Friday, June 26, 2015

Tribute to a Fellow Musky Nut

Throughout the history of angling, there have been people who contribute to our sport directly and indirectly, sharing information in an unselfish manner that help others to enjoy our sport.  The motive most of the time isn't to gain fame or fortune (not that there's anything wrong with that), but rather to pass on things that help others.  Why?  Because it feels good to do it, and people appreciate it.  As I reflect on others that have helped me over the years, one person that comes to mind is a guy that passed away a couple months ago, Tom Pinckney.

Years ago, during the early years of internet forums, Tom, a police officer who later retired after 32 years of service, started and maintained a fishing forum titled Toothycritters, and many people knew him from his user name, Muskiekid.  Not only did he share his knowledge about fishing for tiger muskies and other toothy fish, he created a forum where others could share fishing techniques and other information.  At the time, there were few musky websites in existence, and his may have been the only one dedicated to tiger muskies and the fishing for them.  Tom was a pioneer in that regard.

I joined the site late and didn't really contribute much because bass fishing dominated most of my fishing time back then.  But, my brother, Kyle (who also passed away a few years ago, tribute here), was a regular on the forum.  And, I indirectly benefitted from the forum that Tom created through my brother teaching me what he learned.  My brother really was into walleye fishing at the time, and tiger muskies intrigued him as well.

Well, after ten years of running the very popular site, Tom shut it down due to people that trolled the site to cause trouble (a common problem with many fishing forums).  Most people appreciate what you build, but there are always a few people that like to stir the pot.  It became too much to manage and not fun any more for him, so down it went.

His take on the value of such a website was, in his words,
"Educating the public on a site like this is a good thing.  We learn about CPR (Catch, Photo and Release) and perhaps those that think Muskies are bad for Bass fishing (not true) will learn something and perhaps fish for them themselves."  
Obviously, Toms favorite fish to target was the tiger musky, a hybrid between the pure muskellunge and a northern pike (Esox masquinongy X Esox lucius).  Some of these occur naturally, but those stocked by Maryland and other states are offspring of the male northern pike crossed with a female pure muskellunge.  When Maryland stocked them in some of our lakes, he could often be found trolling for them.  That was his passion.  A couple years before he passed away, he purchased a new boat with the intent of improving his ability to troll for muskies and perhaps expand his range.
One of Tom's boat side muskies.
One problem with targeting tiger muskies in Maryland began when a disease,Viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS), spread throughout hatcheries from states where they were purchased.  Fear of spreading disease to Maryland's waters caused the DNR to basically halt the tiger musky stocking program.  Although tiger muskies live as many as a dozen years and grow very quickly, they are sterile and therefore don't reproduce, leaving the fishery in a state of decline as years pass.

Little Seneca Lake in Maryland was one of his favorite places to fish, and the once plentiful tigers became rare and tougher to catch along with the decline of the stocking program.  Tom fished a few other lakes nearby in Maryland and Pennsylvania as well.  I believe that this was also part of his motivation to upgrade his boat.

When Tom started fishing for tiger muskies, he said it took him three months, fishing four or more days a week before he caught his first tiger musky.  He said it took him that long to figure them out, learn the water, and figuring out patterns that work.  Now that is what I call dedication and determination!  But he felt that catching one tiger musky was worth the effort.  I feel the same way.

Tom's thoughts on catching 'em:
"IMHO if you match the "hatch" of the body of water you are fishing with color and the present size of the bait fish (and go larger as the bait grows throughout the season) you will catch Muskies. Many Musky fishermen downsize in the early season and go larger as the season progresses into the fall. You also have to put those lures in the proper position at the right speed to trigger a strike. I believe that Muskies live in the same places as Bass, but if you use larger lures in those same places, you will catch Muskies and as a bonus - catch very large Bass. You may also catch Stripers using the same tactics. Big fish eat big baits (most of the time)." 
Although Tom preferred trolling, he also enjoyed casting for tiger muskies.  His favorite lures were eight inch Believers, eight inch Partycrashers, Super Shad Raps and the larger jointed Rapalas.   His favorite colors were perch or black/silver (or black gray).  He said the key was confidence, find a couple lures that you have confidence in and you'll be more successful with them than any other lures.  I agree with that assessment.  Everyone has a go to lure when times are tough.  After a while, those increase in number and you adapt to various conditions until you have a real arsenal.  One thing that Tom frequently added in many of his posts was,
"Muskies eat whatever they want!!"
Tom's personal best tiger musky was a 44 incher.  He actually caught two that size.  He caught his biggest at Little Seneca Lake using a Jointed Rapala.
Tom posted on forums often sharing tips on various musky fishing methods and tactics.  I'm not going to expand on those.  But one tip that I felt was really helpful to a non-trolling guy like me was this one:
"Put your rod tip UNDERWATER and put something in your line (as mentioned a swivel wtih tag end) to catch the debris."
Now Tom wasn't the only one to do this, just about anyone that I know now that trolls does the same thing.  But, the first time that I heard about it, it was his post in one musky fishing forum.  Little things like that go a long way, especially for guys like me that have a thirst to learn and soak up those tips like a sponge.  I really appreciated that.

Although I never met Tom personally, I felt as though from a fishing standpoint that he was in our musky "brotherhood", being local to me and sharing the same fishing forums.  I also emailed and sent forum PMs to share info and see how he was doing.  We talked about fishing together at one time, but never had the chance.  Now, I regret missing that opportunity.

