Rare Wisconsin Muskies: Hunting an Inland Giant

Wisconsin Muskies: Hunting Giants

Written on 03/27/2020
Chas Martin

Truly giant muskies in the northeast section of Wisconsin, on inland lakes, are rare.  In fact, if you have spent a considerable amount of time chasing muskies in Vilas County, you would likely agree with me that the word “rare” does not accurately describe the population distribution of trophy muskellunge in the area.  Opportunities to catch muskies that weigh in at over 30 pounds, and those approaching or exceeding the magical 50-inch mark, do not come around every day.  Better yet, an opportunity at catching a trophy musky with the dimensions I am describing might not even happen over the course of an entire season! 

Whether it is due to their unique lifestyle, their extremely low population, or a combination of both of these factors, it is safe to say that when you do run into one of these beasts it is a special moment in time.  Sometimes they simply show themselves at a distance, sometimes they will follow in at close range and other times, under just the right circumstances, they will eat.  Everything must go close to perfect to catch a northern Wisconsin inland giant muskellunge.

In this special episode of Musky Mastery season 3 my brother Brian (Big Whiskey) and I find ourselves in the unique position described above.  While fishing a reef on a pressured body of water a giant musky follows Brian’s 700 Buchertail into the figure-8, but quickly swims off with just enough time to give Brian an idea of how big she was.  How big?  When I asked Brian to give me an idea of her size he turned to me, shaking, and stated, “dude, she was so large that I could see the fat jiggling on her body.”

With the image of this behemoth fresh in our minds we doubled our effort to catch this fish and in the process, we ran into a wolf pack of muskies feeding in the same area.  Some of these muskies approached the 4-foot mark while others topped out around 36 inches, but with each passing follow, it seemed that our big girl had slipped back out over the depths to suspend once again.  Racking our brains as we tried to figure out what might entice the giant to follow again, I decided to pull a special lure out of my box: a custom painted orange Elvis Buchertail 700 Tinsel.

Although we had already emptied my tackle box in an effort to catch her, she had initially followed Brian’s 700 Tinsel in Goldie Locks pattern and to the best of our knowledge, the big musky had showed zero interest in any other presentation.  Perhaps it was the vibration and sound of the 700 Buchertail that had intrigued the beast and maybe trying a new color pattern would trigger a strike instead of a follow. 

Confidence in your approach during these stressful times can be critical in achieving success because when you are out casting in repetition for hours upon hours, it is easy to second guess yourself and lose focus.  My switch back to the 700 Buchertail was actually an easy change for me because statistically speaking, I have caught all of my PB Wisconsin muskies on the 700 Buchertail and they have all come during the months of August or September.

There was one more important strategy that Brian and I decided to try in order to get the big muskie to eat, if she was still in the area.  It is called the 180-degree change-up, and it is a little trick that has paid off huge for me other the years, allowing me to trigger muskies of all shapes and sizes into striking aggressively after previously only following.  The tactic is as simple as it sounds and involves changing the angle of your attack on the predicted holding location of the musky by 180-degrees.  When fishing a reef like we were in this scenario, all we had to do was cast to where the musky initially followed from on the opposite side of the reef.  If you are working shoreline structure, and casting toward mainland, this would require you to move your boat into super-skinny water and cast out toward the basin in order to hit a 180-degree angle change.

On my fifth cast with orange Elvis, casting in the opposite direction of the initial follow, I had a bone-jarring strike on the other end of my line that only meant one thing: I was tied up with a HUGE fish!  I reeled hard to keep a tight line as the fish initially moved toward the boat working out toward deeper water, but things quickly changed at close-range.  The big musky stayed down deep and made power run, after power run, in an effort to free herself from the oversized 7 O/T treble hook that was stuck in the roof of her mouth.

Over many years of trial and error I have learned that successfully battling trophy muskies requires patience and careful use of your rod and reel to keep a tight line and tire these big girls out.  Trying to “horse” a 30+ pound muskie into the net is a risky move because when muskies get that big, the force from their movements can break either tackle or flesh.  I have found a much higher level of success battling large muskies by playing them out and making sure to net them when the time is right.

I played a careful game of “cat-and-mouse” with the big fish in order to tire her out, allowing her to take line under pressure, so that she would give us a good shot with the net.  But things did not go perfectly for Brian and I like we had planned.  On our first attempt to net her Brian was not able to lift the net bag quick enough to keep her inside and this was likely due to his proximity to the camera monopod that got in his way. 

What is most important to see at this point during the fight is the power of keeping a positive attitude, continued commination with your partner and trust in your hooks.  Did we have a shot at this big musky???  Yes, we did!  But in the sport of musky fishing things rarely go as planned so you must adjust accordingly and make the best of the situation.  Trusting that she was hooked well I let the muskie take two more power runs and it was at this point that I could sense that she was tired. 


With a quick swoop of my rod from right to left I turned the muskie in the direction of Brian and yelled at him to get ready!  This time, on the port side with fewer camera mounts in the way, Brian was able to slip the net underneath the giant!  After a big headshake in the net the big fish tossed the 700 Buchertail and she was off!  I knew we had something special as I screamed to Brian, “It’s a Wisconsin 50!”

Brian and I looked at each other in disbelief as we realized just how special this moment truly was.  We had kept our cool during an intense fight with a fish that we both knew was truly, rare.  All muskie catches are special and should be cherished regardless of size but, there are some catches that are in a special category all of their own.  This was one of those special moments for us and I could not have been more honored and proud to share it with my brother.

To see my battle with this giant muskie please visit my YouTube Channel and be sure to hit the subscribe button for notifications on our weekly content releases. 


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