The following magazine is dedicated to Musky fishing and a great source of information.
For beginners at musky fishing
By: Bruce Bahlmann
Whether you are just getting started fishing for musky or upgrading your tackle you really need to have the right equipment to go after these monsters. Sure you can catch musky with a spinning real, 8lb test line, and a steel leader but why? By the time you land it the fish will be completely exhausted - so much for the catch and release. Your best bet is to lean towards heavy tackle but if you just go to a store with your wallet open plan to spend a bundle. Here are some sound recommendations for the beginning musky hunters that won't cost you a bundle - btw, if you order on line most places will ship for free and you won't even have to pay sales tax. Believe me, every $10-15 you can save means more musky lures that you can buy!
For the beginner, start with a low cost bait cast reel. If your a die-hard spinning reel user like I was (or still am when I can pry myself away) you may want to look at left had retrieve units. I found these make the transition from spinning reels to bait cast reels very easy. Else, you need to switch back and forth from left-hand spinning reels to right handed bait cast reels (which I personally find awkward). If you go with the left handed bait cast reel you will find it easy to use both types of reels interchangeably without having to think which hand to use. Note this way if you don't like musky fishing, you can at least use your reel for general purpose fishing. I believe bait cast reels have less problems with tangled/twisted line especially when using larger spoons and bucktails than spinning reels.
Abu-Garcia makes some very good yet inexpensive bait cast reels (priced between $75 and $85). They make several different series 5500, 6500, etc. however you will want the 6500 series (C3) as they represent a great buy and offer most of the key features of other reels - best of all is the large spool. The good thing about these reels is they have been around for years so spare parts are numerous. There is one other option if you have the money and that is to just skip to the ultimate musky reel - The Shimano Calcutta 300 or 400 series. The TE 400 series has a larger spool which many find desirable. Normally I wouldn't mention such an expensive reel to a beginner but these reels are so good, that if you have the money there is no sense in going the Abu route. One try at your local Musky shop and you will not be able to stop thinking about buying one. They are a treat to use.
A heavy or medium-heavy fishing rood is a must. I prefer the heavy rods as you'll get a much more solid and quicker response to setting the hook. Get the absolute lightest that you can afford as musky fishing involves hundreds/thousands of casts. A lighter rod makes a big difference over the course of a day -- I have three rods one Abu-Garcia (part of a reel/rod combo I bought at a musky expo for $89) and one St.Croix (paid close to $189) and one Cortland (paid $99). The Abu-Garcia rod was 1/5 the cost of the St.Croix rod and is half the weight. The Cortland was nearly half the cost of the St.Crox and my first "Heavy" rating rod - yet still less weight than the St.Crox. Of all the rods I own, the Cortland is the best Musky rod - generates the best hook sets, fairly light, inexpensive, and above all it has a lifetime warranty. I'm also a big fan of G. Loomis and Fenwick fenwick musky rods but when you buy these expensive rods you pay a lot for the name. True you get one heck of a rod, but if money is a factor, Cortland and St. Croix are very nice yet less expensive.
Musky fishing requires the right tackle. If your currently a spinning reel fisher-person, forget what you know and start with this. It is really a different type of fishing all together. So you need to be outfitted completely different. Going too heavy is never a bad thing as no one is going to muscle in a Musky. However, it is a huge comfort knowing the longer one of these monsters is on your line the less you have to worry about something failing or the tackle wimping out on you.
Spool the reel with 80lb braided Tuf-Line. Don't let the sales people tell you any different or sell you higher grade stuff or something they claim "professionals" use. Tuf-Line is the best line for musky fishing and is extremely durable. Some people like the new Tuf-Line XP which is now common place, but I still prefer the old stuff (looks and feels like blue/white braded Tyvek).
The other thing not to skimp on is your leader. I prefer the Terminator 100lb titanium leader as it is completely flexible (does not have memory). Terminator leaders come in 50, 75, and 100 lb. While the 100 lb seems like overkill, the clasp of this leader is better (more durable and stronger then the others). The major difference is Steel leaders become bent up after the first serious encounter. I also like the clasp for these leaders -- makes changing lures a snap.
Jaw spreaders and hookouts are also a must. Some people use long needle-nose pliers. Whatever is able to get a good hold of a hook. It is a good idea to tie long strings (or lanyards) to both the hookout and jaw spreaders. One can use a nylon fish stringer for this. The reason for tying up these utensils is so that you don't loose them when extracting the hook(s) from the fish's mouth. You should keep the fish in the net and in the water during hook extraction - as it allows the fish to begin recovering from the fight while in the net. If you take the fish out of the water you increase the likelihood the fish will not survive its release.
A large fishing net is a must and when it comes to musky nets, Frabill is the best I have used. You can't use traditional string nets because lures get all tangled up in them as do great big fish - in fact string nets have been known to break with large musky in them. Its best to use large plastic/rubber coated nets made for large musky and pike. These nets easily collapse for storage and their strings are coated which prevents them from tangling or getting lures caught in them. Note unlike traditional fishing if (when) you catch a musky, you should leave the musky in the water while extracting the hook. Thus a large net is needed to keep the handle in the boat while leaving sufficient room for the musky to remain in the water. To do this, it requires a very long handle as well as a very deep net.
You can get carried away with lures. There are thousands of them and they each boast that they catch large fish. I recommend these starter lures. They will easily catch fish while not costing you a bundle. Once you've caught a few musky you can begin exploring other lures - note musky lures are not cheap (each lure cost from $10-35 or more). I still don't have many lures and don't believe one needs more than a two or three dozen. Think this way. Day, night, clear sky, party cloudy, overcast, clear lake, murky lake, top water, weed less. If you take all these conditions and search out 1-3 lures for each of them you will have a pretty good combination to tackle any situation -- without having to drag around a hundred lures! In practice (while fishing) the contrast of the lure is everything so look up at the sky. If your using sky blue on a blue-bird (clear) day you won't do well as the fish can't see the lure. Think the opposite of the color of the sky and you should do well.
Every other time you go fishing you should put a couple drops of gear oil on key points of the reel (if you are using a Abu Garcia - Calcutta requires less maintenance). While this is not necessary, it will reduce wear on your reel and reduce your need for parts. Note that musky reels take a lot of abuse. Thousands of casts with very heavy baits and often fast retrieves -- this can be a deadly combination for any reel. Refer to your reel's owner's manual for regular maintenance. All new Garcia reels come with oil for this kind of periodic service.
This set up will last you for years. However, in the case of Abu Garcia, regular maintenance is required (oil every time you use the reel and perhaps have it cleaned a couple times each season. Refer to your reel's manual for cleaning (cost $25 or free if you do it yourself).
One other very important maintenance required is that once a month you move your leader about 10-15 feet up your line. This requires you to clip your leader from the end of your line, let out about 10-15 feet of line from your reel, clip that line and discard the removed portion, and then reattach your leader. Relocating your leader removes the last 10-15 feet or so of your line -- this part receives the most punishment from reeling in and casting so it gradually becomes weakened and needs to be replaced. If you forget to do this, at some point you will feel this break during a cast and see your $10 leader and $20 lure go flying towards the water. If you are lucky you will be using top water and can recover the lost items now floating, but if you are using anything that sinks, you just lost $30. As indestructible as this new line is, it still must be replaced monthly - wear and tear are inevitable.
Follow up questions asked by readers:
[Tony's Question:] I have a question if you would be so kind to answer. After reading your beginners page my predicament is I like the Abu Garcia 6600C4 because of the thumbar, but would it be stupid to buy this reel and change the gearing to the 5.3:1? Thank you
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