Tom passed away unexpectedly at the age of 70 on March 2, 2015.  Click here to see his obituary.

I have several friends that I've fished with that knew Tom, which really showed me much about the man that he was.  He was a friend to many, loved to share his passion for chasing tiger muskies, and was a stand up guy.  Tom was a long time member of Muskies Inc, Three Rivers Chapter 16 (Pittsburgh), and I'm sure he had plenty of friends from that association too.  I would also like to thank Joe Fabian, a close fishing pal of Tom's, for sharing some information about Tom with me and inspiring me to write this post.

My heart goes out to Tom's family on his passing.  I miss him as do my fellow musky anglers.  I feel that the only thing more that I can say, if I had to say one thing, to Tom would be, thank you!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Glide Your Way to More Muskies!

When chasing muskies, I’m not going to tell you that using one particular style of lure is better than another, because, as you may have discovered while musky fishing, or for any species for that matter, is that just about any lure can shine given the right place and right time.  But there are times when fishing a glider that you’d think that it’s the only lure that you need in your box.  They're versatile and can be fished many different ways given right conditions, which is, quite frankly, often.

There are many types of gliders out there, sometimes referred to as glide baits or jerkbaits on the on-line tackle stores, and many can be productive.  There are many mass produced commercially sold gliders that are very effective.  Generally, these baits are a bit less expensive than the custom made baits, based on the time it takes to make them and their materials.  But no matter what type you decide to purchase, each one seems to have its own personality and way to trigger muskies to bite.

Some popular commercially produced gliders include those made by Phantom, ERC (Esox Research), the River Run Manta, and the Musky Mania Magic Maker among many others.
Here are a few commercially made gliders along with a custom made Hot Tail (bottom left).
The top glider is the Hellhound in their walleye pattern.  The bottom lure is a custom made lure called the Secret Agent by the CIA Lure Company (link and info below), a soft version of a glider.  They come with a nice attachment for the tail to give it some extra flash and action, not pictured here.
You can also try to obtain custom made handmade gliders from a variety of people in the musky world.  Some sell theirs commercially, and others guys pretty much make them for fun and are lucky to break even on their costs.  Either way, these baits can be pricey, but you can purchase effective baits that maybe the muskies in your area haven't seen before.  And sometimes, these guys can make a customized color to suit your needs.  Given that fact that these guys make these lures one at a time often with spare time when they aren't fishing, they're well worth an extra dollar or two.  And let me tell you, that I appreciate their efforts for sure.

Three guys that I know that make outstanding gliders can be found on Facebook.  Tony Ashby’s Hot Tail is a big hit with many anglers around the country discovering how effective his gliders are.  Tony’s lures are easy to work, have a great wobble on the fall, and come in a nice array of colors.  Tony puts a lot of time into his lures and boy do they catch fish!  His Facebook page can be found here:  Hot Tail Gliders.

Tony Ashby sporting a fat healthy musky caught on his very own Hot Tail Glider.
This musky T-boned this walleye color Hot Tail!
Tony has several different sizes of Hot Tails, three of which are shown here.  The top is the magnum, middle the regular size, and the bottom is a smaller size.  Tony also makes a version that doesn't have the soft tail, and has an extra treble hook if you prefer that.  I have a few of those too, but none pictured here.
These are variations of the Hot Tail Walleye color.   The top one was the original design, the middle one was a more recent design, and the newest design is below.  They all look great in the water and catch fish, and I'm glad to have the variety.
The top glider is a new design by Tony, the Humpback Hot Tail, in dark walleye.  The middle one is the sucker pattern, and the bottom one is black with red flake.  By the way, toothy critters will eventually tear the tails, but they're easy to replace.  I've used either ribbon tail saltwater grub tails or Kalin's six inch Mogambo Grub tails as replacements.  You can also customize the look on the water too by doing that!
Another awesome glider is the Apache.  Company owner Tim Jedrejczyk, who also taught some of us the concept of the "death pause", really puts a lot of effort into the look and feel of this glider, and it’s an awesome addition to my glider arsenal.  They are heavier than most gliders, easy to work, and also really catch fish.  They have a very nice wobble on the fall and are great for doing the “death pause” (discussed below).  You can find Tim’s glider here:  Apache Gliders.
Check out this pig of a musky that Tim caught on his H&H Custom Muskie Lures "Apache".  What a fish!
This musky fell for one of Tim's Apaches!  
I have three Apache colors.  The top is the walleye color, middle is firetiger, and the bottom is Lac Seul Perch.  These lures are fun to work, run a little deeper than most gliders, and really look awesome in the water.  They actually come with a very strong saltwater hook and I temporarily swapped them out one day while on the boat because I forgot my hook sharpener that day, but have since put them back on.
Both of these custom made gliders are a part of my fishing arsenal, and each one provides a slightly different presentation, and both are worth having in your musky tackle box, and even better, attached to the end of your leader.

All of the gliders mentioned above are hard baits, but there is one lure maker that designed a soft bodied glider, the Secret Agent, that also has a nice wobble on the fall, and extra attraction with a rather unique tail.  I think it’s great too because if a musky bites down on this bait, the fish will feel mostly the softness of the lure and may hang onto it longer.  You can try to obtain these gliders via this Facebook page (ask for Don):  CIA Lure Company (Confidence in Action).

