How to Hold a Musky (and other info)

Monday, June 27, 2011

How to Rig Suckers Fishing for Muskies

By John Bette

Once the weather starts to change and water temps begin to drop, it is time to start thinking about fall fishing and live sucker baits. Live bait/Sucker fishing can be one of the most effective methods for catching Muskies during the fall season. It can make the difference between having a great day on the water or a bad day. I have experienced many days in the fall where we had no action or follows from artificial lures, yet wound up with multiple fish days when we had suckers out.

The first step in getting started with live bait/Sucker fishing is to have the right set up. For sucker fishing I prefer an 8-foot heavy fiberglass rod - one that has a lot of backbone for strong hook sets. One of the reasons we like to use glass rods is because in extreme temperatures a graphite rod can shatter and risk injuring anyone around. Also helpful is a good line counter reel for running the bait at accurate depths. I really like the Okuma Convector reels for this. As far as line goes, a good 80-100 pound test super braid like Hi Seas Grand Slam Braid. The super braids are good so you don’t have the stretch factor when setting the
Hulcano Harness by Stealth Tackle
hooks. The next key ingredient is a good quick strike rig. I highly recommend using only Quick Strike Rigs over the old single hook method because studies have proven that even though fish caught on a single hook have been successfully released, there is a delayed mortality factor involved. The last thing we want to see happen with a released trophy fish is that it ends up dying on the bottom of a lake somewhere. There are a lot of quick strike rigs available on the market, and which one to use depends on personal preferences for rigging. We have created our own Quick Strike Rig called the Hulcano Harness by Stealth Tackle, which was designed by myself and Musky Guide Mike Hulbert. We have a very high success rate with our harness. This rig was developed with not only fish safety in mind but the fisherman as well. We use a one treble hook rig with a small lip hook so that it is simple to rig. It is ready to go within seconds - not minutes - without having to tie anything or use a rubber band and rigging needle. This rig is made with only one treble hook because in most cases only one hook gets into a fish on a hook set. Any extra hooks are left swinging free and sometimes hook into the fish’s gills, or worse yet, in your hand while trying to unhook the fish. The Herbie Rigs, and Maina Rigs are also very effective and easy to use as well and offer a little different presentation and rigging. Take a look at what is out there and pick the one that best suits your needs.

Rigged Sucker
Once we have our setup, we are ready to hit the water! I like to run my suckers a couple different ways depending on the area of the lake I am fishing. I usually like to weigh the sucker down by clipping a bell sinker to the swivel at the top of the Rig, so that I can run them straight down above the tops of the weeds. You can also use a heavy rubber core sinker attached to your line just above the rig. The Okuma line counter reels come in handy for setting the correct depth. I am able to make the adjustments I need by checking the depth on my depth finder and seeing where the top of the weeds are so that I can set my bait accordingly. This also helps me if I am fishing open water where there are suspended fish. I can set my bait right at or above schools of bait or large fish that I marked on the screen of my depth finder. By using the line counters and knowing the depth you set your bait at, makes it easy to repeat the same exact presentation if you boat a fish at a certain depth. If possible I like to run multiple suckers. I will run one sucker straight down off the side of the boat and another under a large slip bobber a few feet off the back of the boat. I do not like to run them too far behind the boat because if a fish hits too far out it can be hard to get a good hook set in them. I prefer to be directly over the top of the fish when I am setting the hooks. Also, if the line is too far out from the boat, by the time you catch up to the fish and pick up the slack line, you risk giving the fish time to swallow the rig which could wind up killing it. While running the suckers close to the boat, there have been many times where we bring a fish up on a follow and it will break off and hit the live bait verses following and tuning back out to where it came from. It is a great method for converting followers into eaters.

The key with using quick strike rigs is making sure you don’t waste too much time from when the fish hits, until setting the hook. Thus the name "Quick Strike Rig". You usually never need more than a minute to 90 seconds get this done. Another great feature on the Okuma line counter reels is a loud bait clicker or alarm. If you have the bait clickers set when a fish hits, it will alert you immediately. I usually set my rods in the rod holders, with the bails closed and the drag as loose as it will go. Another option is to leave your bail open and have the reel in freespool mode. However, I don’t like doing this in case the reel accidentally gets closed. With the drag tight, the fish the fish will feel the tension when it hits and may let go of the bait causing you to lose your catch. By having the spool closed and the drag loose, you are leaving less room for error. I always double check my drag before setting the hooks anyway so for me this is the easiest way. Once the clicker goes off, the fish has taken the bait. I grab the rod from the rod holder, and work as quickly and calmly as I can to position the boat above or directly over the fish so that my line is straight down to the fish (reeling the line slowly in as we reposition over the fish). In the meantime my partner is usually clearing the other line or lines, moving things in the boat, and preparing the net. Once over the top of the fish I reel up all the slack line and put a little tension on it. There should be enough tension to feel the fish and feel when the fish is actually flipping the bait in its mouth. This is usually felt by a few small taps. Once this occurs, usually within a minute or so, it is time to set the hook. Re-tighten your drag so that it is locked down tight – you don’t want any line slippage. Reel down to the water and give it all you got! I don’t think you can set a hook hard enough. Keep in mind that in most cases you are using a 12-14 inch live sucker and in some cases even bigger. The fish has a firm grip on the bait and you need to be sure you can bury the hooks into the upper jaw of the fish’s mouth. When setting the hook, there are two things you want to happen. First, you want the bait to break free from the fish’s mouth. Second, you want good hook penetration into the hard upper jawbone of the fish. I cannot stress enough how important it is to set the hook as hard as you can and let the fight begin! A good rod will support your efforts, and you should not have to worry about breaking the rod. Hopefully, all of this will result in great big fish in the net. Having the proper tools out and ready (don’t forget the camera) will result in a great picture and a quick release!

As always, check your local rules and regulations before you begin live bait fishing. There are many different rules for different areas. What works in some areas may very well be illegal in other areas. There are laws regarding the number of lines you can run as well as boat movement while dragging live bait. These are two things to pay very close attention to when you are setting out to fish. Also, be sure to check the live bait regulations as far as transporting live bait. Hopefully, these words of wisdom will help you become a better and more effective sucker fisherman! As always please practice 100% catch and release, the future of our fisheries depends on it!

John Bette Stealth Tackle
John Bette is the owner of Stealth Fishing Tackle & Fishing Leaders providing the highest quality fishing leaders and sucker quick strike rigs on the market today. For more information please visit Stealth Tackle


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