Pull The Trigger
Big muskies in clearwater systems can be mind-bending when conditions are tough. At those times, it’s essential to take advantage of every opportunity. I believe that properly executed boatside maneuvers are one of the most important aspects of musky angling. How you entice following fish will determine your overall success when it comes to casting presentations. The tougher the conditions, the more important your ovals or eights or L-turns become. When the fish are active, a higher percentage of strikes will come out on the retrieve. When things slow down, neutral fish are more apt to follow, so many more of them need to be triggered at boat side. We’ve boated enough fish this way over the past 25 years to warrant executing these maneuvers at the end of every cast, no matter what type of water we are fishing, or what the conditions are.
Equally important or more so, because it considers the entire retrieve, is the incorporation of a trigger move of some kind into every retrieve, from start to finish, before the bait gets to the boat. Make it count every time your bait is in front of a fish. The old saying “the biggest muskies are caught in the first and last 15’ of the retrieve” holds true most of the time; these areas are also where the trigger is most important, so concentrate on incorporating them at the beginning and end of every retrieve before going into your boatside maneuver.
Triggers can be used with every kind of bait, presentation, and situation. Get creative. Bucktails can be burned in spurts, bulged and sputtered, yo-yo’d, and ripped. Cranks and jerks can be bounced and skipped off the structure, ripped through weeds, jerked, twitched, and paused. Pay attention to how your bait is acting and make it dance. With rubber baits, the possibilities are practically endless. You are the magician, the rod is the wand, the bait is the rabbit, and the fish is the audience. Incorporate triggers into every retrieve along with perfecting your boat side maneuvers and you’ll see your catch rates skyrocket as you get better and better as an angler.
Same goes for trolling. When rips are tough to come by, don’t be afraid to skip and bounce baits off rocky points and reefs, speed up, slow down, vary your line lengths and depths, and make lots of turns. Keep the rod in your hands whenever possible and stay in tune with the bait and depth finder, working lures up and over and down the other side of structures. Obviously, some speed trolling and multi-rod sets rule this out, but even in multi-rod sets, I’d have at least a couple of rods being worked. They will usually out produce all the other rods. It also gives you more control of your baits and provides a constant trigger as you cover ground. You will snag far less because you’ll be able to give and take line as depths change. You’ll know whether your lure is working or not by the vibrations felt when trolling around weeds and can actually steer it in-between and around weed clumps using the rod tip. A major plus is that you get to feel the strike, too! If a musky rises up on a high riding bait (especially spinnerbaits with bright blades or top waters) you can immediately pull it away or drop it back into her face as a trigger. Working your baits adds participation and concentration and definitely results in increased strikes and hook ups.
Remember that the success and enjoyment we seek from this sport are partly determined by how well we deal with the conditions that nature serves up to us. As they say, “even a tough day fishing is still better than an easy day at work!”