How to Hold a Musky (and other info)

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


By the Musky Guru
The Hookset is THE MOST important instant of time that occurs during the angling of a muskie.... If things dont go your way during hookset, there is no fight, no photo, no fish.

Some may argue that the hookset is over-rated, and that the best you can do is give it your hardest yank and hope she's hooked herself during the strike. If this is your belief , then power to ya...thanx for comin out. Your "strikes : boated" ratio is as good as it will ever be. I believe that theory could very well hold true for some; but not all of the time. And, if you are lets say, overly pre-occupied with placing all the odds in your favor when it comes to boating muskies, you begin to theorize and devise methods; perhaps unheardof, that could make a difference. Keeping in mind all that I have read regarding hooksets, I came up with 2 distinct techniques that I had never read anywhere before (which is the only reason why I write about it). I put my theories to the test on a daily basis in 2000 and found them to be quite effective and helped to improve the efficiency of my overall muskie angling. Experiencing this further demonstrated to me that the hookset is the defining moment of muskie angling.
The BASICS (when casting)...
RULE #0 (a given)
If your hooks aren't razor sharp, kindly step off the guru's boat.
RULE #1 (basic)
DO NOT set the hook until you FEEL the fish! Sounds easy, but this can sometimes take some degree of mental discipline....especially when surface fishing. You just cant go setting the hook at every splash you hear!
RULE #2 (basic)
Set em HARD!! The muskie's jaw-bone and jaw tissue is very tough. The fat hooks you are using must penetrate past the barbs. You do the math!
RULE #3 (basic)
Always set the hook straight up unless the strike occurred on the surface or during a figure 8. If the strike is on the surface, set it to one side. If the strike occurs during a figure 8, L-turn, or near-surface side-swipe; set at an upward angle contradictory to the forward motion of the fish. These hookset scenarios cause you, the angler to make split second decisions as to when and which direction to set the hook. This is why you must continually scan your peripheral vision while watching your bait during the retrieve so as to detect the direction of the fish.
RULE #4 (basic)
Always thumb the spool when executing a figure 8 or L-turn. Click freespool and plant your thumb firmly when there is one and a half to two and a half feet of line remaining at the end of your retrieve. It is neccessary to at least execute an L-turn if you lack the discipline to do full 8's after every cast.
RULE #5 (basic)
Use the "Bruce Lee 1 inch punch" technique of body movement. The idea is to generate the largest amount of energy in the smallest amount of time, and concentrate that burst of energy into the hook points at the end of your (braided) line. In order for you to generate more power , you need to use more of your body-weight. The more of your body you use, the more power you can potentially generate. A tightly executed series of precise body motions is needed to transfer or "whip" that energy burst to the hookpoints.
Some experts may disagree, nevertheless, those are the basics as I understand them. Now on to the advanced techniques...
Before I go on, it should be noted that experts still debate as to drag settings. Some prefer to have their drags cranked right down for the hookset, then click freespool and use their thumb to increase and decrease resistance (this requires reel proficiency and some degree of angling expertise) The angler may also then choose to lessen the drag setting while fighting the fish(some reels drag systems stick more than others). Another method is to set the drag to give slack for playing the fish and always thumb the spool during hookset. Then play the fish with the drag, or continue to thumb the spool, or a combination of the two. This method is popular among anglers who have experienced drag slippage and no longer trust the drag mechanism for a violent hookset. There are pros and cons to each method. I prefer the first method for two main reasons: #1 - My hookset reaction time is so fast, that I dont have time to put my thumb on the spool during mid-retrieve as I set the hook. As soon as I feel anything unexpected, my rodtip is 4 feet above my head. And, #2 - I prefer to thumb the spool when executing the second hookset. Which brings us to....
RULE #6 (advanced)
Always set the hooks a minimum of two times!! That's right, don't be afraid to set em twice...or even three times!! Six times might be over doing it a little. KEY - Use the "popping" technique for the second and successive hooksets.
Guru Technique # 1 : "POPPING" THE HOOKS
After the first hookset, it is second nature to begin reeling in rapidly and take up any slack quickly til you feel the weight of the fish (this could take anywhere from 0 to a few seconds). After a muskie strikes the lure, and he feels something isnt right, he head thrashes downstairs for "a bit" as his natural reaction. This is when I set the hooks a second time(and sometimes a third). As soon as I FEEL tension on the fish after the first hookset, I release the levelwind with my right hand, thumb the spool with my left, and give a sharp abrupt upward slap with my open right palm to my rod. I "pop" the rod (violently) just in front of the reel-seat on the cork area before the blank, being careful not to smack myself in the face with the rod (again) when doing so. You should aim for your (right) palm to end up a few inches to the left of your left ear. It is neccesary to practice or rehearse this motion as you will need to exert a fair amount of force during execution(there's no point doing it if you sissy-slap it!) and the rod could definitely end up in the vicinity of your face if you dont take the time to "memorize" the positioning prior to attempting the technique. Adding this technique to your arsenal will help improve your hooking percentage.
Guru Technique # 2 : "NEGATIVE ANGLE" RETRIEVE
This next technique is actually a retrieve technique that affects your initial hookset. The "Negative Angle" retrieve technique does not apply to all instances of casting. It does not apply in any instances where the bait requires a high rod tip retrieve technique (such as surface baits). For reference sake, lets say you're fishing a bucktail(or crankbait). Everyone knows you can "work" a bucktail (or crankbait) up and around and through weeds and stuff. For that you must raise your rod tip up and/or twitch it up, down, and around through the cover. However, when you dont have to do that, and your casts are straight simple retrieves, you should consider using a negative rod-angle in relation to the bait. Most anglers find a comfort zone when straight retrieving somewhere between 10 degrees and 50 degrees in relation to the bait (0 degrees occurs when your rod is pointing straight at the bait). You want to angle your rod in the "negative angle" zone during straight retrieves.
An obvious advantage is the ease of executing a smoother transition to the figue 8. The main advantage is this: When a strike occurs and you set your hooks from a negative angle, the rod-tip must pass the 0 degree mark. There is some slack created in the line when the rod-tip approaches and passes the 0 degree mark. This small amount of slack is just what you need to deliver the "Bruce Lee 1 inch punch". You can compare the forces at work to this example; hold a piece of string at each end between your thumb and forefinger on each hand. Create tension, then give a yank to one side with one hand. Then repeat the brain-smoldering experiment, only this time, give a little slack to the string with the hand you will be pulling a split second before you do so. (This demonstrates why we dont "push" nails into wood). The more slack you can create; the better for "tacking" the hooks in, however , with muskie fishing, you really cant afford to create too much slack (by dipping the rod-tip from a positive angle) before setting the hooks because it could be too late by then. Fish gone...bubbye. Your reaction to a possible strike must be as fast as humanly possible. This type of rod positioning "perches" you and sets you up for a fast hookset while creating the slack needed just prior to hookset for optimum penetration; all in one motion. Keep in mind this technique must be used with a lightning-fast hookset. Using this technique coupled with the 2nd hookset as described earlier will drive those barbs so far into the fish's yap, his dentist will send you a thank-you card!


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