30 Age-Old Musky Fishing Tips Passed Down For Generations
There’s no denying Musky are hard to catch — they’re not called the “fish of 10,000 casts” for no good reason!
Unless you’re best friends with an old timer, you could find yourself striking out nearly every time you head out to the water.
Luckily for you, though, we have some of the best musky fishing tips the old timers keep passing down to help you increase your cast-to-catch ratio and start bagging some of these behemoths from the depths.
#1 Make sure there’s Muskies at your lake.
Believe it, or not, Muskies don’t actually inhabit every lake in existence. In fact, they’re found in less than 50% of the lakes in the United States.
What many new anglers find out when they’re targeting Musky on a new body of water is that there isn’t actually any Musky there!
I know it sounds obvious but you would be surprised how many times people say they couldn’t catch anything without realizing that there wasn’t anything there to be caught!
This one’s easy to avoid — stop by your local bait & tackle shop to find out which lakes produce the biggest numbers of Musky, and which lakes produce the largest sized Musky. Then, start your hunt in those lakes and don’t give up until you’ve figured out a good pattern.
#2 Match the hatch for more fish.
“Match the hatch” usually refers to fly fishing — any good fly angler knows to figure out what bugs and forage fish are currently hatching if they want to catch more trout.
However, far too many Musky anglers fail to realize how critical this one part of the process is.
Matching the hatch, for Muskies, means figuring out which forage fish the bigger trophies are currently feeding on and using baits that mimic the forage fish’s action, colors, and appeal.
Big muskies really only care about two things in life — eating the biggest forage they can get their teeth on, and breeding. If you’re able to find the bait (and match it), you’re going to find the muskies — there’s no two ways around it!
#3 Rely on your electronics!
Catching Musky from the bank is always possible but research has shown these fish like to move and love deeper water with structure they can hang out around.
The structure gives them protection and attracts smaller baitfish and other forage for them to feast on, which means you’re going to need some way to detect where the bigger trophies are hiding at.
Having a good sonar or GPS fish finder on your boat comes in clutch when you’re trying to find the one spot in a 10 square acre area where fish are currently hiding at.
The GPS lets you mark your spot so you can keep coming back and, with a few trips around the lake, you can easily mark a dozen, or more, spots so you can keep fishing from spot to spot all day long.
#4 You get what you pay for!
Good Musky gear isn’t cheap, but cheap Musky gear will have you begging for mercy, realizing you probably wasted your money and have more stories than you can count of “the one that got away”!
Whether it’s your reel giving up when the drag overheats, your rod tip buckling and snapping under the pressure, or your leader busting the fish free from their sharp teeth or underwater structure, the price you pay for your gear could be greater than you initially think.
If you’re planning on chasing Musky, you need to know that they’re not one of the most “affordable” fish to target. That means spending a few extra bucks here and there to ensure you’re getting quality gear goes a long way toward helping you stay hooked up.
#5 Practice safe catch-and-release.
If you’re an avid Musky angler, you want to do your part to conserve the species for the next generation. DNR already works hard enough to keep lakes stocked and natural populations reproducing, so you want to make sure you’re doing your part, too!
Practicing safe catch-and-release requires specific gear to make sure you’re keeping the fish safe while you’re handling them.
Before you head out to the water, make sure you pack a quality hook cutter, needle-nosed pliers, jaw spreader, gloves, and a net with soft or rubber webbing to avoid causing abrasions on the fish’s skin that could turn into infections down the line.
#6 Your rod matters!
When you’re heading out to the lake, you really need to leave your bass fishing gear at home.
Bigger Musky will completely ravage your bass fishing gear and, ultimately, require a specialized set or combo in order to both keep the fish safe and make sure you’re netting and landing more fish than you’re losing.
In general, you want to make sure you’re using the longest rod possible — at least 8’6” in length, with over 9ft being preferred among most anglers. Longer rods help you cover more area while giving you increased sensitivity when you’re casting big baits.
We’ve found the Okuma EVx-C-931H is an amazing rod that gives you the best of both worlds — sensitivity and strength, at an amazing price, to boot.
