As if muskies aren’t difficult to catch anyway, add a massive cold front or an extreme heat wave into the mix and they can become nearly impossible to move. Short of bouncing a bait off the end of their nose, what options do you have? Does a finesse approach actually work for these picky critters? Ask legendary muskie angler and The Next Bite personality, Pete Maina and his answer might surprise you.
“Fish of all species have their days where they feed aggressively and then have days where they might need a more subtle approach,” Maina says. “Muskies are no different. If the water temperature rises or falls too fast the fish will shut off, if the spread of water temp to air temp is vastly different it will also put the fish in a negative mood. The innovative anglers who adapt to these circumstances and refuse to let the conditions beat them will find a way to put fish in the boat. When you finally do connect and successfully land a fish, there is a lot of satisfaction knowing you overcame a difficult situation.”
“Water clarity also plays a major role in when an angler should resort to finesse tactics,” he continues. “Obviously under very clear water conditions a softer approach might produce better and more results, but the opposite might also hold true in clear water when an aggressive approach might produce the best results. If you are able to move some fish, evaluate their reaction and adjust accordingly, experimenting is a part of the fun!”
Total Solutions Technique
“The key to successful finesse musky fishing is to be able to fully control your bait. Slow, erratic, and neutrally buoyant baits can be tremendous presentations when the muskies are in a defensive mood,” Maina explains. “I like to throw soft plastic jerk and swim baits, jigs and Reapers, jigs with live or dead baits, and any kind of bait you can run relatively slow.”
“Contrary to popular opinion, a great throw-back bait under these conditions is a top-water walk-the-dog type bait,” he says. “If I can’t get a fish to go, I will mark the spot and return at a change in the weather or wind, a moon rise or a set time frame to see if she is ready to eat. Knowing and fishing by the solunar tables can give you an edge on finding active fish. Predatory species will often be at their peak activity periods during moonrise or moonset or when the moon is overhead or underfoot.”
Maina continues, “Under difficult conditions, the fish really tuck in tight to structure relative to depth, for example weeds. Muskies will often bury themselves towards the bottom of the weeds and wait things out until normality returns. Working a slow neutrally buoyant bait over a deeper weed bed where you know muskies lurk might be just what the Musky Dr. ordered.”
“Don’t just work it once either, hit it a few times from different angles in an erratic twitching fashion with occasional long pauses,” Mania says. “Also don’t let the common misconception of ‘the fish aren’t biting’ take hold with you. There is always a way to make the fish eat, you just need to evaluate each situation, adapt your presentation and make the next cast.”
Total Solutions Equipment
As far as rods and reels are concerned the selection is pretty standard, just match them up with the weight of the bait you will be chunkin’. Maina feels fishing during unstable conditions requires the right line selection. His go-to line for finesse musky fishing is Trilene Professional Grade Braid in 65 or 80 pound test, tipped with a leader of 100 pound test Berkley Pro-Spec100% Fluorocarbon Leader Material . A great choice when fishing jigs and soft plastics in clear water.
Muskies are an aggressive fish requiring aggressive tactics, but when unstable conditions set in, get creative and slow things down. Make numerous casts to the same area, even with different baits, especially if you are fishing an area you know consistently holds fish. Even a big toothy critter like the elusive muskellunge needs a little finesse from time to time.
Trilene Professional Grade Braid
Berkley Pro-Spec100% Fluorocarbon Leader Material