In today’s world of advanced angling tactics and high tech gear that is now available to musky anglers, it sometimes becomes easy to forget the little things that are important for us to be consistently successful on the water. These small, yet very important, details I will be discussing in this article are every bit as important as your lure selection, lake selection, or choice of boat, etc. Let’s face it, many of us who have careers, that do not enable us to be on the water full time, need to keep sharp when it comes to the small details in order to consistently boat muskies year in and year out. When our actual “on the water” time is somewhat limited due to our work or family schedules, it becomes imperative that we stay on top of our game by paying close attention to many of the smaller but very important details that ultimately make or break our success when it comes to landing more muskies each year.
Proper Sharpening of Hooks:
This topic is of utmost importance, and yet is oftentimes overlooked by many anglers who feel that the hooks that come out of the lure package are plenty sharp to use without proper sharpening first. I was extremely fortunate to have been mentored on proper hook sharpening by two great legends of musky fishing, Joe Bucher and Tom Gelb, while I was running Joe Bucher Tackle Company years back. While I agree that the hooks available to us musky anglers today are much higher quality than we had fifteen years ago, they still need to be properly sharpened by hand. This small but often overlooked step is the key to boating more fish each year. My favorite musky hook for bucktails and topwaters is the VMC 9617 7/0 treble hook. It’s incredibly strong and sharpens with ease.
I highly recommend the hook file offered by Luhr Jensen. While not the least expensive file out on the market, it is, by far, the highest quality steel and does the best job on my hooks with ease. When you purchase new lures, make sure to properly sharpen your hooks by using a barb to tip sharpening method on all four sides of each hook. You do not need to apply a lot of pressure on the steel as the Luhr Jensen file will do the job for you. By hitting all four flat sides of each hook you will create a wickedly sharp hook point that will be durable and dependable in the moment of truth. It is also very important to note that after each musky caught or if you have snagged your lure, grab your file and touch up your hooks until they stick in your thumbnail with a little pressure (my preferred test) to ensure they are ready for battle again. By sharpening your hooks correctly and diligently, you will lose less fish each year on boat side Figure 8 strikes, top water strikes just after a long bomb cast, etc. An important reminder is to keep your hook files out of the rain and in a tackle box or waterproof compartment or they will rust quickly so protect your investment. Hook sharpening is one of those little details that is critically important to your daily success on the lake.
Today’s musky reels are incredible machines indeed. I am using reels manufactured by Abu Garcia, and they are very durable and dependable. Virtually all manufacturers now offer some great products to specifically meet our needs. It is important to properly maintain your reels each season in order to increase their longevity and performance. I make sure to periodically lube my reels several times each year, and especially if my reels have been out in heavy rain or somehow were placed under water. It is also very important to back off your drags on each reel at the end of the season so you do not damage the drag washers in your reels. This simple, yet small detail, can be very important when that giant comes in and train wrecks your lure at boat side, and roars under the boat. If your drag is damaged or not working smoothly bad things can happen fast. If you are not real comfortable tearing down your reels for maintenance, consider sending your reels out annually to an expert like Esox Reel Repair in Cannon Falls, Minnesota. Keith Edberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another key reason for proper maintenance of your reels is the popularity of today’s larger musky lures. As you can imagine, these huge baits put a lot of stress on your reels each time you are on the water and can wear out your reels fast if you do not properly maintain them. Another great tip regarding reels is to spend a little extra money on your reel purchases to get the best quality reel that you can afford. With the popularity of today’s large and heavy musky lures, it is imperative that you invest in a quality reel with sufficient durability in the gears to handle these large baits on a day to day basis.
Quality Split Rings and Pliers:
Many of today’s musky lures have incredible action and fish appeal, but because of increasing manufacturing costs they often have inferior split rings on them. When companies are mass producing lures, I can understand why lure manufacturers try to bring production costs down by purchasing less expensive split rings. But this small detail can cost you a fish of a lifetime at the moment of truth. Nothing pains me more than to hear a fellow musky angler tell me about the huge fish that got away due to split ring failure. It does and can happen, and as my friend Joe Bucher likes to say, “Your toughest lessons are always taught by the biggest muskies.”
