Our little game is an odd little game. Whenever I'm asked by someone interested in getting into musky fishing I usually reply in a tongue in cheek manner and say, "don't, it's the dumbest thing you can do." I go on about spending hours and days and sometimes months trying to catch a musky and then letting them go as fast as I can. I also mention how much money they'll be spending to get started and what little they'll have to show for their success.
The response I get, after I play my statements straight, varies from laughter to a second or two of introspection. Do I really want to do this, these would be musky anglers seemingly ask themselves.
Just about all of us have some experience chasing after muskies. Why do we do it? Is it fun all the time? Not by a long shot. Fishing with your buddy or wife or girlfriend or brother or sister or whomever is generally always fun, but musky fishing is far from fun, and certainly not all of the time.
Then, why? I've asked myself this on numerous occasions, usually while on an epic cold streak (read: most November's). For me it was at first about the shakes. Big fish made me (really big ones still do) shake. I loved the adrenaline rush a big fish initiated. When I started I wasn't too good at musky fishing (I really, really sucked) so it was a challenge. Musky fishing is hard. I like that. It can be grueling. It can be exhausting, both physically and, more often, mentally exhausting. It can be boring. It can be heartbreaking. And it is always, at least for me, humbling. But in the time it takes you to snap your fingers it can be exciting, rewarding, satisfying and on certain occasions, exhilarating. There is something to be said about the feeling of fooling a big fish, feeling the power of her, landing her... and then letting her go. I love it.
Experimenting, trial and error, seeking advice from experienced members of the club and applying the lessons learned on the water and at our meetings helped make me a passable musky angler. Learning is fun. Applying learned information resulting in success on the water is very satisfying.
Our club is loaded with some of the best musky anglers anywhere. Believe me, I'm not chest pounding here. We boast a very skilled membership. I will never forget something Tony told me more than twenty years ago, "if you can catch muskies on the Niagara, you can catch them anywhere." Use the knowledge of our members. Ask them questions. Go back in time on our website. There is something to be learned from nearly every fishing report posted over the years. Almost all of our newsletters are posted on this site, read them when you have time. Sometimes I churn out a weak issue or two (Tony never did, by the way), but the overwhelming majority of our newsletter run has information, even if it's just a sentence or two, that will make you a better angler.
That's what it's about, right? Becoming better at this hard and stupid sport. Here's a few tips to hopefully help you this season:
1. The whole key to being successful at catching muskies is to fish for muskies, often. Time on the water will eventually lead to success. It has to.
2. Success for one musky angler is a bad month or season for another. I haven't compared myself to other anglers in a long time. Compete against yourself. Strive to become a better musky angler than you were. Don't worry about what other anglers and members are catching. Work to be better than your former self.
3. Keep records. Write or type everything in a log after every trip. Do this when you catch fish and definitely do this when you don't catch fish. Be thorough and systematic.
4. Have fun. I get way too down on myself when I'm on a cold streak. My goal this year is to take musky fishing less seriously. Fortunately my brother is absolutely brilliant at lightening the mood. (He could crack up a widow at a funeral.) Jojo is the most optimistic person I know on the water and I should take a page out his book. Carrie just tells me to calm down which seems to always work.
5. Stack the deck in your favor. Fish major moon phases. Fish minor moon phases. Try to schedule trips around a major or a minor or moon underfoot, etc. Front' moving in? Fish before it hits. Focus on low or no light times.
6. Keep your equipment in impeccable condition. Remember a huge musky will always exploit your weakest link. Don't have any weak links. Line perfect, rods and reels perfect, leaders perfect, lures running correctly and razor sharp hooks should be your norm.
7. No lost tension ever. I love long rods, fast reels and strong line. Take the fight to the fish and kick the hell out of them quickly. Try to prevent big fish from jumping. Any slack in the line when you have a musky on is a no no. I always tell a new angler on my boat who has musky on the same advice, "reel, reel, reel... Keep reeling, keep reeling." There is no finesse in musky fishing once a fish bites.
8. Catch and release works. Do you want to know one reason I try to release fish quickly? Selfishness. The more fish in the river, the better chance I have to catch more fish.
9. Ask questions. Take the advice and apply the answers on the water.
10. Experiment. Catching a musky with a new lure or a golden oldy in a different presentation is pretty cool.
11. Travel. The Niagara isn't huge, but she has spots up and down her and on both sides that hold fish. Discover them for yourself.
12. Remember. Attempt to repeat your successes or replicate others in any given situation. By remembering the past piece together the future.
13. Nothing squelches a cold streak like streak like fishing more.
14. Don't be afraid of mud. Muskies eat when they want to. Muskies eat when they should. Muskies will eat in the mud if they want to and if they should. If you can and want to fish, don't worry about the water clarity.
15. No fish is worth losing your life. Don't put you or your boat in a position for harm. Everyone's skill level is different as a boater. Know yours and your boats limits.
I'm beat and so is my phone. It's time for bed. Barring electricity, Bruce and I will be out tonight musky fishing. I really like the sound of the subject and predicate of that last sentence. Best of luck this season. I hope you are successful, whatever that word means to you relating to this silly sport and your place in it.
I beg to disagree with just one thing. While catching muskies can be difficult in the sense that it could take a long time to catch one, the actual fishing for muskies is quite easy and can be enjoyable. What can be easier than trolling the harbor? And there's little I enjoy more than drifting down the river dragging or jigging or casting a tube and letting my mind run amuk. Whether or not I catch a muskie is almost besides the point. I love being on the river. I only wish I could be there more. Of course, I tend to be a fair weather fisherman and avoid high winds and thunderstorms when I can (high winds on Nipissinig are NO FUN AT ALL). But chasing muskies drifiting down the Niagara is easy and enjoyable living for me. Nothing I'd rather be doing.
You make a good point, Tony. Musky fishing and not catching is incredibly easy. I may be among the very best in the world at not catching muskies. I have not catching down to a science. Catching muskies with regularity escapes me. It is getting over that hurdle I find hard.
I'd like to add another aspect of musky fishing I enjoy. Everything is big. The fish can be big. The rods and reels are big. And most importantly with my ever failing eyesight the line and what it needs to be connected to is big. I use to be an inland trout angler. The thought of tying 7X tippet to a size 22 midge makes my whole head hurt.