In an earlier article we looked at "run and gun" muskie fishing. Fishing fast, and covering a lot of water in a day. The logic is that if you hit 50 spots instead of 20, and you will bump into more muskies in a day. Last time I said that there is a time and place for run and gun fishing—and there is a time and place for a slow, methodical, thorough fishing approach.
This time, we’ll look at the latter style. I’ll call it poke and probe muskie fishing, because the idea is to slowly and thoroughly poke and probe every nook and cranny on a spot in order to pry a wary muskie out of its sanctuary deep in the weeds or back in the shadows.
It only makes sense. Blaster after blaster blows through a big popular weedy bay—all day long—hour after hour. Unless a big muskie happens to wander into a heavily fished bay sometime between boat #17 and boat #18 (and this does happen), nothing much will happen. By the time the third or fourth boat comes though fishing topwaters and burning small bucktails, any hot aggressive fish in the bay will have been stung. Other fish that may use the bay will be hunkered down at the base of the weeds, or will have paddled out to a sanctuary that sees little fishing pressure.
Then somebody comes putting into the bay … his boat inches along … he stays an hour … and comes out with pictures of a water release of a 51 incher. What the heck happened? Well unless he happened to be that lucky boat #18, mentioned above, my guess is that the guy fished a lot more thoroughly than everyone else. Instead of fishing high and fast, he slowed way down and worked his lure through every pocket, edge, and hidden piece of cover.
He may even have had the patience and discipline to do something my good friend Dick Pearson has dubbed "grinding." If Dick didn’t invent the technique, he is certainly the guy who is popularizing it. Grinding is simple. All you have to do is cast your lure into a thick weedbed, let it flutter (on a tight line) to the bottom, and then retrieve it cleanly through the weeds, along the bottom, back to the boat.
The way Dick describes the retrieve—and it does work—is to point your rod and even your reel straight down at the lure and crank slowly. When you encounter resistance, do not rip the rod up. Keep it steady and pop the lure through the weed with the reel handle. "Grinding" as in heavy-duty cranking. It’s amazing how well this works. It’s also amazing to find so many nice fish in a weedbed that had already been hammered by the run and gun crowd.
Rad Dog spinnerbaits, Shumway’s Funky Chicken spinnerbaits, and Dick Pearson’s new Grinder spinnerbait all do the job.
There is a lot more to thoroughly fishing spots than just fishing deep in the weeds. Complex reefs, points, saddles, spines, even weedbeds often have hidden secondary elements. These can take many forms. A tight inside turn on the point, a deep side finger off the spine, a little coontail on a rocky saddle, a small boulder pile in a weedy bay. You get the idea. These small secondary features may not be obvious to the run and gunners. For that very reason, these elements offer sanctuary to pressured muskies. Slow down, poke and probe—until you find the secondary spots, the sanctuaries, that hold the fish.
My favorite lure for poking and probing is, once again, the single blade spinnerbait. You can let it flutter into holes and pockets. (It fishes on the way down.) You can drag it over stumps and rocks.
If I were blindfolded and simply told which direction to cast, I honestly think I could cast away and feel my way through a spot with a good spinnerbait. No kidding, I have been catching more than half of my fish on spinnerbaits for over 15 years.
Something I have been implying, but not saying, is that fishing methodically and thoroughly is a big fish tactic. The run and gun anglers pick off hot, high in the water, aggressive muskies. Muskies don’t get big and fat behaving like that. Run and gun anglers do catch a lot of fish—and occasionally bump into a big one. But slow, thorough fishing will put you in contact with the sanctuaries. Muskies do get big and fat hanging out in safe sanctuaries.
Find the sanctuaries. Catch bigger muskies. Easy as that.
Catch a nice one and let it go. Let them ALL go.