By Gord BastableVermilion Bay Lodge, Eagle Lake, Ontario
What do you need to know to fish for muskie? There is an abundance of information out there on the technical aspects of angling for muskie….and an abundance of differing opinions. If you need to get some good background on the subject I would suggest picking up a copy of Dick Pearson’s, Muskies on the Shield, which deals with the types of water and conditions you will find on Eagle Lake. My purpose here is to get the “average” Vermilion Bay Lodge guest into an Eagle Lake “muskie mind set”. Whether you are a serious muskie person, or are not even planning on fishing for muskie, some of these ideas may be useful to you on your next trip to VBL. After all, regardless of what you are fishing for, if you have a line in the water, there is a chance a muskie is “eyeballing” your offering!
Here at the lodge I have met thousands of anglers with differing skills and interests. A common problem is that many people are ill prepared to deal with a big fish after it’s caught…this applies to ALL species found here in Eagle Lake. This problem is magnified greatly when the fish in question happens to be a muskie. A big, heavy, fierce looking fish with rows of sharp teeth can be daunting. The question then becomes how to release the fish without hurting yourself or injuring the fish….both of which are very easily done. The former can add a trip to the hospital; the latter can ruin the experience of catching a beautiful fish. The bottom line is being prepared for the possibility of catching big fish and knowing what to do when it happens.
The Measurement… “Back in the day” when I first started guiding on Eagle Lake the idea of measuring muskies was something you only did if you clubbed it and brought it in. Granted, those were the “dark ages”… I think we even had a 28” minimum size! Now that was progressive thinking…NOT! If we were lucky enough to see or release a fish it was always a 20#er or a 25#er. Now people are obsessed over measuring their catch. My only suggestion is to curb this impulse as much as you can. You’ll soon find yourself more concerned about getting “the measurement” than releasing the fish in a healthy state. There is nothing wrong with just estimating the size of your catch, especially if it is not your first, or is a small fish anyways. If you feel the urge is too strong then at least invest in a floating measuring device and do it at boat-side.
For some of my guests that first huge fish, be it muskie, northern, walleye, or whatever, is highly anticipated…but totally unexpected when it happens. Anybody have a camera? Where’s my pliers? What do I do!!? Well, if you paid attention to the first part of “muskie tips” then you might be better prepared for the unexpected. One thing that may seem obvious is recognizing “what” you have just caught. You would be surprised by the number mistakes that are made. Aside from being very embarrassing (and highly illegal) bringing in a smallish muskie because you didn’t known the difference is frowned upon. Perhaps part of the root of the problem is the misconception that all muskie on Eagle Lake are huge. There are plenty of all sizes so please be aware. In simple terms a pike has a darker body with lighter spots…..a muskie just the opposite…a lighter body with dark spots. The pointed tail fin of the muskie is a dead giveaway as well. A good rule of thumb is if you aren’t 100% sure what you have caught, you need to let it go.
A muskie mindset…. After many years of chasing muskies I have noticed behaviour that just doesn’t fit into a neat package of what these fish “ought” to be doing, and “where” they should be doing it. The idiosyncrasies of muskie fishing are often frustrating and addicting. Acknowledging that these fish can be unorthodox and unpredictable is the first step to achieving a muskie mindset.
Check out this photo from 2007. That summer the leg of a 13 year old guest, Billy Balinski, became prey for an Eagle Lake muskie! This was a first at VBL, and is possibly a new pattern for attracting shallow, beach-oriented muskie. Who would suggest using children for bait though?! Better to stick to the artificial baits (or limbs).
The paradox, at least in my experience, is that while many a muskie may not be adverse to a large meal, a large bait does not necessarily guarantee the desired results. In 2007, here at VBL, the largest muskie of the season was caught on a Mepp’s #4 bucktail. This is maybe two inches long and is a great smallmouth bait…..but not an obvious “muskie bait”.
How about using a walleye spinner harness with a fat night-crawler as a muskie bait? As weird as that might seem that combination has caught several muskie for guests at VBL. In 2008 long time guest Joe Moskal caught a muskie on a crawler rig in forty feet of water while bottom bouncing for walleye. A few days later, his partner, Marty McVicker, had a very large fish take a spinner harness in 35 feet of water before it broke off. Not only are they biting on the “wrong” baits, they are not in locations where they are supposed to be!!
The next photo is of a muskie…mid 40 inch range…that was caught in August of 2008 trolling for suspended walleye. The rig consisted of a three way swivel, six ounces of lead, and a five foot mono leader with a seven inch Rapala. The muskie was in 60 feet of water suspended at a depth of 35 feet. Was this a fluke, or is it more the norm? These examples prove that muskies do strike unexpectedly, and it will happen again this year. Will you be ready if a muskie takes your bait?
You may be disappointed that I have left out the “how to catch” section that you might have anticipated. There is no substitute for putting in the time on the water, for being prepared, and for acknowledging that the muskie will ultimately do what it wants, regardless what the experts say it should do. Develop your own muskie mind-set, even if you don’t fish intentionally for this species. Other than the basics, there would seem to be no absolute right or wrong as to what your approach should be, except to be “ready”. Have fun, be safe, and put ’em back alive! We’ll see you at the lodge and look forward to swapping some muskie tales and tactics.
Till then, all the best!
Gord BastableVBLDecember, 2008
On behalf of the Boyes Group, I would like to pass on our sincere thanks for hosting the Muskie Madness Week and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay at VBL and had a great time!! This was our 7th year on Eagle Lake and we have stayed at a few other lodges but VBL takes the cake hands down! You can definitely count us in for next year. I’m happy to see you post some of my pics, they turned out well. Thanks again Gord for a wonderful week of fishing and your stellar hospitality, you run a first class operation, we look forward to seeing you next year!