Since pike and muskies consume a wide variety of food it is not surprising that they will strike almost any kind of bait. Action and size are more important than color. Experienced fishers use large baits to catch these large fish so lures can sometimes measure a foot in length. With a big lure, you will need sturdy tackle to cast baits of this size and to drive the hooks into the fish’s mouth.
Muskies in heavily fished waters are followers; they will follow your bait right up to the boat then wander away. The best technique to use with them is to reel your bait within a foot of the rod then dip the rod tip as far into the water as you can to draw figure eights in the water. You will not have to use this technique on pike.
Be conscious of your fishing though and practice the catch and release method on these large predators. You want to preserve the quality of pike and muskies fishing so the big fish are not removed quickly. Make sure to carry heavy long nose pliers and jaw spreaders and try to remove the hooks while the fish is still in the water. Here are some tips and tricks to catch these aggressive predators.
Spinnerbaits and bucktails
Spinnerbaits are naturally weedless bait since they have an upturned hook and safety pin shaft. You can fish a spinnerbait by retrieving over a weedy flat to keep it just above the weed tops and allowing the blade to bulge the surface. Bulging occurs when a rod tip is held high and you reel in fast enough so the blade come close to breaking the surface. It works best when fish are active.
You can also fish spinnerbaits by letting them helicopter into holes in the weeds or fish the bottom of a body of water with a jigging motion. Counting a spinnerbait to where fish are suspended also works well with. During the spring use a spinnerbait that is three to five inches long. When the water begins to warm; use a longer spinnerbait about six to ten inches.
Pikes and muskies can not resist the vibration or the flash of a spinner blade. To entice the fish even more, tip your spinners with a plastic grub or live minnow but try to keep these enticers under four inches in length or you will get too many short strikes.
Large in-line spinners are called bucktails since they have a deer-head dressing or a type of dressing that is feathered or synthetic. Just like spinnerbaits these are fished by casting at specific targets but can also be used to troll over large flats or weed lines. Spinnerbaits and bucktails are hard to beat in weedy cover.
Topwater fishing is one of the most effective ways to catch pike and muskies and is also one of the most exciting. Once the fish are in deep weeds, lures will foul but the noise and surface disturbance of a topwater lure will draw the fish out from their cover to strike at your bait. Topwaters are also great for night fishing but once the water drops below 60ºF, subsurface bait will work best.
A variety of baits can be used for topwater fishing. Propbaits will have propellers on either the back or front end or sometimes both. They work best with a steady and slow retrieve. Crawlers usually have a cupped face or arms and have a wide wobble action with a loud gurgling sound. Fish them with a straight slow retrieve works best. Buzzbaits can be retrieved rapidly and are a great choice when you are trying to find fish because of their safety-pin in-line shape. Stickbaits with their weighted tails have a highly erratic motion when you retrieve them with sharp downward jerks.
Subsurface plug fishing
Because these baits mimic the wobble and vibration of baitfish, pike and muskies find these hard to resist. If you want to fish well with a subsurface plug, choose one that runs at the depth you want to fish. If the weedbed you are casting at tops off at three feet, using a subsurface plug with a depth of 10 feet makes no sense. But if the fish are holding at the base of a deeper weedline, using a shallow subsurface plug is ideal since you can get down far enough to get a strike.
The four basic types of subsurface plugs include: minnow plugs, crankbaits, trolling plugs, and vibrating plugs. Minnow plugs have a narrow lip and slim body which give them a natural looking wobble. Crankbaits have a broad front lip to yield a stronger wobble. Trolling plugs have a flattened broad head to give an intense wobble. Vibrating plugs have no lip but the eye attachment is on the flat back to give them a tight wiggle.
Jerkbaits are meant to be fished with a series of jerks on the rod as their name suggests. Fishing these baits like this imparts an erratic darting action that looks a lot like a wounded baitfish in the water. Most jerkbaits are floaters but experience anglers will weigh down the hooks or the body of the lure to get it to run a bit deeper.
Short stiff rods are used so the rod tip does not hit the water when they are fishing with the jerkbaits. Fish them with a series of sharp, downward twitches of the rod to achieve a side-to-side action.