#7 Don’t cheap out on your reel.
When you’ve hooked up with a big Musky, the last thing you want to be worrying about is whether, or not, your reel is going to stay in one piece.
On a good run back to their hidden underwater structure, a big Musky is going to tax your drag, your bearings, and even the materials your reel is built out of. That means using plastic components, unsealed bearings, and a cheap drag is going to cause you major issues!
For reels, the age old adage “you get what you pay for” has never been more true. With the affordability of most reels these days, it’s worth it to spend a few extra bucks to guarantee you’re getting high-quality components that will hold up fish, after fish.
The Shimano Tranx 400A HG (while a tad on the expensive side) is one of the best reels you can get.
#8 Load the right line and leader.
When you’re throwing big, expensive baits, you don’t want to be worrying about losing big money every time you cast.
With some baits costing more than $25, that’s a hefty price to pay because you weren’t using the right line and leader.
For the most part, bigger is always better. That means you should be using at least 100lb test braided line on your reel, with a 150-200lb test leader attached to your baits.
While it is possible to use steel leaders, we recommend against it because of the abrasions it causes to fish — and them being able to spot the leader from a mile away.
#9 Curiosity caught the cat!
Muskies are incredibly curious fish — they’re a lot different than most of the other species you target because they’re the top of the food chain in nearly every body of water they inhabit.
With nearly nothing to fear in their home waters, Muskies are still somewhat curious — and apprehensive — about what it is they’re chasing. That means they’ll follow a potential meal around for a while before they finally decide to strike.
What does this mean for you?
Well, it means that you need to play into their curiosity and treat them just like you’re playing with a cat that’s trying to go after a meal. Adjusting your retrieval speed from slow to fast until you find exactly what they’re looking for.
This is especially true if you see a fish tracking your bait near the boat.
#10 Figure 8’s for the win.
There’s a secret “tactic” used by professional and amateur anglers alike, for fish that are targeting your baits but refuse to take until they get near the boat — the Figure 8.
Just like the name implies, driving your baits in a Figure 8 pattern once they’re near the boat is one of the best ways to get a predator like the Musky to take the bait — and save you time hauling them in.
The tactic takes practice, though.
To properly perform it, you’ll need to drop your rod tip into the water once your bait is near the boat and begin moving the tip in a wide Figure 8 motion — with your speed determined by how aggressively the fish is targeting your bait.
What you’ll find is that the Figure 8 motion changes up the bait’s action and causes a predatory strike in the moments just before you were about to pull the bait from the water.
#11 Soft plastics catch more fish!
When you look at most soft plastics, you probably wonder how they even catch fish — since most look nothing like what you see big Musky feeding on.
What you probably don’t realize, though, is that it’s not actually the look of the soft plastic bait that Muskies are going after — it’s the action combined with colors the fish are familiar with feeding on.
Soft plastics are designed to imitate a dying prey which makes them nearly irresistible when you’re imparting the right action on them.
Since Muskies rarely want to work hard for their meals, soft plastics give them a slow moving target that they can easily prey upon — as long as you’re making the bait look like a dying meal.
#12 Big bucktails are popular for a reason.
When it comes to baits that have been proven, for generations, to put big Muskies into a feeding pattern, very few can compare to a massive-sized Bucktail or jig.
They give a Musky everything they’re looking for — color, flash, vibration, action, you name it.
With larger fish, their lateral line is incredibly sensitive to vibrations in the water and dying baitfish tend to give off a ton of vibration. That means bucktails can trigger a Muskie’s predatory instincts better than nearly any other lure you could use.
You want to use size double-9 or double-10 blades to make sure you’re giving off enough flash and vibration, along with color patterns that “match the hatch” for the types of forage fish that are found in the waters you’re fishing on.
#13 Glide baits produce smooth strikes.
Most anglers tend to shy away from using glide baits because of how difficult it is to impart a lifelike action on them but that doesn’t mean you should be looking past them.
