One of the best ways to catch fish is by trolling. Trolling covers water and allows anglers to vary their baits at different depths to find their target species. Whether you are a musky, walleye or salmon angler it is a good chance that you do troll. Learning to troll is more than just dragging lures behind the boat in hopes of hearing your reel scream. There are ways to troll effectively. For some anglers trolling is boring and not enjoyable whether they are catching fish or not. For others it is the only way to go. As for myself, fishing is fishing and if trolling, casting, jigging or if watching bobbers is catching fish then count me in. The great part of musky trolling is it all starts with the roar of the drag from a reel and you don’t know if it is 5lbs or 50lbs.
For anglers who have learned to troll there are techniques used to produce fish. Speed, depth and lure selection play an important role in catching fish. Once this pattern has been found catching fish becomes much easier.
Musky fishing can be a bit more complicated due to the lures used. Musky baits must be fished to learn where they run in the water column. There is no Precision Guide to musky baits, but there is one for smaller walleye type crank baits. One must spend time on the water testing baits to see how deep they will run. Like anything else experience counts and there is nothing like time on the water.
There are numerous baits to be used for musky fishing and each lake or body of water seems to have a preference. I am a crank bait troller when it comes to musky fishing. Sure you can troll large in-line spinners or spoons but I like ones that look like a fish. Many of the large companies have musky baits but there are a number of guys that work in their garages and basements creating some of the best baits to be found. If you look at the number of hardcore musky anglers it really is a small market. I spoke with Jim Saric last year regarding numbers of these anglers and he gave some interesting information about them. Jim is the owner of Musky Hunter Magazine and his demographics were very intriguing. The largest musky trade show in the USA only attracts about 5000 people. Now as you see finding these specialty lures can be a chore.
Many of these handmade lures can be found around Lake St. Clair. With a great proving ground such as Lake St. Clair it is easy to see why many of these baits have come from this part of Ontario and Michigan. These baits include Woodies, Lokes and Gotcha musky baits, all handmade and painted. Lake St. Clair is a musky anglers dream. With relatively no weeds and plenty of muskies looking to tempt, there is probably no better place to field test musky lures.
Musky fishing is musky fishing no matter what body of water you are on. There are a variety of techniques to be used to get a great picture of your trophy. Here on Lake St. Clair the most common technique used to produce muskies is done with the aid of planer boards. Planer boards help spread the lines away from the boat and when you have a large body of water and muskies that like to roam there is no better way to fish.
Although many believe that using planer boards is only for the big boats like a Sportcraft that is not the case. With many new inventions by anglers you can easily add a planer board mast system to your rig. I use a mast by Riviera Trolling Systems that fits right into the seat base at the bow of my Ranger 621. There are a number of different seat bases that can be used and Riviera will have one for your boat.
The nuts and bolts of equipment is similar to other types of trolling gear. Linecounter reels, premium mono line (30 lb test Gamma Fishing Line) and quality terminal tackle. Mono is best suited when using planer board releases. Rods only need to be about 7’ long but durable. If you are not going to use boards then I would suggest using a long 9’ dipsey diver rod. Not only will you cover more water but it will help if you are running more than 2 rods. If working an area where it is not possible to run boards like a weed edge or rock shoal the long rods will work fine. In a situation like this I will run 2 rods 9’ long straight out the side and 2 short 5’ rods angled at the corners.
One unique thing that is common on Lake St. Clair is that steel leaders are not used but heavy fluorocarbon leaders are. They are about 6’ long and are made of 60lb test. Steel leaders reduce the action of a lure and can be seen easily in clear water. Braided lines can be slick and may slip out of a release when pulling larger baits. Remember to carry the tools needed to land a musky for a heathly live release. Last year I noticed a number of newer anglers trying to land muskies with smaller nets and not having a good set of pliers handy or not having any at all. Sure we all started somewhere but these anglers were targeting muskies and should have been better equipped. Joining a musky club is a great place to learn how to catch and release muskies and remember not to hold muskies vertically.
Trolling speeds vary depending on water temperature. I like to keep things in the 3-5 mph area. Rivers may be fished a bit slower but keep it moving, remember you are looking to provoke a strike. Different baits fish better at different speeds and learning this is done only by experience. I like to use straight baits early and late in the season or just after a storm front. It is good to have a selection of baits, both jointed and straight in 6” and 9” size. Colours will vary with water clarity. Greens and yellows always seem to do well for anglers fishing muskies on many bodies of water. Just like salmon and trout lures, musky baits have their own unique names. Such as Round the World Dark Frog, Dog Balls and Purple Haze.
Finding bait is the key to catching muskies. I use my graph to look for break lines, a slight variance of only 1 foot can make a difference. After reviewing my record book catch log and graph from last year I noticed that many of the muskies that I caught all came very near these break lines. As some might know Lake St Clair does not have very many sharp drop offs and looking at my records really surprised me. This indicates that a breakline also attracts other species of fish.
When trolling for muskies I rarely have my lures back more than 50 feet. Most of the time I keep the lures back only 20 or 30 feet. Many of the handmade lures only dive about 2-4 feet without the help of an inline sinker. Having a selection of inline weights varying from 1oz to 1lb will mix up the depths necessary to find the musky. Other baits that dive are just attached to your fluorocarbon leader and set out a short distance. Some diving baits used are the Luhr Jensen Fingerling, Depth Raider and Jakes.
Having a good smooth drag system is essential and having reels that include line alarms are a must. Remembering to use the reel alarm will let you know that you have that “fish on”. When the reel alarm goes off now the action begins and the battle has just begun. By using and following these tips on catching musky your experiences out on the water will be greatly enhanced.
Bob Devine is a charter guide and a member of the Outdoor Writers of Canada. His columns and photo’s are published for Southwestern Ontario Outdoors Magazine, Bob Izumi’s Real Outdoors, Canadian Sportfishing, Outdoor Canada and Canadian Sportsman. For More Information on Bob Devine Charter Talk Guide Service please visit CharterTalk.Com