Flashing blades are the biggest musky attractors of all time, and if you just fire out a “bucktail” and just reel it in you’ll catch some muskies. But if you take advantage of this lures capabilities you’ll catch a lot more. For starters, I try to puff or flare out the lures skirt at least several times on every cast. This is a proven trigger for following fish if you see them or not. Another strike inducing tactic is to put a burst of speed on the lure if you see it’s being tracked by a musky. This is best accomplished by cranking the reel faster, not by swinging the rod to the side. That tactic puts you in a bad angle for a solid hook-set. The 8 to 9-foot rods that are now so popular are ideal for fishing bucktails. They allow you to change the lures path dramatically as it nears the boat, and to execute killer figure 8’s and ovals to trigger boat-side strikes.
Another strike-inducing tactic that works great in shallower waters is to bring the bucktail in “under power”. This means stopping the lure just before it hits the water by putting your thumb on the spool; then start the retrieve. You don’t want the lure to sink for a couple seconds before the blades start rotating. If the lure hits the water “under power”, the blade(s) will cup air and release a stream of bubbles for the first few feet of the retrieve. This creates a lot more underwater sound and turbulence during the first part of the retrieve, which is a musky attractant. To better understand this tactic, let the lure hang about 6-7-feet below the rod tip and swing it out into the water. Let it sink a second or two before you move it and note the sound and turbulence…virtually none. Now swing the lure out and start moving it through the air before it hits the water. You should create a stream of bubbles and hear a much louder sound.
L-armed blade baits are a great musky lure. Running these weed-resistant lures through vegetation has accounted for many muskies. But you can trigger strikes from muskies with this bladed lure that would be near impossible to do with in-line style spinnerbaits. The reason; you can fish these blade baits deeper than conventional in-line spinners and create a back-in-your face strike-inducing tactic that’s deadly on muskies.
When you stop an in-line spinner and allow it to sink, the blade usually flops around in a manner that’s not very attractive to the fish. When you stop an L-armed spinnerbait, especially one with a ball-bearing connection between the wire arm and blade, the blade(s) beat wildly as the lure is sinking. This allows me to easily fish 8 to 15-foot depths, which are beyond the range that most anglers fish in-line spinners. The fluttering blade is a great strike inducer, but what is even better is ripping the lure upwards several times during the retrieve, then tight-lining it back down. It doesn’t matter if you are fishing a flat, sharp edge, or slow-tapering bottom. If you can get the lure above a following musky, and then flutter it down to it, you’ll catch a lot more fish by triggering this in-your-face-reflex strike!
The wide variety of maneuvers that can be executed with a crankbait make it the most versatile strike-triggering lure of all. My standard retrieve may find me twitching, sweeping, jerking, ripping, or even pausing the lure on any given cast. It all depends on structure or cover being fished, what I perceive is the musky activity level, and lastly, what the fish are actually “showing me”.
Most of my twitching is when fishing heavier cover, or if trying to entice a non-aggressive fish into striking. Square-billed crankbaits such as Shallow Raiders and Shallow Invaders are my favorites when executing a twitching retrieve. Buoyant lures with square lips part weeds and flip over cover better than any other design. They are particularly effective bounced over the limbs of a downed tree, or through a surface-penetrating bed of cabbage. Twitching a lure around heavier cover with minimal forward movement is a great way to catch the attention of a cover-hugging musky and to tease it into striking.
During periods when the bite isn’t very hot, stopping a diving crankbait as it nears the boat so it rises to the surface is often a great tactic to pull a following musky up out of the depths. During our Lake of the Woods Musky School several years ago, this tactic was a key to catching a number of muskies during an off period. Gently twitching the lure on the surface for a while, then going into a figure 8, proved to be the winning combinations to trigger a strike.
Jerking a lure in during a retrieve is also a deadly tactic. Sometimes the “jerks” are just quick sweeps, while other times snappy pulls are in order. When retrieving a crankbait it usually best to break up the cadence of just using a steady straight retrieve. When jerking or ripping a lure hard, try to create a little slack in the line between pulls. This will allow the lure to have more side-to-side movement between jerks, which is sure to trigger more strikes.
Another great crankbait retrieve to use when conditions are tough is the “purr”, a deadly tactic I learned from my good friend and frequent fishing partner Joe Bucher. I’ve seen this retrieve produce a number of times during slow mid-day hours when the muskies were not in the mood to chase down fast-moving lures. Joe uses a 7-inch jointed Shallow Raider, makes a cast, then combines a moderate speed retrieve with gentle sweeps of the rod to the side. You can feel the lure purr through the water as the jointed lure shimmies side to side to entice neutral mood muskies. This smaller size lure is also a plus during these conditions.
A favorite retrieve to use during post-frontal conditions or when the bite seems a little tough, is “crashing” a crankbait off the rocks. Two factors that are a big key to success are rocks that can be reached with a crankbait, and wind (or water movement). Points and shallower-topping reefs are usually the targeted structures. Execution of the retrieve is pretty simple; cast over the structure, sweep or jerk the lure down so it comes in contact with the rocks, let the lure rise a bit, a couple more cranks, then sweep the lure down again. Vary the power of the sweeps and the amount of time the lure is allowed to rise until you find the best combination to provoke strikes. Favorite crankbaits for this tactic are straight-bodied Depth Raiders and Shallow Raiders, plus Grandmas.