In fact, because so many other anglers refuse to use them, you’re in a perfect position to start throwing something you know the big fish haven’t seen in a while — or, haven’t seen at all!
Glide baits do take practice to learn how to work properly but the time you spend practicing on the lake could be time you’re spending targeting fish, getting the best of both worlds.
Since there’s so many glide baits to choose from you’ll want to find one that fits your style so you reach for it more often.
#14 Never leave home without your topwaters.
There’s nothing more fun than showing up at your favorite lake and seeing big fish actively feeding on top of the water.
When this happens, there’s only one thing to do — grabbing your topwater lures and hunting for whatever it is that they’re pushing to the surface.
If you’re looking for a good time, topwater lures produce some of the most vicious strikes you’ll ever encounter, and you get a huge show knowing the fish just broke the surface to take your bait.
But, you have to be patient!
All this excitement leads many anglers to setting the hook too quickly, pulling the bait from the fish’s mouth. That means you need to be patient, waiting an extra second or two to ensure you have some weight on the end of the line.
By far, day AND night, one of the best topwater baits to use is the Arbogast XL Jitterbug.
#15 Tap crankbaits when they’re in a frenzy.
On the other end of the spectrum, when you know big fish are in a feeding frenzy but they’re not pushing forage and bait to the surface, you’ll want to grab your crankbaits.
Crankbaits are also amazing at getting down to underwater structure, bumping into things, causing a ruckus, and triggering the predatory instincts of trophies that most other baits can’t catch.
When it comes to choosing a crankbait, you want to match the depth to the type of forage that you know fish are currently targeting. It does you no good to fish at 10ft with a shad when you know the bigger fish are feeding deeper on perch.
#16 Swimbaits are the soft plastic crankbait.
Once you realize how effective soft plastics are, and how potent a big hatch-matched crankbait can be, you’ll start to see why swimbaits became so popular.
Swimbaits, effectively, combine the best of all three types of baits — crankbaits, soft plastics, and glide baits. They’re also incredibly cost-effective!
They’re also the easiest to fish at whatever depth you want to fish them at. Falling at a rate of around 1 foot per second, you can count the depth and then begin your retrieve, making these perfect for getting more casts in on each trip.
#17 When times get tough, the jig pulls through.
Nearly every angler on Earth has a few jigs in their tacklebox, but very rarely do they ever pull them out and actually put them to use.
Again, this is great news for you if you decide to start fishing with them because most big fish haven’t seen a proper jig presentation in their entire life.
Which, catching bigger fish with bigger jigs is exactly that — all in your presentation.
Properly fishing with a big jig requires you to slow down to a speed most people aren’t comfortable with. Since most people believe catching Muskies is about how many casts in a day you make, very few will ever slow down enough to completely pick apart a piece of underwater structure.
To get acclimated with a jig, we recommend using an aquarium so you can visualize how the bait is acting underneath the water. A simple up-and-down motion, just enough to get the feathers and rubber strands moving, is often more than enough to entice a strike.
#18 Trolling is an incredibly effective fishfinder.
When you just can’t seem to locate where the fish are hiding at, setting your motor on a low speed and moving across the lake in a zig-zag pattern is one of the most effective fishfinders, ever.
You’ll want to turn on your electronics and mark areas where you start getting bites, while also looking around for any underwater cover that you may not be able to spot from the surface.
Any type of swimbait, spoonbait, crankbait, or glide bait works perfect for getting large fish to start moving after what you’re offering up for dinner.
Keep your drag set light and, if your reel has one, turn on the clicker so you can hear when a fish takes your bait.
#19 Pay attention to seasonal patterns.
Muskies are no different than any other species — they follow the same feeding patterns throughout the year and knowing what these patterns are helps you match up to them so you increase your chances of hooking up.
Every lake is, of course, going to have different patterns for different times of the year, so fishing the same lake and getting a feel for how the fish move during different seasons can pay off in huge ways.
To give you an example, if you’re fishing during the mid-day sun in the Summer months, chances are high that fish aren’t going to be near the surface or looking up for their next meal.