There are many more custom gliders on the market.  You can find them doing internet searches or even on eBay.  Some guys make and stock them, some are made to order, so delivery dates might not be as quick as a commercial product.  My advice would be that if you order one, to be patient, as these guys have day jobs and they do this on the side, and they put a ton of time and effort into their product.  Each hand made glider is almost like a work of art.  And they really like when someone catches a fish on their lure, and pictures sent to them are much appreciated.

Gliders come in a wide variety of sizes and colors.  Some that rattle, some that don’t, some that sink faster than others, some that wobble on the fall, and others that don’t, some with soft plastic tails and others that don’t have them.  And they all work.  It’s these variations that can give you a wide range of techniques to choose from.  And each can be an effective tool at one time or another.  For me, learning how to fish a glider was really a revelation when it came to my outlook on musky fishing.  If you haven't fished one before, and you're into musky fishing, then you owe it to yourself to pick a couple of them up and give them a try.

In a nutshell, these are walk the dog style subsurface lures.  Some run deeper than others too, so having a few different brands could help you.  How?  Perhaps you’ve had recent success working an ERC Hellhound, but on this particular day, the muskies don’t seem to be interested in that presentation.  Having one that, perhaps, runs a bit deeper or wobbles more on the fall, or perhaps has a tantalizing soft tail, might be the ticket to triggering that rare musky strike.
Ken Briggs poses with a nice rainy day musky caught on an ERC Hellhound.  Hellhounds are easy to work to get that nice walk the dog action.
The methods used to work these lures vary from one angler to another, but the common theme is to alternate your retrieve hand on the reel with pauses and reel turns, along with twitching the rod tip to create alternating periods of slack and taught line during your retrieve.  If you've had experience fishing a walk the dog topwater for bass, like a Heddon Zara Spook, the retrieve and cadence are similar.

Some lures are easier to work than others, but after a while, with practice you will easily figure out the cadence for each brand.  Some guys hold and work their fishing rods on this retrieve in front, twitching up and down, others hold to the side and twitch to the side, while still others hold their rod tips up and almost jig them.  No matter how you do it, the muskies will react to a bait that has a good side to side movement.  And, even then, when it doesn't seem to work like you think it should, muskies may still hit it.  They don't look at it and say, "well, it isn't walking the dog".  Rather, they see the lure as something moving and as prey.
Jeremy Tyson, co-founder of the Facebook page, Keystone Outdoor Addiction, proves that tiger muskies love Hot Tails too.  Check out this fat tiger musky, what a beauty!
Shawn Reardon netted this tiger musky after it slammed a Musky Mania Magic Maker.   These smaller gliders are perfect for chasing tigers or post spawn pure muskies, and they're easy to work to get that walk the dog action.
There are varying opinions on the type of leader and terminal tackle to use, and even the type of rod or reel.  Some musky anglers have rods built just for fishing gliders and other jerk baits.  I found that I've been able to throw all of these on each of my musky set ups (XXH, XH and MH) without any issues, but the larger gliders are a bit too heavy for use with a bass flipping or pitching rod, but it can be done.  The heavier rods are more for you having leverage to toss big baits than it is for fighting the fish (although, getting the fish to the net is better for their survival chances and a clean release).

I don't have dedicated reels, but some guys like a quicker line pick up so that they can take up the slack easier when walking the dog.

As far as leaders go, I’ve come to like the wire leaders without swivels when using gliders.  I think that they help the action and the fish aren’t shy about the wire at all.  But really, I'm not sure that it matters a whole lot.  I've used them with regular fluorocarbon musky leaders and caught fish.  The muskies really don't give a darn what leader you use.  But if you don't use one designed for muskies, they will bite you off and steal your expensive musky lures.

Gliders, for the most part, will work the upper third of the water column, and are generally effective in the eight to ten foot depths or less.  For ones that sink and wobble, they can be effective in deeper water too.  But, really, you never know, as muskies can be cruising the surface and as long as they can see your lure, they may hit it.

I was fishing a glider over thirty feet of water one day about two casts from shore, and was moving to another shallower weedy spot, standing on my trolling motor at a pretty fast speed and had a musky come up and slam my glider.  I wasn't even working it, the Hot Tail was wobbling side to side as the boat moved, almost trolling.  I couldn’t believe it!  Unfortunately, that fish came unbuttoned at the boat.  I guess a couple lessons here, that these crazy fish might be cruising near the surface over deep water where a glider could be quite tempting for them, always be ready for a bite, and they aren't always picky about your retrieve!

Gliders, as I mentioned above, can be very versatile.  How?  If you’re using one that sinks nicely, you can cover various depths by the speed of your retrieve.  Slower, longer pulls and glides will allow you to work the lure deeper, while quicker walk the dog moves will allow you to work the lure just below the surface.  They also give you options for a boat side presentation that others may not.

Remember my last article about doing figure eights?  Well, you can certainly do figure eights with these as you can do with any lure.  But, with some practice, you can even do walk the dog figure eights at boat side.  Or, you can twitch the rod tip and make the lure move side to side in place, literally.

