on this. What was that percentage? Forty-seven percent, so almost half of the fish hit at the boat. By not doing a figure eight, you are missing half your fish.
10. Standard muskie tactics call for doing a figure eight at the end of each cast to entice those followers. Any advice on that? Keep your circles as big as possible. That’s the biggest mistake people make. Big fish can’t turn around and bite their own tail. You also want to speed up in the turns, slow down on the straights, and work the bait up and down in the water column.
11. When using circle hooks on live bait, you’ve seen too many folks try to set the hook too soon and lose the fish. What is the proper technique? With a circle hook sticking up though the bait’s nose let the fish go about forty-five seconds so they start moving away from you. Give the pole a light sweep so the fish feels tension. They will jerk their heads in the opposite direction and pull that circle hook right into the corner of their mouth, and it is a caught fish.
12. What size and brand of circle hook do you prefer? I use a Gamakatsu 4/0 to a 6/0 with live bluegills and smaller suckers.
13. If you were going to a muskie lake you have never been to before, how would you prepare? I am going to find out what forage they have. I also need to know what they are going to be doing, as in pre-spawn, spawn, post-spawn. You can call local guides, most will give you the information you need, even if you don’t hire them. Lastly, get a map of the lake and break it down so you can target the areas they are going to be in that time of year and what they are going to be eating.
The author with his second muskie of the day.
14. What is you most exciting technique? Top-water, by far. Muskie can blow a ten-foot hole in the water or jump six-feet in the air and do back-flips.
15. If a muskie snaps at a top water lure and misses, like they often do, should I keep reeling or pause the bait? Keep going, but don’t set the hook and jerk the bait away from the fish.
16. What is the most common mistake you see clients make? They have a follow and don’t go into their figure eight. They stop reeling, point at the fish and say, “OMG, there’s one!” and the fish looses interest and swims away. Catch the fish first, and then be amazed!
17. If you could be on any muskie lake in North America right now, where would it be? In Indiana it would be Webster, Tippecanoe, the Barbee Chain, and Bass Lake in southern Indiana. They are loaded with big muskies. Out of the state, it would be Lake St. Clair. You can have ten muskie days with some of them pushing fifty-three inches.
18. Is there a difference between the way muskies act in Lake Webster, Lake Huron, or Leech Lake? Yes, the muskies here in Indiana have more competition so they are more likely to bite. In other states there might be one muskie per acre. In Webster, there’s seven muskies per acre.
19. What is the best time of year to catch that once in a lifetime fish? Pre-spawn. You’re going to have females loaded with eggs and actively chasing bait fish.
20. Does catching muskie ever get old? No, it just makes you feel old. Throwing big baits and fighting big fish takes its toll. I have carpel tunnel in my hands, shoulder issues, and knee problems from kneeling down doing figure eights. I’m only forty, but I feel like I’m eighty! It also mentally wears you out. If you get twenty-seven follows a day and none of them bite, it wears you down emotionally.
21. Fishing for shoreline muskie seems impossible. Any advice for those muskie hunters without a boat. Because of flooding, muskie are now in the Tippecanoe River and below the Oakdale Dam. Muskie are a river fish, so yes, you can catch them from shore along a river or below the dams. People also catch them off their docks using live suckers.
22. You practice catch and release. How do you convince a client to let that once-in-a-lifetime fish go? I let people know up front I practice catch and release only. If you don’t like that, don’t get in the boat. Also, replicas are so good these days you don’t need to keep the fish. Joe Fittante (www.fittantereplicas.com) is considered one of the best in the world, and he will match your fish to a tee, and you won’t be able to tell the difference, plus the fish is there to catch again.
23. What have been the major advancements in musky fishing since you have been fishing? Rods and leaders. Old rods weighed a ton and wouldn’t give the action the baits needed. Now they’re lighter, stronger, and better. It also used to be you couldn’t get strong leaders, now you can get one-hundred thirty pound fluorocarbon leaders that work great.
24. What is your most memorable muskie? Every one that my clients catch is memorable. Plus, I catch muskie in Lake Huron that go forty-eight to fifty-five pounds every year.
25. If you were King of Indiana for a day, what one regulation would you change? I would raise the minimum size from thirty-six to forty-eight inches to make Indiana lakes trophy fisheries.