The Figure Eight. Most Musky fishermen and women are intimately familiar with this term for the boat side maneuver to trigger muskies. The Figure Eight maneuver is absolutely critical to improving your overall catch rates each year. In this article I am going to break down the Figure Eight in detail and offer some great advice to improve your boat side catches. It’s a major accomplishment to bring a big musky to the boat. You have placed your boat in the right place and made a great cast, and now a nice musky comes screaming in behind your lure. Use these tips to help get that fish in the net.
Eight or Oval?
The Figure Eight was named for the boat side maneuver in the shape of the number eight used to trigger following muskies to bite. It works. It needs to be done on every cast, period. I want to offer my advice to change your eight shaped maneuver to a large oval shape. Why? Let me explain. A smaller musky can typically track down a lure in an eight shaped maneuver quite easily. When you have a really big musky come screaming in, I strongly recommend using a large oval shaped maneuver instead of the eight. It is much easier for a large musky to turn with the lure and not become disoriented. With the sharp turns of the traditional Figure Eight maneuver, big muskies will lose interest in a hurry if they cannot track the lure easily. Start using the oval technique rather than the traditional eight shaped technique to boat more fish. When I use the term Figure Eight going forward in this article, I am referring to my oval maneuver at boat side.
Strike triggers are absolutely critical with following muskies. My all-time favorite strike trigger technique during my boat side oval is to change the level the lure is in the water with a hot following fish. Let me explain. When a hot fish is tight to your lure, rather than leave your lure at the same depth the whole time, I recommend you drive your lure down deeper and then crack your lure up to just under the surface to trigger a strike. I can remember one particular Michigan musky that followed my Dadson Bullet bucktail nine times prior to eating the lure. The catalyst that caused this nice fish to eat was driving my rod down deep, and then suddenly raising the lure up just under the surface on the outside turn. She came up and T-Boned the bucktail. If I think back to all of my follow conversions on following muskies, I would definitely say that this “altitude change” on my lure in the water column has triggered more musky strikes at boat side than anything else I have tried.
One of the most important things to do with a lure as it approaches your boat is to not slow your lure down. If anything, speed the lure up a touch to excite the following musky even more. A hot fish will respond favorably to a slight increase in speed and often eat your offering. If you slow your lure down as it approaches the boat, a hot musky will often lose interest and sink off out of sight. Cardinal Rule. Never slow your lure down. Ever. If the musky is several feet behind your lure, generally speaking it will not strike. If the fish is right on your lure, then use wide turns, combined with speed and my “altitude” change tip I discussed above to trigger more strikes.
Top water Figure Eights
Fishing top water lures is a super exciting way to catch muskies. Top water lures are often followed by hot muskies to the boat. Do not Figure Eight your lure on the surface. I recommend driving your top water lure under water for the best chances to catch a following fish. Whether it’s a prop style top water like a Top Raider, Pace Maker or a Cannonball Jr., or a slow moving top water lure like a Magnum Hawg Wobbler, drive your lure underwater to trigger the following musky to strike. Your odds will increase greatly if you drive your lure under water on a following fish. I have caught many muskies on Top Raiders with under water Figure Eights (Ovals). I never keep my top water lures on the surface. Two years ago, while fishing Lake of the Woods I encountered a fantastic bite on Magnum Hawg Wobblers. One morning while fishing one of my favorite saddles, I had a nice musky blow up on my Hawg Wobbler about ten feet from the boat and miss the lure. I had a strong hunch the fish was still behind the lure so as it came close to my boat I drove the bait under water. With the unique lip design on this lure, it actually has a fantastic swimming motion under the surface, and the musky that was following dog boned my lure on the first turn. Some of today’s large top water lures are rather buoyant, so you definitely want to use a longer rod to ensure you are able to get these lures under water properly.
Today’s trend of longer musky rods has truly changed the game with boat side Figure Eight’s. There are several reasons for this. Longer rods allow the angler to get the lure out away from the boat easier. Longer rods allow the angler to make wider circles with their lures, which make it easier for the following fish (especially big fish), to track the lure easier to set up a plan of attack to strike the bait. Longer rods provide musky anglers with less fatigue due to less bending over every cast. Abu Garcia offers two rods that have truly changed the game for Figure Eight conversions. The Fantasista Beast model rods are offered in both 9’7” and 10’1” models which bring a whole new element to triggering following muskies. It gets the fish further away from the boat, and the length of these rods allows you to coax a huge musky to bite, rather than lose the interest of that fish because your boat side maneuver was too tight and disoriented that fish. Getting a following musky a little further from your boat also loosens up a musky’s inhibition, increasing the odds for that fish to bite. Longer rods mean more boated fish on Eights each year.