The Death Pause...
Another boat side maneuver is to do what is locally known as a “death pause”, when you stop your retrieve and let the lure flutter down, then jig the lure back up and let it fall again.  I really like the soft tail gliders when doing the death pause, because that tail, in my humble opinion, provides a nice tantalizing action on the fall.
Jeremy with a very fat musky caught on a walleye color Hot Tail Glider.  Jeremy really takes glider fishing to a new level by using the "death pause" and jigging to trigger muskies to bite at boat side.
All of these boat side maneuvers can work and trigger a strike, and you should do one form of these after each and every cast.  Why?  A musky can follow and you may not see them especially if they follow deep or in murky water.  But, if you see a fish following your glider, you might be able to trigger a strike well before they reach the boat with, say, a death pause, or maybe start the walk the dog retrieve after performing a death pause.  The sky and your imagination are the limits with these lures.
Mike Schiffbauer shows that big musky gliders can catch trophy fish of many species, including this 31 1/2 inch, fourteen pound walleye that engulfed an Apache.  What an awesome catch!  By the way, gliders are also great for catching Northern Pike.
Heck, and there are other ways to work these baits.  I see no reason that you can’t cast some of the heavier sinking ones out, let them sink a bit, and jig them back to the boat in deeper water.  Why not?  I doubt the muskies are down there criticizing us for going against the grain of what others might be doing.  If you find that something puts a fish in the boat, then it’s just another new technique at your disposal.

One more thing that I like about gliders is that, for the most part, aren't taxing on your body.  Often, after tossing size 10 double bladed bucktails for an extended period of time, I'll switch to tossing a glider to give myself a bit of a break.  Gliders are easier on me to work, and the change of a lure now and then might be just the ticket when that feeding window opens.

Gliders are effective during all months of the year, cold or warm, as long as you have open water (and muskies are in season).  So, get out there and glide for muskies!  Below, more musky glider fishing eye candy...I can hear that fat musky mumbling and drooling in a Homer Simpson type voice... "mmmmmmmm... ggrrglll....gliders..."
Rocky Droneburg sporting a thick musky caught on a Hot Tail.  Rocky has really mastered catching muskies on gliders.

Nate Kahle with a beautiful musky caught on a Hot Tail.
Jeremy Tyson caught his personal best, a fat monster of a musky, doing the death pause and jigging a walleye color Hot Tail at boat side.

Bob Franko (BlackJack Guide Service) hooked up on this beautiful 47 inch musky after if followed about ten feet deep in gin clear water, enticing her to bite with four jigs/death pauses of a Hot Tail.
Jeremy with a beauty that inhaled a walleye color Apache.

Figure 8 Muskies!

The vast majority of seasoned musky anglers believe in finishing each cast with some sort of boat side maneuver.  The most common technique is known among musky anglers as the "figure 8".  Basically, at the end of each cast, as your lure approaches the boat, you lower your rod tip into the water and keep the lure moving in the pattern of an 8, making each turn and pass as wide as possible.
If I can put one fish in the boat like this one each year because of my efforts performing figure 8's, then it's worth it.
Muskies tend to follow lures for long distances, often just curious, but a quick change in direction or speed on the retrieve could tempt a curious fish and make them bite.  When you reach the end of your cast, your technique at boat side could put a fish of 10,000 casts into the boat.

Muskies are supreme predators in most of their range.  They don't have a whole lot to be afraid of like other fish.  And they don't seem to fear boats all that much either.  In fact, they often use the boat as cover on a follow and drift with the boat, making the figure 8 even more important.

Does it have to be a complete 8?  No, but that's up to you.  Everyone that musky fishes on a regular basis will do some sort of movement at the end to provoke a strike from a follower, either seen or unseen.  In gin clear water, maybe an L pattern would suffice.  If you have a hot fish following, you would be served to keep trying the eight or something to keep the lure moving to get the musky to bite.  Sometimes, muskies will chase though many turns.
Ed Lewandoski performing a nice figure 8 in anticipation of that ferocious boat side strikes that muskies are known for.  Notice how deep he's plunging the lure into the maneuver.  That's about a nine foot fishing rod.
In my case, I've been targeting muskies for two years now, so I'm far from a veteran.  But, I fish with some really good, experienced musky anglers and am a quick study.  I've been doing figure 8's or other boat side lure maneuvers religiously for my entire musky fishing experience.

For the past two years, however, the muskies didn't reward me with a single fish on a figure 8.  Yet, I still do figure 8's regardless of how tired I am and on every single cast.  I've been in the habit of not stopping at one either, often doing two or three if I know that the spot that we're fishing is a good spot.
Although this male musky didn't strike during a figure 8, he did strike right at the boat.  I never saw this fish either, so if it didn't hit when it did, a figure 8 would have been a good possibility to get him.
On many occasions, I've had hot muskies follow through several figure eights, gills flared, nosing the lure, swiping at it and even launching over the lures while missing completely.

Two weeks ago, I was fishing with my friend Ed, an avid and especially skillful musky angler, and we were having a relatively uneventful day.  We had fished all morning through very productive holes without even a sniff.  We hadn't seen a fish.

We were working some deeper water on a pretty good fishing hole while Ed and I had a discussion about figure eights.  Such discussions are common when the action isn't.  And at the end of that bit of talk, I said something to the effect of, "I've had plenty of follows from hot fish through multiple figure eights, but never even a strike, much less a fish."

At that time, I was tossing a walleye color Jake crankbait.  I'd crank it down, jerk it a few times back to the boat, and when the lure was close enough, I'd reach down and poke my rod tip deep into the water and perform a figure eight.  Several casts later, after one cast while still chatting, I was performing a figure 8, and was actually through my second one on that cast, and I felt a jolt on the end of my rod.

