I was running out of time. It was to be my last trip of the year and my last chance to catch my first big musky (48-inches plus and/or 30-pounds). I had a $100 bet with my buddy’s wife that I’d catch one that year after she taunted me earlier about my lack of big fish success. I was determined to win that bet, no matter what it cost me!
Several weeks earlier in mid-October, three friends and I fished Conneaut Lake in Western Pennsylvania and landed 22 muskies over a long weekend. Virtually all the fish were caught trolling crankbaits, and almost all were in the 12 to 18-pound range. But the lake had big fish potential, because I knew of several giants that came out of there, including the state record. My partner Bill Davis and I started trolling again in early November and caught 3 or 4 muskies the first day. That evening I thought about developing a new strategy. Since trolling seemed to be the only method of presentation that was being used on the lake, and it was not producing the bigger fish, my options were to troll open water or cast to spots trollers couldn’t reach. I opted for fishing hard to troll spots.
I had a good map that showed bottom consistency in addition to contours. I picked out 4 or 5 “inside turns” where the deeper water cut sharply in towards a shore that had a rock or shale hard bottom. Our plan was to fish these tight turns with a jig that would allow us to get into the sharp-breaking corners. This single-hooked lure could also be easily snapped through any weed resistance. On that memorable day in my fishing life (November 7, 1979) I landed my first big musky. Several hundred had been pulled over the gunnel of my boat since I started in September of 1973, but I finally got a lunker. At the end of the day I called my friends wife and when she answered I said “you lost”, then hung up the phone! She knew who it was.
Although jigging is not a method that most musky anglers have in their bag of tricks, it has been productive for me for many years. Most of my jig-caught muskies have been weed-related, but that’s not the only tactic where this method shines. Fast breaking edges that fall muskies often relate to are easily fished with a jig. I’ve had success casting parallel along a bluff bank, counting the jig down to different depth levels. I’ve also caught muskies suspended in or under trees along a sharp drop-off. Inside turns, especially those that are slot-like and fast breaking, are tailor made for a jigging presentation. The only other presentation that I would use there is a heavy safety-pin type spinnerbait, which is basically a jig with a spinner. Sunken humps, or for checking the tip of a fast-dropping point are other prime areas to jig. Jigs are also a great lure in colder water or after a front when down-sizing your presentation may be the key to success.
I started fishing jigs for muskies on Bone and Deer lakes in northwestern Wisconsin in 1973. My good friend Tony Portincaso, a master jig fisherman and angler, got me started. We caught many muskies, bass, pike, and walleyes jigging weedlines in lakes in the Polk county area. And that’s where this tactic really shines…in the weeds. You can easily root muskies out of heart of cabbage beds with this single-hooked lure. Usually a hard snap or two of the rod blows any weeds off the lure. And while we used monofiliament in the early years, braid makes it even easier to do now.
Besides just fishing the weed edge, pay special attention to any breaks in continuity along the edge. Points, turns, cuts, pockets, or anything else different should be thoroughly checked. The person controlling the boat should always be in contact with the weed edge with his lure. This “mapping procedure” makes sure a sharp inside turn is not missed, which is often the key spot along the edge. Others in the boat can go more into the weed bed with a bucktail over the top, use a crankbait along the edge, or penetrate farther into the weeds with a jig.
Boat control is a real key to success. Weed edges that can be seen due to a water color change are easiest to fish. With a wind blowing somewhat parallel to this type of edge, a controlled drift where slight adjustments with the electric motor are made can easily keep you on a good course. Winds blowing into a weed edge are more difficult to fish, and going against the wind with your electric motor is generally your best option.
A stand-up or Power Head also has the eye tie on the front and is mostly used in the weeds, but it’s used when more of a jigging or up and down presentation is desired. The final style of jig head is a rounder or vertical type head. These sink the fastest and are preferred non-weedy conditions, when you need to get deeper, and when speed is needed for a triggering effect.
Jig heads can be dressed with a variety of plastics. Plastic “creatures”(lizard like plastics), flat-bodied 8-inch Reapers, swim baits and tubes are some of the dressings we have used. Put a drop of “super glue” on the back of the jig head before sliding the plastic up to the jig. This helps it stay on when snapping free from weeds. I generally use about a 14-inch leader.
I have had hundreds of muskies come into my boat with a jig in their mouth. It’s just another tool to add to your musky-catching tool box!