Instead, they’re going to be tucked away on the bottom where the water’s cooler (and more rich in oxygen), while looking towards the bottom for a quick snack.
#20 Find the bait for the spawn in the spring.
As ice starts melting on most lakes, you could find yourself having problems locating the fish.
Most times, they’re not going to be near the surface because of the significantly cooler temperatures where the ice is just starting to melt. Instead, you can locate them near steep drop-offs and deeper waters where the temperature is actually warmer than it is near the surface.
This time of the year is referred to as the “ice out” and requires you to start figuring out where the bigger fish are going to be moving to spawn, while also locating where the schools of baitfish are hiding out.
Since big fish tend to move slower during the cooler months, but are also starting to feed more so they can prepare for the spawn, swimbaits and crankbaits moved slowly over these areas, along with slow-moving vertical jigs work perfectly.
#21 During prespawn, bigger baits mean bigger fish!
Once the ice has melted, the air temperature has warmed up, and the shallows become warmer than the depths where the bigger fish were hanging out at over the winter, the prespawn is on.
During the prespawn, big females tend to go into a feeding frenzy — trying to fatten up before bedding in the shallows in preparation for laying their eggs.
This is the time when you want to start fishing the sandy areas and shallow weed beds where you spot baitfish and other forage foods, using crankbaits, swimbaits, and soft plastics at a slightly faster speed than you were using during the ice-out.
When a cold front comes through and the air temperature drops again, before staying warmer for the year, you’ll want to revert back to the depths again until you know, for sure, the fish have moved shallow. They’ll go through this cycle a few times each year — which can make them hard to locate if you’re not paying attention.
#22 The spawn produces some massive trophies.
When the spawn finally sets in, water temperatures have risen, and big fish have moved into the shallows, you’re going to find two different schools of anglers — people who can catch fish all day, and people who can’t catch a single fish.
This massive discrepancy comes down to how big fish are acting during the spawn. Many times, the bigger females are going to refuse every bait you throw at them, while you can find smaller males that are still searching for a female and ready to take anything in front of their face.
While you may have to work harder to get a bite, the bites that you get are going to be bigger and the fish will be easier to find than most other times of the year.
Something to keep in mind, though, is that if you’re actively targeting big females you want to make sure you’re sending them back unharmed. Protect the species whenever you can!
#23 After the spawn, the frenzy is on — again!
This is another time when you’re going to find two schools of anglers — one that can catch fish, and another that can’t catch a thing. And it all comes down to their approach.
While some anglers are going to want to keep targeting the bigger females, post-spawn is one of the worst times to try catching them. Bigger females tend to get lethargic after the spawn and take a few weeks to recover.
However, males are always ready to bite after the spawn so when you find that you can’t get a female to even take a look at what you’re putting in front of them, downsizing to a smaller bait and searching for the males will always pay off.
If you can find the bait, you can usually find the males. Then, match the hatch! For the most part, bucktails, topwaters, and soft plastic swimbaits are going to outperform everything else post-spawn.
#24 How to beat the summertime blues.
Summertime fishing for Muskies can be hit, or miss, and how many you can find (let alone catch) comes down to the temperature of the water.
Once the water temperature starts creeping upwards of 80 degrees (and higher), big fish get lethargic and tend to slow down for their meals. They aren’t nearly as active because oxygen levels in the water are depleted and it takes more work for them to hunt down a meal.
In other words — they’re conserving energy in the hot summer sun, too!
Getting out in the early morning or late night hours helps you fend off the chaos caused by the skiers and tubers, big boats and jet skis that cause fish to go dormant. Night fishing, especially with topwaters, can be some of the most active fishing you’ll find year-round.
The only rule of thumb at night is to slow down and give the fish a chance to hunt down your bait using their lateral line. The slower you can go, the better.
#25 Find the weed flats during the early fall months.
When the summer months have pushed the fish to deeper underwater structure, as the temperature begins to cool again and the days get shorter you’ll have an easier time finding them along the shallower flats and shallow edges of deeper dropoffs.