The chatter stopped and I set the hook and yelled, "Fish!"  All hell broke loose as the fish went ballistic and launched out of the water.  I saw that the fish wasn't all that big, so I kept full pressure on the fish.  I knew that if it was a big fish, that I'd have to hit the thumb bar and be ready to feed her line.  After a short fight, my friend Ed sealed the deal by putting the fish in the net.  The fish wasn't big, but fat for it's size.  But that's not what made it sweet for me.  For me, it was my first fish on a figure 8!  This was a momentous occasion that I'll never forget!
This was my first ever fish on a figure 8, a fat male 34 inch muskellunge.  What a thrill!
Now, here's the interesting part about that fish on the eight...I never saw it.  It came from the depths.  Whether it followed or drifting over a fish while doing the figure 8 occurred or not, I'll never know.

Some guys hit the thumb bar during the eight, but I'm a bit nervous about doing that.  My fear is that a resulting backlash could occur and really put me in trouble.  Perhaps over time, I may change my approach.  But, because of my musky fishing friends, they have me in the good habit of doing a figure 8 every time.  And it finally paid off.

How productive could it be?  Some guys claim that they get a fairly large percentage of their fish on figure 8's, and I certainly believe them!  And think of it this way, if you pull that lure out of the water, you can't catch that fish that might have been there.  If it could put one more fish in the boat for me, it's worth it.
Here's Ed with a really nice musky.  Ed has a knack for catching these toothy critters at boatside and has caught several fish on the 8.
Here are a couple more tips that I've learned from my musky fanatic friends.  You really can't do them too deep, unless of course you're in shallow water.  Make sure that you keep the loops of the eight as wide as possible and cover as much water as your arms and boat allow.  If you have a hot fish near the boat, don't give up.

On a recent trip, one of my friends had a hot fish and did about six full figure eights, and as he pulled his lure out of the water the fish launched out and tried to munch on it.  After that many figure eights, you'd think that the fish had given up, but maybe not always.  Consider doing one or two more as you think about stopping.

When I'm on my boat, I sometimes follow the eight around the front of the boat to the other side and back.  You can do this at the back of the boat too, like a giant U. Why?  I don't know, but why not?  I don't think the fish know what an 8 is, but they do think that our lures are prey.  And you can't catch them if your lure isn't in front of them.  Keep the lure moving, keep it deep, and eventually work it back to the surface.

On that same trip, as it turned out, I was lucky enough to land a 39 1/2" musky later on a glider.  So, the figure 8 not only gave me a fish, but also a multiple musky day.  During our earlier conversation that day, Ed told me about a musky fishing celebrity that once claimed that he'd make a machine to constantly do a figure 8 at boat side if it was legal!

So in summary, if you fish for musky and aren't trying to tempt them with some sort of boat side maneuver, please consider doing figure 8's.  They might just put the fish of a lifetime in your boat.

What Makes a Good Musky Fishing Buddy?

...from the perspective of a dedicated musky angler.

Musky anglers see themselves as a different breed of angler.  The general traits that one would want in a fishing buddy also apply when fishing with these folks, but there are even a more strict set of rules, a musky code, if you will.  The following musky anglers shared their view of a what makes a good musky fishing partner.  These mostly apply to musky fishing, but I feel that many of them also apply to other forms of fishing.

Rick Novak, an excellent very experienced musky angler from Minnesota, shared some of his thoughts recently on a fishing forum, about what he looks for in a musky fishing partner:
Rick Novak is committed to work long and hard, willing to put the time in well past dark if need be, and expects his fishing partner to be up to the task as well.
"They love to fish and make a commitment to fish, they are willing to work long and hard if need be for results, they aren't afraid of the dark and being out after sunset if need be."

Rick also respects fishing partners that bring the proper tools for the job such as good musky tackle and the proper clothes for the particular time of the year that he's fishing to deal with the elements.  He also prefers anglers that bring good fishing knowledge to the boat, to be a thinker and help to solve the musky fishing puzzle.  This is especially important when musky fishing since they are so tough to catch.

"I hate complainers and second guessers.  At times things are going to be very tough, and at those times you need to try to keep a positive attitude and think or work through the situation," Rick says.  Help solve the puzzle, don't just complain about a lack of results.  Have a "willingness to communicate and share thoughts when it comes to strategizing.  I like someone who is always thinking and pulling on past experience to try to make today a better day."

He respects the ability for a musky fishing partner to be an independent thinker, but the willingness to accept change if its working.  "Often times my boat partner and I will start with two different search lures.  One may be a bucktail and one a fast moving glide bait, crank bait or faster moving plastic, and we will stay that way until the fish tell us what they want," he says.  When the fish show a pattern, "at that point we both need to make the change to what is working despite our own personal preferences."

Rick adds, "Fishing time, especially for musky, is fishing time.  There will be plenty of time to cocktail when the boat is put away."  When fishing big baits for big fish, "keep it safe leave the booze in the cabin.  I love a cocktail with the best of them, but when in search of big fish, with big teeth, on big water, being of sound mind and body is a must."

Good fishing partners "understand the importance of being net man and have good net skills, or are willing to be coached.  There is a lot of pressure on the net man and it's not a job to be taken lightly."  You could be netting the fish of a lifetime for your friend...don't blow it.  Experienced anglers can teach you, or there's plenty of information on YouTube and the internet out there, but it's up to you to do your homework.

