How to Hold a Musky (and other info)

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Jigging for muskie

By Lonnie King

By 8 a.m. the temperature had hit 80F (27C), without even a whisper of wind under baby-blue skies. For most people, it was a picture-perfect setting. For two anxious muskie fishermen, it was disasterous. Adding to the situation, we were faced with gin-clear water, which gave fish as good a look at us, as we had of them.

We pitched bucktails and jerkbaits along weedlines and over deeper weed flats, but by noon hadn't had a single muskie follow a lure. About then, my fishing partner pointed out a big muskie resting on bottom. I made a long cast to avoid spooking the fish, but just as five others we'd also seen that morning had done, the muskie simply slid off into deeper water as my bait drew near. Alas, not all fishing stories have a happy ending. At least the lesson, early in my fishing career, identified the need for a more subtle presentation than bucktails and jerkbaits - one that could trigger inactive fish, even in deep water, under windy conditions, or in clear water. The answer was jigs.

Steve Herbeck of Vermilion Bay spent more than 20 years guiding for muskie in Wisconsin before opening a lodge on Eagle Lake, Ontario. Having jigged up a number of muskie topping 40 pounds (18 kg), Herbeck is well versed on the virtues of jigs. "Nowadays, most of the waters I fish are semi-clear, multi-structure lakes. There's a diversity of rock, weed, sand, and other types of substrates in conjunction with various structural elements, such as points, flats, humps, and breaks," he said. "Most of the jig fishing I do on these types of lakes is along weed edges in 6 to 18 feet (1.8 to 5.5 m) of water. Jigs are also great for working in tight places, such as fallen timber and inside weed edges and pockets."

Herbeck uses a wide range of jig styles for muskie. One of his favourites is a plastic lizard or a reasonable facsimile. His willingness to experiment with different baits has lead to the development of a paddletail lizard, which he constructs by replacing the standard tail on most plastic lizard bodies and replacing it with the tail of a paddletail worm. "Another bait that's produced some nice fish is a concoction my buddy contrived," Herbeck confessed. "He runs a strand of Dacron or Fireline through the body of a soft-plastic lizard and replaces the plastic tail with a swivel and a Colorado spinner blade. This combination has accounted for some real monsters. "Don't overlook live bait either," he continued. "Tipping your jig with a big chub or a small sucker can be a real winner with tight-lipped muskie."

As important as understanding where jigs are best, knowing where and when other lures are better choices is also critical.

"As a rule, I'm not going to use a jig to explore or cover lots of water. It's simply too slow. In areas that really look fishy, or that have produced muskie for me in the past, this is when I'll likely pick up a jigging rod and slow down my presentation," said Herbeck. "But that's not to say jigs are only to be used when fish are tight lipped. As a follow-up lure, a jig is hard to beat anytime. In fact, you'll unlikely ever find me on the water without a jig tied to at least one of my rods."

Many of these sentiments are echoed by Whitby guide Rocky Crawford, who fishes muskie throughout southern Ontario. " In pressured waters or during cold fronts is where jig tactics work best for me," he said. He applies experience gained using jigs for bass to his muskie fishing. "It's the same with muskie as it is with bass. It doesn't take fish long to grow wise to certain lures, but you can literally catch the same fish over and over again with a jig," Crawford confessed. "In fact, over the last five or six years, I've taken about 60 per cent of all my muskie on jigs."

Most of the waters Crawford fishes are shield-country lakes, although he also spends time on the weedier Kawarthas. "Typically, what I'm looking for are steep, rocky shorelines adjacent to the main-lake basin. These areas might look devoid of structure, but where fallen trees, ledges, or intersecting weedlines exist, there's a good chance muskie will relate to it. Ten to 20 feet (3 to 6 m) down is where I do most of my jigging, but occasionally we take fish as deep as 30 feet (9 m), especially under cold conditions."

His favourite is a 1/2-ounce rattle jig, tipped with a 6-inch pork trailer. "'Soft plastic trailers work, but they usually need to be replaced after one or two fish. I've caught as many as 20 muskie on a single piece of pork, " he explained.


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