Most jerkbaits fall into two categories: gliders and divers even though their shapes, action and size can vary greatly. Gliders dart from side to side while divers dart downward. Divers will run deeper because they have lateral movement and they will track through weeds better than a lure with a side to side movement.
These are the most versatile of the lures you can use to fish pike and muskies with. They were used decades ago and are still just as effective today as they were then. You can jig them vertically in deep water or skitter them across the surface or you can troll or retrieve them at a steady pace as well as use an erratic stop and go retrieve to fish with.
The biggest decision you have to make when choosing a spoon is how thick the metal is. A thick spoon is used for distance casting and a thin one for maximum wobble. If you know you are going to be fishing in very heavy weeds and cover, select a weedless spoon. Add a soft-plastic curly tail or a pork strip to give you lure extra attraction. Usually a weedless spoon with have a single hook, make sure this hook is needle sharp.
To get an extra enticing wobble attach spoons to a braided, flexible wire leader. A thick wire leader will restrict their movement and when fishing pike and muskies you defiantly do not want to restrict action.
Even though some fishers do not associate jig fishing with pike and muskies fishing, there are a time when jig fishing will out produce all other lures.
In the early spring or late fall a slow-moving jig is hard to beat because the cool waters make the fish lethargic and unwilling to chase lures. After a cold front jigs are also super-effective, they are also just as good in very clear water as well.
Consider head shape and weight when selecting a jig. If the jig is too light you will not be able to keep the jig at the bottom especially with a strong wind. Once the jig starts sinking, a pike or muskies will strike at it. If the jig is too heavy though, it will sink too quickly and give the fish less time to strike. The best weight for jig fishing is between 3/8 and 7/8 of an ounce.
In weedy cover you will need a brush guard jig but when there is a clean bottom use a roundhead jig. To keep the jig head above the weeds use a swimmer head. Once muskies go deep into rock piles in the late fall use a pyramid jig to drag along the bottom for the most effect cast.
Pike and muskies make short runs when so the best thing to do when fly fishing them is to take your time and try not to horse them in. Once you get them tired out, you will be able to land them. These big fish can test the skill of the most experienced fly fisher so choose carefully.
Fly fishing works best in the spring when the warm water draws pike and muskies into shallow weedy bays. They easily take on divers, poppers, sliders and large streamers. Once the fish begin to go deeper in the summer you will need to weigh your flies and use sinking lines to reach pike and muskies.
The size of your fly depends on the size of the fish you expect to catch. Sizes for pike and muskies range in size from 2 to 4/0. Make sure your fly has a mono or wire weed guard if you know you are going to be fishing in weeds. Use a 7 to 10 weight rod with a weight forward line and heavy wind resistant flies. Usually anglers will use a 6-9 foot leader with an 8-14 pound test tippet with a 12 to 30 pound shock tippet made of multi-strand coated wire.
Live baitfish accounted for more then three-fourths of all pike and muskies caught about a few decades ago. That is much lower today but there are sometimes when the fish are interested in only baitfish.
When the water is too cold or the bite is off for some other reason, live-bait will still produce results. Suckers, chubs and shiners that are anywhere from five inches to a foot are most commonly used. A lot of pike fishers will use dead bait fish because they smell a lot like smelt or ciscoes and appeal to the pikes keen sense of smell more then a live bait fish will.
You can use a live-bait by casting it unweighted and give it a jerky retrieve to imitate a drying baitfish. Or you can fish your bait onto a bobber rig to cast it out and let it lie on the bottom. You can also slow-troll it at the edge of a weedbed to use enough weight to keep it near the bottom.
You can rig baitfish with a single hook usually a size 1/0 to 6/0 pushed through the nose. Make sure that you attach a wire leader to the hook. Baitfish can also be used on a quick-strike ring with one double or treble hook near the pectoral fin and the other near the dorsal fin. If you do this you will be able to set the hook immediately when the fish bites. With this set-up a fish will not be able to swallow the hook and you will increase your hooking percentage.