Hard core and talented musky angler, Ed Lewandoski, feels that on a tough musky fishing day, "some guys give up and lose the desire somewhere in the middle of the day when nothing is happening."  He goes on to add, "you HAVE to believe the fish are out there and you just have to do something to trigger that bite. It could come the first cast or the last cast."
Ed Lewandoski with a personal best musky after much hard work, putting in the time and effort, as a boating partner fishing with Rick Novak in Minnesota.  Obviously, Ed met Rick's criteria as this was his second trip invitation.  Please note that Ed is six and a half feet tall, and seems like eight feet tall in person.  That's a big fish right there!
"I especially think that if a trip is arranged it should be spelled out and understood how late you will be fishing, that you are aware of the weather, etc. Once all that is clear, you tough it out and you don't get bored and hint around that maybe you should hit the road. If the boat owner invited you to fish all day, that's what you should plan to do," he says.

Ed agrees with Rick that there's nothing worse than the angler that complains about how bad the conditions are.  "Each angler should be pumped and keep each other in the game. If you can't be excited and want to fish all day, then maybe you should be fishing with someone else, somewhere else."
"Each angler should be pumped and keep each other in the game."  Ed and Jeremy Tyson of Pennsylvania do just that, keeping each other sharp for that magic feeding window that might result in the fish of a lifetime.
Mike Coley, owner and guide of New River Musky Guide Service in Virginia writes, "I have but one musky partner."  His musky partner doesn't like the cold, rain or long hours.  His partner hung the landing net up on an oarlock on his drift boat, and as a result, lost what possibly would have been his third musky over fifty inches long at the boat.  His musky partner has caught musky on days when he working his butt off and couldn't even get a follow.  Yet he says, "Still would not trade my musky partner for the best musky fisherman out there.  Yeah, my wife."

In the living room the other night, I showed that post to my wife, and she said, "Awwww.  I'd go fishing with you honey!"  I nearly fell out of my chair!  I've fished with her twice in the last 22 years!  I will take her up on that.

Die hard musky maniac Jeremy Tyson of Pennsylvania agrees with everyone, and adds that it's all about attitude when it comes to musky fishing.  "Sometimes its hard to fish with guys that just don't have confidence.  I'll give new guys a pass on this a few times, but if you're expecting easy're fishing for the wrong fish."  Trust me, he knows his stuff.  This guy can sense a musky's presence better than any depthfinder, even those new fangled side finding sonars!
Learn to be a good net man because you can help someone catch the fish of a lifetime.  Ed recently successfully netted Jeremy's personal best musky.  Musky fishing is not easy, but the rewards are worth the effort to the die hard musky angler.
I'll reiterate what I wrote on my last fishing buddy post, master musky hunter and Fishing Guide Bob Franko, on a recent fishing trip, said that he has one rule when fishing out of his boat, especially when tossing jumbo musky lures, "Don't hook me!"  Watch your back cast at all times.  Nobody want's to fear the person that they are fishing with!

When it comes to musky fishing, being a good boating fishing partner is very important, but the above criteria will give you a much better chance of being invited on trips with experienced musky anglers for a second time.  Keep these in mind when spending time on the water with some of these musky fanatics!

Also, let's try something different.  Feel free to participate.  Please use the comment function if you have anything related to this topic to add.  Thank you in advance!

Mike Coley guides on the New River in Virginia.  Click here for more information on booking a trip with Mike, here is his website:  New River Musky Guide Service

Bob Franko guides on the North and West Branches of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania.  If you're interested in booking a trip, his website is Blackjack Guide Service.

The Thrill of It All!

February 2, 2013

This day, perhaps the last having open "big fish green" water prior to ice up this winter, a warm gem of a day a bit odd for late January, added to the excitement and potential thrill of landing a big fish, perhaps a fish of a lifetime.  After a week of temperatures hovering in the teens and low twenties, having to deal with fog emerging from thirty four degree water complete with floating ice, proving the comfort of the weather would be experienced more positively from our point of view, not necessarily as well from the point of view of our quarry, the mighty toothy muskellunge, Esox masquinongy.
After catching some smaller muskies like this one, I was ready to break my personal best.
We launched my aluminum sixteen and a half foot fishing vessel, sporting a jet drive outboard for navigating through or around skinny water, optimistic as ever despite the sudden loss of the use of my depthfinder.  Musky fishing is hard work, but we were ready, my fishing friend Ed and I, to bring a toothy monster to our net on this day, and more if we could.  This post isn't a fishing report, but a description of one encounter with a beast, one that I would play over and over again in my mind.
This picture is from a prior trip where it was so cold, ice was forming on our rod guides, and leaving interesting sculptures on our reels.  This fishing day started off much warmer and more comfortable.
I had tossed large heavy duty lures all day long, some of which weighed three quarters of a pound or more on stout tackle and heavy line.  Such tackle is necessary for many reasons, the most important to bring the mighty musky to the boat quickly to protect the fish for a clean, safe release, and also balanced to toss lures that imitate the large prey items that muskies deem delicious, fish that many anglers would consider large to catch on an average fishing day.

The names of these large musky lures are interesting enough in their own right, arising from a culture of musky hunters across North America.  Names like Poe's Awaker, Boo Bling or Squirko prove to be foreign to the vast majority of anglers in our neck of the woods, but these are just a few examples of many such names that may reside in the massive tackle boxes of the average musky angler.  Even more foreign to local anglers is the sight and sound of these lures making that huge splash that would send just about any type of fish fleeing for it's life.  When local anglers observe us tossing these massive baits, I often wonder if those weird leers were those of disgust for spooking their fish, or just plain bewilderment, or a little of both.
Big baits like this Medussa might  help you catch a big fish, but they definitely will put your muscles to the test.
My arms, back, and shoulders ached.  Tossing big baits like this takes its toll on an aging frame like mine.  But potential rewards are worth the effort. Concentration and perseverance are key.  The day may seem long and the water fishless, but one must maintain as much focus and concentration as possible on each and every cast, for any one could result with the fish of a lifetime on the other end, and you'd better be ready.