This time of year, nothing works better than big bucktails and shallow-swimming swimbaits for finding fish that are turned on.
Speeding up your retrieve is highly-advised since fish are trying to fill up before they head back to the depths over the winter months.
#26 The “turnover” flips Musky fishing on its head.
There’s a period during the late fall where the water begins to “turnover”.
That means, in layman’s terms, the warmer water at the surface begins to cool and the depths begin to get warmer.
The water temperature, essentially, “turns over” and fish follow suit.
The “turnover” period, for Muskies, can be some of the most frustrating fishing of the year and requires a unique approach — one that leaves most anglers pulling goose-eggs when they head out for the day.
For the most part, glide baits and big swimbaits are going to be your weapon of choice, with larger and slower always being better. Giving the big fish a meal that will fill them up without them exerting too much extra effort to chase it down will increase your cast-to-strike rate.
#27 Late fall produces some of the best fishing, hands down.
Before you rush to put the boat away for the year, you may want to think about taking it back out a few more times.
During the late fall months, after the water has started turning over and the fish are moving deeper, you’re going to find that big fish are far more opportunistic. They’re trying to fatten up for the winter months by feeding on bigger baits, especially those slow-moving ones.
Bigger and slower jigs and suspended crankbaits work perfectly during the late fall months because they provide a massive meal with little-to-no effort required on the part of those trophies.
Fishing the steep dropoffs and deeper open waters will produce more big fish this time of the year than any other period, hands down.
#28 Bend your barbs, for conservation’s sake!
While bending and crushing the barbs on your hook may sound counterproductive, it actually has a few key benefits — both to you and the fish.
First, it makes it far easier for you to set the hook when there isn’t a massive barb trying to bust through the bony mouth structure in a Muskie’s head.
Second, it protects the fish from infections caused by snatching the barb back through the hole it created and gives the fish a higher chance at surviving for years to come.
If you set your hook properly and keep consistent pressure on the fish when you are hooked up, having a barbless or crushed-barb hook isn’t going to cause you any more frustrations.
#29 There’s always a spot within “the spot”.
When you’ve been searching an area all day and finally get hooked up, the last thing you want to do is move on and start searching for another area.
Instead, you’re going to want to slow down and start picking the area you’re in apart, completely.
What you’re going to find is there’s always a “spot within a spot” that congregates more than a single fish and the likelihood of you hooking up multiple times because you picked that area apart increases, significantly.
When you’ve found the spot within a spot, you want to mark it on your GPS because there’s usually a piece of structure or some natural phenomenon that’s holding fish to it and coming back to this spot should always produce.
#30 If you’re losing fish, learn a new hookset.
Muskies have a tough jaw — there’s no way around it.
If you are finding yourself losing fish but not actually breaking them off and losing your bait with them, it’s probably your hookset.
Where you’re going to have the biggest issue is when you are fishing with jigs (where the fish tends to grab as they’re falling) and swimbaits that fish will grab on the go, making you think the hook is already set.
The best way to set your hook is to wait, after feeling the strike or take, until you feel extra pressure on the line, and then lowering your rod tip and applying smooth, consistent pressure from low to high.
#31 Slow down and overwork an area.
Just because you come to an area and aren’t getting strikes doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t any fish there.
In fact, it’s usually the opposite — what you saw underwater, or the natural phenomenon that led you to begin searching the area is actually what’s holding fish… but your approach is off.
Instead of moving onto the next, you’ll want to spend time overworking the area until you develop a pattern that’s happening. You’re going to find that a certain bait, a specific color, and a consistent retrieve will provoke strikes that you probably thought weren’t going to happen.
After you’ve figured out the pattern you can begin moving from spot to spot, following the same pattern, and enticing more strikes because you slowed down and figured out the fish.
Have any Musky fishing tips of your own?
You’ve just read 30 of our age-old, time-tested, and generationally proven Musky fishing tips.
Now we’re curious to hear yours!
Do you have any Musky fishing tips you’ve found to work great every time you get to the water?
Share them below and help other anglers out!