Fight ‘Em Right

I’ve spent many seasons now as a muskie angler and guide (to the point where I’d rather not get specific). As a result, I’ve endured many a muskie story. Of course, the bulk of these are of “the one that got away” variety (specimens cited in the telling are of extreme proportions). I’ve watched many a muskie shake-off, not-get-hooked and even skillfully avoided as potential captors managed to whisk-away their offering before snapping jaws could close around them. It’s as though they want to save their respective purchases from the wear and tear that coincides with such vicious, toothy attacks (which I’ve never quite understood, since they’re usually paying me money to catch one of the silly things).

Quickly, I should admit that I’ve had a few personal tales of my own. With all this said, the subject of fighting muskies presents anglers, including myself, with quest – to eliminate as many of the “one that got away” stories as possible.

At least on a personal basis, it makes a good goal. Let the other folks continue to lose them if they like. This way there will never be a shortage of “got away” stories to be told – assurance that dispensaries of liquid-refreshment close to muskie waters will never be boring.

While fishing muskie, I have yet to see one make a run much over forty feet in length (average: about 8 feet), nor have I met the fish (or think I will) that I can’t tire and land in less than 5 minutes (normally far less) on normal muskie tackle. But hey, that’s what makes muskie fishers and fishermen in general so special: active imaginations prompted ever so slightly by ego.

Now, back to the issue of avoiding missed fish. In reality, avoiding this totally or recording a 90% recovery per strike just isn’t going to happen-at least not with muskie. There is no doubt though, that a significant dent can be put in the “loss” ratio by paying attention to some details and learning to fight a fish properly once hooked. There are many common mistakes I see regularly, that can be easily avoided.

Let’s take a look at some of these common mistakes, and some better options, that will result with more fish being brought to boat side. No tactic or presentation tips here – just a strict study of the percentage game to hopefully maximize the number of “hands-on” releases as compared to the total number of strikes.

Equipment and Hookset

Now here’s another arguable subject. Everyone has their favorite gear; and some folks are just more comfortable with certain lengths, weights and actions when it comes to rods and other terminal necessities. Comfort with your equipment is a factor that should never be overrated. The hookset, itself, is of great importance. If not executed properly, none of the other stuff really matters – you never get that far. In my mind, a good portion of successful “setting” is in the equipment.

Beyond sharp hooks and fresh, strong line, the issue is simply driving those hooks in to a point where they will hold. Besides the corner of the mouth, these critter’s heads are nothing but a big “bone box.” I preach religiously about “snapping” the hookset. Pulling hard (all too common) just doesn’t cut it. It may look impressive (briefly) because the rod loads nicely-but it doesn’t drive hooks. A quick, sharp snap is what drives hooks.

Factors that will greatly diminish this snap are light-action, no backbone rods and line with any significant amount of stretch. We hear more about longer rods every year for muskie fishing. You’ll hear it from me too. I love long rods. I think they allow me to cast farther with less effort, work lures a better, allow for a much better figure eight, and (the main issue for this story) they allow you to fight fish better, ultimately keeping more fish on.

The key to long rods “working” for muskie fishing is a strong, heavy butt section that tapers to a fairly fast tip. In the Signature Series of rods that I designed for Bass Pro Shops, my favorite rod is the 8 footer, and we are currently working on an 8′ 6″. They match perfectly with today’s new super braid, low-stretch lines. Because these lines have virtually no stretch, they help to create tremendous “snap” on the hookset, but once a fish is hooked, a lack of stretch becomes the enemy. Because the line offers no shock absorption, the longer rod with that faster tip does a much better job than the standard, shorter, pool-cue type rod. When there is no “give”, vicious head-shakes really open up holes where hooks entered, and eventually causing barbs to become useless.

Match the rod with a quality baitcasting reel that features a reliable drag system. I’m proud to say the Bass Pro Shops PQ3000 Pete Maina Signature Series Reels fall into this category. When big muskies want to move, they need to take line. Some folks like to disengage the spool when fish are ready to run, “thumbing” the line as it goes out. But going back and forth from engaged to disengaged isn’t as easy as it sounds. One slip could spell disaster (a backlash). A reel with a good drag system is actually the most consistent method of giving a little line to a running “Ski”.

A quality drag system should allow you to tighten the drag to a point of almost total lockdown (for hooksets) and with slight adjustments transfer to medium tension. You want the reel’s drag to let line out “smoothly.” When you have a good drag, it’s the best way to fight these fish. I go with the drag all the way these days.

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