You'd lob a cast toward your secret spot, one that changes each time depending on various factors like wind or current, with that cast placed with the pure intention of targeting that musky that you know calls that spot home, whether it is there or not.  That's the hope though, that your cast puts your lure right through his living room and it would get his attention.

The routine is the same with slight variation depending on the type of lure that you use.  Cast, crank it down a little, twitch, pull, make the lure dance, and as it nears the boat, guide the lure in a figure eight pattern, large enough that a big musky may turn, chase and attack the lure.  It doesn't have to be a figure eight, it could be an L shape, or oval, just something that changes direction.  And do it every cast, whether or not you're tired.

Focus and watch both under and behind your lure for any hint of a musky following your lure.  And if he does, pay close attention to his behavior.  Is that fish coming in hot after your lure or is it a lazy follow?  And be ready to adapt or make some sort of move to trigger a might get lucky.  It's tough to focus after a long day without action, and easy to daydream, but keeping your mind on your goal helps you overcome the odds, and put them in your favor.

So back to the encounter.  It was one of many many casts, following the same routine with this particular lure, a large relatively deep diving crankbait.  Cast as far as you can, crank it down, stop, twitch, let it rise, twitch some more, crank some more, and finish with a figure eight.  Only on this cast, when I cranked it down, two twitches and I had a fish on.  I set the hook hard once, then again twice.  It wasn't just a musky, it was a nice one.  This fish felt both strong and heavy.  Would it break my personal best, or "PB" as its known in the fishing web forum world?

Compared to most musky anglers, at that time, my personal best was rather small at thirty nine and a half inches.  I hadn't broken the forty inch club yet.  So a forty plus fish would be extremely sweet.  Any musky is sweet, but to catch your biggest one?  Words can't describe that feeling.  And I was due.
At that time, this was my PB, or personal best, at 39.5 inches.  This fish isn't big by musky angler standards, but I felt good about it.  Now it's time to improve on that.  Maybe on this warm January day.
The beast hit my lure a good distance away, and the fight took a while.  My fishing pal was ready with the net in plenty of time.  It was a big fish, and with muskies, the females mostly produce those large sizes at the mid-forties and above.  Such fish push the scales to twenty or thirty pounds, or maybe more.  I imagined this fish to be a big female.

She was quite strong, and I'd say that my heart was pounding from the excitement, but in my mind I imagined it being completely stopped.  What a fight!  She turned my boat around with her strength.  I wondered if I needed to quickly pull up my trolling motor, but thought against it for fear of giving her any slack at all to spit my hook.

Just as suddenly, she changed direction, moving around my boat from left to right, so my fishing buddy positioned for the net job on the other side of the boat.  I thought I was guiding the fish to him, but she wasn't done.  In fact, we still hadn't seen her.  She was deep and not giving up.  The head shakes were as strong as any fish that I'd encountered...ever.

Then, she decided that her current path was not the best way to proceed, so she bulldogged and shook her head, staying under the boat.  All I could do was keep the pressure on and my rod tip up.  I remained calm, just knowing that she'd soon be in my net.

A couple more hard head shakes and my line went slack.  My crankbait floated to the surface.  My lungs emptied like a child's balloon suddenly becoming untied.  I had an empty feeling in my stomach now, and it wasn't hunger.  My fishing buddy was in shock almost as much as I was, but my knees were knocking after all that, and my hands were shaking as if I'd been sitting in a freezer all day.  It was that sickness of losing the fish of a lifetime.  I lost the battle, and she won.  Who was in control after all?  Apparently, not me.

But what a thrill.  That's what it's all about, the thrill of it all.  I know where she lives, and I'll pay her a visit again some day.  Until then, I'll replay that moment time and again, hoping that I'll be out there soon.  That's what drives me.  Musky fishing is just plain difficult and challenging, and I'm up for the challenge.

The Skunk Monster

March 12, 2012

Excitement about the anticipation of catching fish peaks prior to a fishing trip for just about every angler.  In my case, I stay up late organizing tackle, sharpening hooks, checking line and changing it if need be, doing everything I can to get ready for my upcoming trip.  I look forward to each trip as if it's the trip of a lifetime.  After all that, I can't sleep as I lay there thinking about the the upcoming adventure.

When it comes to fishing, people do so for varying reasons.  Some anglers are just plain happy to get out, to relax, to be with friends.  Not me, although each trip worth the effort, and as the saying goes, it beats work, there's nothing like catching fish.  But when I venture out on my fishing trips, I plan to catch fish.  Don't get me wrong, I value everything there is about a fishing trip, the serenity and peace, fishing with friends, the beauty that God gave us, but catching fish is what's always on my mind.  It's an obsession.

So, what happens when things don't quite work out?  There are many factors that can influence the outcome of your fishing trip, weather, mechanical problems, personal problems, tackle problems, just about anything can turn the most well prepared fishing trip into a giant zero.  Getting blanked, not catching a single fish, striking out, what ever you call it, can happen to any angler.  I call it being attacked by the skunk monster.

For me, it happens so infrequently that when it does, I literally ache inside until my next trip.  That said, the same excitement and anticipation dominates my mind set prior to the next trip and the cycle begins anew.  I probably only get skunked about every five years or so.  My current streak of catching at least one fish lasted about five years, and that streak came to a screeching halt.