How true is that statement!!! I urge each and every one of you to go out and purchase a supply of Super Split Rings by Joe Bucher Outdoors (300 lb. test pull strength) or else Spro’s Power Split Rings to use on all of your musky lures. I typically use a Size 7 split ring for most applications or a Size 5 on smaller lures. In order to put these rings on with ease, I use and highly recommend the blue handled Split Ring Pliers made by Xuron Company. These pliers have an aggressive tooth to open rings fast for easy removal and installation on the water and off.
A great offseason project for you is to go through and upgrade your lures with high quality split rings and to sharpen your hooks in preparation for the coming season.
Purchase Quality Leaders and Line:
Terminal tackle focus is one of those small details that turns into big fish catches each year for those that pay attention to it. A close friend of mine called me last summer to tell me about a giant musky he hooked and lost on Lake of the Woods in Ontario. The fish ate a Mag Bulldawg and he fought the musky in a violent boat side battle for several minutes before the fish suddenly broke off. To his dismay, he found that the crimp on his fluorocarbon leader had failed, costing him a low to mid fifties inch musky. His leader offered only two crimps on either end of the fluorocarbon rather than a hand tied knot to augment the crimp. The best advice I can offer is when you are purchasing top quality rods, reels and lures, DO NOT skimp on the quality of your terminal tackle. I strongly recommend and use Stealth Tackle Company’s leaders for most of my musky applications because the manufacturing quality is absolutely second to none when it comes to manufacturing a fluorocarbon musky leader. John Bette of Stealth Tackle uses a heavy duty hand tied knot along with a crimp on the back end to avoid failures. He also utilizes premium fluorocarbon along with ball bearing swivels to minimize line twist along with special heavy duty snaps to avoid any mishaps during the battle with a big musky. I also highly recommend John’s seven strand leaders for jig fishing, throwing small rattle baits in the spring, or with any other small lure presentation to avoid a potential bite off.
These leaders also feature strong, hand tied knots and excellent construction. Spend the extra money this season to outfit yourself with quality leaders. This small but critical detail is all part of the puzzle to be consistently successful year in and year out when chasing and landing big muskies. Lastly, do not overlook using a quality, heavy duty braided line. I personally recommend a minimum of 80lb. Test and I use 80lb. Or 100lb. braid in all of situations. Once again, with today’s large musky lures you want the added insurance of strong line, and to be honest, muskies are not inherently line shy. I recommend using Vicious No Fade Braid as I have used this quality product for twelve years without any failures.
Weather, Wind and Moon Factors:
Many of us veteran musky anglers who write articles and give seminars often discuss the importance of moon phases, major weather changes, and other events that are real musky triggers each season on the water. I strongly recommend that you are constantly aware of what is happening around you.
Whether it’s getting close to moon rise, or you notice a huge storm front moving in, or even a subtle yet noticeable change in wind direction, all of these variables can mean a major bite window opening up. Paying close attention to these small but extremely important details can really make or break your trip.
If you are planning a trip to northern Wisconsin or Minnesota this coming summer, try to work the vacation around the Full Moon or New Moon peak for that given month to try and maximize your musky fishing success. I have also had great success hitting the water as much as possible during long periods of steady weather patterns, since musky activity always seems to be best during periods of minimal weather changes. However, the approach of a major frontal change can also often trigger big muskies to bite, especially fish that have followed your lure offering to the boat but would not commit. I have had some
explosive action just before major storms have hit, but always be extra careful that you do not put yourself or your fishing companions at risk with lightning, etc. during these periods.
This season, truly dedicate yourself to examining the small details and improving the performance of your equipment. Force yourself to sharpen your hooks properly every time, and to purchase top notch split rings and leaders. If you follow all of these tips, you will catch more and bigger muskies consistently each year.
Tom Dietz is a Regional Sales Manager for Hawke Optics and currently resides in Breezy Point, MN. Tom is a regular contributor to the Musky360 app. He guides anglers for muskies in North Central Minnesota. Tom can also be found on Instagram under Tom Dietz Outdoors.