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Live Bait or Artificial Lures

From: Len Hartman © 2000 - All Rights Reserved


All fishermen start out as bait fishermen. It seems only logical to use a natural live bait to catch fish. After the fisherman gets good at taking fish on live bait he starts thinking in terms of sport fishing and the use of artificial lures.

Fisherman graduate from worms to minnows in short order. Even the fly rod fisherman starts out with worms. Spinning rod fishermen switch the quickest from live bait to artificial luress…only because the spinning rod was designed with the artificial bait fisherman in mind. Ease in casting and longer casts were made possible with the use of extra light fishing lines.

The muskie fisherman thinks in terms of artificial lures and usually starts out by casting lures. For every muskie fisherman casting lures you will find one that uses bait. Muskie fishermen soon realize that a bait hooked Muskie is a dead Muskie and only five out of a hundred will survive if released. Muskie fishermen are more sports minded and in some places 80% of the muskie caught today are released.

Some lakes have more than their share of weed growth and Muskie are taken in the openings where a bait can be lowered into the fishable water. Live bait can be used but I found that jigging these openings produced some good size Muskie. This type of fishing calls for a heavier line as the hooked Muskie will head into the weeds as soon as he is hooked. This is a new approach to Muskie fishing and not too many Muskie fishermen think a small jig will take big muskie.

Jigging for walleye has taught me that Muskie over forty pounds can easily be taken on a half ounce jig. These catches weren't freak catches because they have happened on five different muskie catches over forty pounds. Muskie to 30 pounds will take a jig as quick as a bass will. The best part in jigging for Muskie is that you are fishing waters that are next to impossible to fish with big lures, and you are tempting Muskie that otherwise would be spooked.

Muskie like to hold in weed beds with just enough cover to hide them so they have an opportunity of catching a meal without working too hard. Bigger Muskie frequent the weed beds and big weed growths with a small opening can hold some big surprises.

Under water lures work well where they can be used. Spinners take most of the muskie in these openings. Medium running depth lures take muskie as well, but with limited space to get the full potential out of the lure’s action it is a hit or miss shot and one retrieve and the area is spent. Too much disturbance causes any Muskie in the area to sink back into the weed growth away from the opening.

Surface lures give you a one run approach. But Muskie do hit surface lures on a first run basis…so you have a shot at a potential Muskie lurking in any one of a dozen opening the lure is offered to. You will find that nine out of ten offerings of your lure to a weed growth opening won’t produce a strike, but that one that does makes up for the inconvenience of hard fishing.

Live bait fishermen have the edge here in that if they have the patience of sitting the Muskie out for he will eventually return. To me, I could not see the sport in dropping the live sucker in the opening and gamble the chances of killing a small muskie once he took the bait.

Muskie fishing is perhaps the only fishing where sport fishing is the key. Muskie fishermen aren’t concerned in how many muskie they catch, but rather in how big the biggest Muskie for the day is. I never felt proud of my catch of muskie when a days fishing brought back two or three muskie I had to kill because of gill damage. Some days you hit a run of hard hooked muskie with excessive damage that surely would result in their death. These were the days when you hit a school of feeding Muskie and their greed caused them to swallow the lure rather than mouth the lure.

A lone muskie won’t hit a lure with greed. This usually is a Muskie over forty pounds in an isolated area. They seldom compete for their meal and become selective while feeding. A killing Muskie over forty pounds becomes another Muskie having some fun. This is where nothing is safe within its sight.

When Muskie mouth a lure they aren't really feeding. I have done some experimenting with the additives of taste to artificial lures for Muskie and have found some startling results. They work, but I don't recommend using them. Adding taste to the lure causes the Muskie to swallow the lure. So if the Muskie is a releasing size Muskie you will find the hooks deeply imbedded in the Muskie’s throat.

As far as the muskie being attracted to your lure by adding taste, forget it! With the use of bottom fished plastic worms and other plastic lures, I found the addition of taste additives produced more fish. Even Muskie, where I was using them for bass or walleye. Repeated use in an area soon brings in the fish and more fish move into the area drawn to the taste spreading into the water.

In muskie fishing with lures I found that lure contrast, sound internal in lures, erratic action and visibility of the lure produced the best results. Use any of these type lures and mix the possible combinations and you will catch Muskie. Why dark lures produce best on dark days or at night I have not been able to figure out. A black Jitterbug fished at night is a killer for Muskie. Black fly rod mice produce better than a white mouse at night. I know! I have tried, tested and tried to disprove this and lost every time. Even night fishing for bass produced the same results.

In walleye fishing in deep dark water the results were the same. A black jig out fished any of the other colors. Black plastic worms out fished brighter colored worms two to one. My theory is that fish see better at night than they do during the daylight hours. It's a proven fact that all fish seem to feed better during the early morning hours and the late evening hours; and with underwater lures taking more Muskie during these periods than surface lures.

Over the years of muskie fishing my sights were set in producing a super lure. Even by incorporating different lure designs and actions, my best lure was one with enough action to turn a Muskie’s head and cause him to investigate the lure. Two things caused this. Action and lure contrast. You can take any good action lure and paint it all white or all yellow and place a few black slash marks across the body of the lure an inch apart and you will have the best darn Muskie lure you could get. Paint all the fancy eyes, gill colors and life like colors and the contrast lure will produce three times as many Muskie.

Lures in all silver, gold and plain white produce on bright sunny days because the sun’s rays reflect off the lure and muskie will come to investigate. Big silver minnows produce as well. Golden shiners produce well. So it's only natural that a silver or gold finish spoon will take Muskie. I found that the Williams all Gold or all silver spoon produced best on bright sunny days. Daredevil spoon produced best on cloudy days. Marathon’s Rattle spoon produced some of our greatest action on over cast days. In lures, work on the contrast theory rather than color approach. Just keep your lure moving in the best fishable waters.

Tight lines.