I was attacked brutally by the skunk monster.  The skunk monster has extreme powers, many claim that those powers are supernatural to humble even the most accomplished angler.  I don't consider myself in that category, but I still hate the monster.

A couple years ago, earlier in the week, as I put in for leave in advance of that fateful trip, and maybe before that when my good fishing friend, Bob, began planned that trip, the skunk monster was whipped up a whopper of a low pressure system and pushed it our way.  The day prior to our trip, several inches of rain dropped in a very short amount of time, leaving drivers stranded on local roads and causing just about every small stream to flood over their banks, dumping a gazillion gallons of water into the river causing it to flood, and sending the banks of all of the lakes in our area into the trees.

Bob and I had planned to fish for walleye and musky.  Mostly, I wanted to target musky and he was looking forward to mostly catching walleye.  The plan was to take his seven year old son, Carson, along and maybe give him his first chance at catching his first walleye.  Prior to the storm, the water was clear with temperatures rising slowly from our mild winter.  The musky and walleye most likely would be on a feeding binge.  Local fishing reports indicated that might be the case, so we were very excited.
Bob and Carson were after ol' marble eyes.  I had my sights on catching a musky.
Mr. skunk monster had other plans.  Not only did he dump a bunch of rain all around our region, he also whipped up some pretty stiff winds.  When we launched at one of our favorite spots, the water, surprisingly, was still in pretty good shape.  Water clarity wasn't all that bad, even still a bit green, but you could see the sediment building up from runoff.  After we launched and fished a little while, you could see the water level rising, submerging the bases of trees where it was dry just an hour earlier.

At the time of the launch, the winds weren't really all that bad.  You could easily fish a jig for walleye and control the boat.  But that didn't last.  Not even an hour after we launched, the skunk monster unleashed the power of his sustained 15 to 20 mile per hour winds with gusts well over 30.  He unleashed winds that ricocheting off the cliffs, leaving no place to hide, and making boat control nearly impossible much less giving the angler the ability to feel the bottom when jig fishing.

Such conditions make it tough to control the boat, and I have to give Bob a lot of credit on that trip, because he did everything in his power to keep me in a position to catch fish, while still trying to fish himself, and also give his son a chance to catch something.

Early on in the trip, Bob managed to hook up and land a decent beautifully colored walleye.  Not long after that, at our next spot, I had my only chance of the day.  I had a bite that I didn't convert.  It was the only bite that I would feel all day long.
My friend Bob with the only fish of the day, with his son Carson looking on all smiles.  Bob avoided the skunk monster, but Carson and I fell victim!
Let me tell you something about Bob's boy, Carson.  He did a fine job casting and working his lure.  Most kids at that age lose interest fast unless there's a lot of action, and even then sometimes they'd rather do something else.  Not Carson.  He fished the majority of the time knowing that he could catch his first walleye ever, and he was determined.  He's going to be some kind of angler when he gets older.  He's very analytical.  He watches, listens, and learns.

Early in the trip, I was casting a huge musky lure, a soft plastic bait called a Bulldawg while Carson looked on.  Like most musky anglers, I worked my "Dawg" back to the boat until I had about a foot and a half of line out, plunged my rod tip a foot or two under the water, and directed the lure in a large wide figure eight pattern hoping that a musky had followed it or was lurking under the boat as they often do.  Sometimes musky will strike in that situation, and you never know when.  I pulled out my lure only to see Carson working his four inch twister tail in a figure eight pattern.  You go boy!!!!

The water rose rapidly and soon changed from a green color with about a foot and a half visibility, to murky, to muddy, in a matter of a few hours.  The window of opportunity shrank rapidly for me.

Musky fishing has an inherent risk when it comes to the skunk monster.  The skunk monster thrives on the backs of musky anglers world wide.  They don't call musky the fish of ten thousand casts without a good reason.  And the skunk monster is to blame!  Or is he?

Fishing huge musky lures like these custom made gliders
won't chase away the skunk monster, but will give you a
much better chance at catching muskies than smaller baits.
It was my choice to only fish for muskies, and I knew the risk.  Musky fishing, as I noted in a previous post, is my newest fishing addiction.  Even in the best of conditions, fishing the best musky holding water, using the right lures and tackle, there's no guarantee that you'll get a musky to bite much less land one.  So, I have to be honest.  My skunk yesterday was mostly me.  And it's OK.

I'm learning about musky fishing, and to become good at it, I have to leave the tackle behind that would tempt me to fish for other more willing species.  I can expect the skunk monster to attack me more often in the future.  I can also expect that, if I stick with it, I'll also catch more musky than I have in all of my years of fishing combined this year.  Well, at least I hope so!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Ten Thousandth Cast - February 20, 2013

I thought today that I'd add a little more humor to the blog once in a while.  Periodically, I will post a new comic that I titled, "The Ten Thousandth Cast".  The basis for the comic will be about musky fishing, but I reserve the right to take it in any direction that I choose, but will always be fishing related.

Many years ago, I dabbled in cartooning and drawing on a regular basis, and have posted a couple comics that I drew using a PC.  Like anything else, if you don't do it in a while, you get a bit rusty.  That's where I am, and I'm never satisfied with my work.  All I can promise though is that I will improve over time.  Rather than draw these on a PC or a tablet, I'll draw them by hand and then refine them using a PC or tablet.  No matter how I produce the finish product, my hope is that you'll enjoy them.

So, without further ado, I hereby present the first issue of, "The Ten Thousandth Cast."