It is very easy for musky anglers to become fatigued during a full day on the water and become lazy in their Figure Eight fundamentals. We have all had it happen. You are fishing for hours and the action has been slow, and you are talking to your boat partner and not paying attention to your lure. Suddenly, as you pull your lure from the water, a nice fish flies up out of nowhere, and you have missed your chance. Executing good Figure Eight fundamentals requires dedication. My rule of thumb is doing one full oval after EVERY cast, no exceptions, even if you do not see a following musky. Often a hot fish might be stalking your lure two or three feet down below your bait, and you can’t see the fish. These are the muskies that we often miss out of carelessness. When fishing stained water, it is imperative that you Figure Eight no matter what. Most of the time you will not see the musky behind your lure, so this requires steadfast discipline to Figure Eight every cast, no exceptions. If you night fish a lot, consider using the night fishing fluorocarbon leaders made by Stealth Tackle that feature a glow tape flag attached to the leader. You can zap this flag with your headlight or a flashlight and you will see the glow colored tape approach the boat after dark with ease. I am a huge fan of these leaders for night fishing. You have made a large investment in rods, reels, tackle, and most importantly, time. Do not miss a shot at a potential fish of a lifetime because you became careless after a cast. Stay on point each and every cast.
There is one critical part of a Figure Eight that is often overlooked. Sharp hooks! Properly sharpened hooks will most definitely put more muskies in your net each season, period. Many muskies, especially Lake of the Woods muskies in particular, often nip at your lure during your Figure Eight. If you have not properly sharpened your hooks, a lightly hooked musky will often throw your lure on the first head shake or jump after it is hooked. Super sharp hooks, however, will penetrate the bony outer jaw structure and hold those fish through jumps and the violent battle nature of a musky hooked on very short line. Folks, hooks are never sharp enough right out of the package. My good friends Joe Bucher and Tom Gelb taught me the proper way to sharpen hooks. The Luhr Jensen Flat file (yellow handle) is by far the best hook file on the market. It allows you to sharpen all four sides of your hook point to a cone cut type point, which penetrates extremely well. The chain saw file type hook sharpeners tend to eat up hooks a lot faster and only basically sharpen two of the four sides on the hook. There have been many times where I have made the comment with a musky thrashing in the net that sharp hooks saved the day. It is a must to land muskies that eat at boat side consistently.
Reading a musky’s body language
Another important piece of the Figure Eight equation is being able to read the body language of the musky behind your lure. A slow, sluggish musky that is three to four feet behind your lure will virtually never bite. Use that scenario to drop a way point on this fish and this spot. I way point every follower, I repeat; I way point every following musky. Why? After a short period of time you really can pin point a lake’s hot spots by marking these followers. My best suggestion on these lazy followers is to come back on these fish at last light or first light, a major weather change, or on moon rise or moon set. These sluggish followers are not worth multiple casts. Timing is everything regarding aggressive muskies. If you have a musky charge in that is suicidal in nature, with its nose tight to the lure, your odds of catching that musky go through the roof! It is at this point where longer rods, altitude changes, speed and sharp hooks all come together! If, for whatever reason the hot following musky does not eat your lure on the first Figure Eight attempt, try a throwback lure. I always have a different style of lure rigged and ready to toss back in the direction that the following fish took off, and on occasion I have had the follower eat the different lure out away from the boat. One fish that comes to mind was a chunky forty-seven incher that followed my bucktail to the boat, nipped at it but missed. I had my boat partner grab my Super Shallow Manta jerk bait and throw a cast in the direction the fish took off, and boom! She ate the jerk bait and we got her. Use every trick in the book to entice a hot musky to eat. Leave the sluggish muskies alone until later. The ability to read a musky’s body language is a key factor to boating more fish.
Figure Eights are rather unique to musky fishing. I hope these tips will help you boat more muskies at boat side this season. Remember to sharpen your hooks properly, and to Figure Eight with conviction after each and every cast! This alone will up your catch rates each season.
Tom Dietz : Professional musky angler and educator.