How to Hold a Musky (and other info)

Friday, June 22, 2007

Muskie fishermen are always on the lookout for a magic lure that can turn the “fish of 10,000 casts” into a willing playmate.

They rush to the tackle store to buy every new bait on the market. Their boats are stacked with boxes and boxes of stuff. Not even they know everything they have.

But, Dave Ludington, a top muskie guide in Central Illinois, says just five lures will do.

“You just don’t need all these baits to catch muskies,” said Ludington, who focuses on Evergreen Lake and Spring Lake.

Here’s what he recommends for the complete muskie arsenal:

1. A bucktail works spring, summer and fall by creating flash and vibration to attract and trigger muskies in the stained and dirty water common to Central Illinois. They can be reeled fast to stay near the surface or more slowly to travel deeper. Though the walls of tackle stores are covered with every color in the rainbow, white and silver work well. Combinations of chartreuse, orange and black are good in dingy water or at night.

2. A 6-inch crankbait like a Grandma or Jake can be twitched to resemble a wounded baitfish and used both shallow and deep. Ludington likes rainbow trout or natural colors that resemble shad.

“Do you need a ton of them? No. I’m a firm believer tackle companies make more colors to catch fishermen, not fish,” he said.

3. A topwater bait like a Pacemaker by guide Ty Sennett can be retrieved across the surface at varying speeds. They work best when surface temperature is 65 degrees or higher.

4. A second topwater bait can offer a different look. For example, a Jackpot which slides from side-to-side.

5. A pin-style spinnerbait offers both flash and vibration and can be fished top to bottom, fast or slow. The pin-style spinner also can be jigged up and down below the boat or trolled over the top of weedbeds, on weed edges, over wood and along drop-offs.

“If you can only have one bait, this is the one to have,” Ludington said.

Stretch the number of baits from five to six by adding a larger Jake or Grandma for casting or trolling, he said. His clients earlier this week caught a 33-inch muskie trolling a Grandma at Evergreen. They also had another fish on, but lost it, and a follow from a 40-inch fish. Water temperature was 72 degrees.

Release tools are not a place to cut costs, he added. The proper equipment insures both your safety and the health of the fish so it can be freed to fight another day. A long needlenose pliers, jaw spreaders and bolt cutters are mandatory. A glove improves the odds of a safe release. Every boat should an extra-large net to keep the muskie in the water while you grab the tools and a camera.

Contact Ludington at (309) 663-2483.

Trophy tips

Jim Saric of Musky Hunter magazine and television show echoed Ludington’s suggestions during an appearance in Bloomington sponsored by the Central Illinois Muskie Hunters. Saric’s talk was on trophy tactics. With more than 100 muskies over 50 inches to his credit, he should know.

Saric’s list also begins with a bucktail to learn new water quickly. Use Colorado blades to run high in the water column and willowleaf to run deeper over rocks. Smaller blades run shallower and can be reeled faster and speed sometimes is the key to trigger strikes. Big blades, like the Double Cowgirls’ number 10 size blades, have produced big muskies. In pressured waters, flatten the blades to present something different to the fish. You can add plastic trailers, but don’t get carried away.

Vary the speed of the retrieve. Do a figure “8” boat-side after every cast.

Topwater baits are next on his list when muskies are located in shallow cover. Propeller-style topwaters are great for choppy water.

Soft plastic baits like the Bulldog are responsible for more top finishes in the Professional Musky Tournament Trail than any other kind of bait, Saric added. They seem to shine on pressured waters and during tough times, including during cold fronts.

Carp get-together

The Carp Anglers Group is hosting 16 get-togethers in as many states, including Illinois, on Saturday. The Illinois event will be at Montrose Harbor off North Lakeshore Drive in Chicago. Peg drawing is at 6 a.m. Fishing is scheduled from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Details are located on the web at Contact Sam Snow, at or phone (630) 972-9906.

Tournament notes

Congratulations to Eric Varner and Dave Thompson of the Mackinaw Valley Bassmasters who qualified for the Illinois Bass Federation Nation’s 12-man Illinois state team. Their inclusion was based on the third-place finish at a qualifying six-man team event at Mill Creek. Their team also consisted of Tom Kaufman, Dave Fritts, Brian Koch and Bobby Evans Jr.

Scott Richardson is Pantagraph outdoor editor. Phone (309) 820-3227 or e-mail Read past outdoor and fishing columns or take part in online discussions at www.pantagraph.


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