They say muskie fishing is about a fish per 10,000 casts right? Well the heck with it, we’re going muskie trolling.
Musky trolling is something we’re still learning every time out. Myself, I consider myself a complete amateur. I make the trek to Minnesota about 2-3 times a year to fish for muskies. But for my buddies Ben Simonson and Ben Evenson, it’s a way of life.
Considering I’m a walleye nut, it’s nice to mix it up a bit and fish a different species. I love trolling for walleyes, and there’s a lot of things that are similar; yet different at the same time.
We went into a major cold front weekend, with non-stop rain to boot. But we grabbed the rain gear and headed out. As they say, you can’t catch ‘em on the couch.
We made the drive from my buddies cabin in West Central MN about an hour to a quiet, almost uninhabited lake (my kind of lake). It’s a small lake, at 1700 acres with a max depth of around 85 feet. It has a lot of structure to the lake, but that didn’t matter.
The main forage base was cisco, and you could see the heck out of them on the graph when trolling around. And that right there was the key to our success. When we weren’t seeing baitfish in the depths we were targeting, we moved on.
Eventually, we started to figure out where the ciscoes were hanging out and slapped on some custom musky baits. Now I think I’m cool with my $15 custom painted walleye baits but these suckers run between $100 to even $400 each.
The detail in today’s muskie baits is incredible. And not only that, but they’re made solid to last forever. I can only imagine the pain of losing one of them to a snag.
Trolling for Muskies 101
Muskie trolling isn’t really rocket science, you just need to open your wallet to really get into it. If you’re fishing a state with multiple rods, you can easily rack up a 6 or 8 line spread. Not only will you need the rods and reels to handle a big muskie, but you’ll need some solid baits too.
But once you get invested and have time to spend, you’ll find musky trolling to be a very rewarding experience.
So with that being said, let’s break down the basics of trolling for muskies the right way.
What is the trolling speed for muskies?
The optimal trolling speed for muskies is around 3 to 4 mph usually. Now there will always be examples and times where they want it real slow, and really fast; but this is the norm. Considering this trip it was in the 55-65 degree range, we trolled around the 3 mph range and that worked out well.
We like to keep our musky trolling rods in the water to keep debris off the line and to help prevent tangles. This often overlooked tip will really help you in so many ways.
What is the typical trolling setup for fishing muskies?
It really depends on what state your fishing on how many rods you can actually run, but on the liberal states, you’ll want to take advantage of it. This is where having planer boards really help. Not only will it keep the muskie baits away from the boat, but away from other baits as well. The goal is to cover as much real estate as possible, and there’s no better way to do this than with planer boards.
If you’re fishing a state like MN, where you can only have one rod currently, you need to fill the boat to make trolling effective. I really like to have at least 4 rods out when trolling for muskies. 1 on each side, and a planer board on each side. With this setup, you should NEVER tangle, and you’re covering different spaces and depths.
Muskie Planer Boards
I highly recommend Off Shore brand planer boards for your musky fishing. You’ll want to use the aftermarket tension release clip to keep your line from sliding. The red clip won’t cut it on the front. Cheap investment to avoid losing a fish, it’s worth it. I’ve used pretty much every planer board on the market, and whenever I’m using “Non Off Shore” planers, I wish I was. The big one’s ride the big baits better, and the tension release clip holds better than other brands. The only downfall is price, but if you troll often it’s really not a big deal.
What are the best rod holders for muskie trolling?
Here’s the thing. Everyone has opinions on muskie trolling rod holders so I will give mine. BUY FOLBE’S and be done with it. If you want to save money and go a different route, then please use rod leashes. That way, when your rod holder fails, you’ll at least save your equipment (and yes, maybe even the fish). Folbe’s not only are the strongest rod holders, in my opinion but are also the easiest to get out of the holder when a big fish hits. No yanking or pulling away from you. Simply pull up (at a slight angle that the knob is facing) and it releases every time.
I did a thorough Folbe Rod Holder Review previously if you’re interested in more information about them.
Best Muskie Trolling Baits
This is where a guy can get very long-winded. There are so many musky trolling baits on the market today that it’s tough to determine where to start. Well, it really comes down to 3 variables: size, running depth and color.
On this trip, we ran 9 to 13-inch baits mimicking the large ciscos the muskies we were after. Blue Water Baits were the hot ticket, along with Drifter Tackle’s Believer. All got lots of runtime and produced for us. Wandering baits like Supernatural Big Baits and Hookem Halloway’s also saw the water. Classic Grandmas produce a great side to side flash and were also ran a fair amount. The muskies didn’t decide to eat these baits on this particular outing but have produced big muskies for us in the past.
Size – The size of your muskie bait can vary across the board. Depending on the lake your fishing. First, when the muskies spawn on a cisco forage based lake like we were fishing, they head for the deeps to recover and stay there. That’s when muskies start focusing their appetites on eating these large, savory meals of cisco or tullibee. Of course, the forage base changes depending on the lake so you’ll want to do your homework on the lake first.
We use online state maps and information to determine what the primary forage is in each lake we fish. Why guess? But with that being said, muskies are predators and will take advantage of a meal wherever they get it. To date, the largest musky to hit my trolling rods were on a Rapala #5 Shad Rap. This was on Minnesota’s Mille Lacs Lake. So with that being said, don’t be afraid to mix up various sizes.
Running Depth – Basically, how deep does the bait run? If you’re marking fish 30 feet down, you need to make sure your bait is getting at least close to that depth (preferably above). If you’re running musky baits shallow, it’s not too hard but it gets trickier the deeper you get.
If your graph has side imaging, USE it. You can clearly mark muskies throughout the water column and will know what depths to target your baits.
Color – Go back to the old saying, match the hatch. What are the muskies primarily feeding on? You’ll want baits in patterns that are similar, this we’ve found has put the most muskies in the boat.
However, don’t be afraid to run a hot or oddball pattern in the spread. A muskie bait that really stands out from the pack may be the one that gets bit.
Our musky trip this past weekend was 100% spent trolling, and we put 5 nice muskies in the boat. Granted, we put our time in, with 12-14 hour days being the norm for our group. We grind, but we enjoy every minute of it! Just remember to never let up…