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Musky Beginner Rod/Reel/Lure Setup
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!

Beginner Setup

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). Abu-Garcia C3 Series 6500They 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.

Note that Garcia has two series (C3 and C4). Most C4's have a higher gear ratio which works well for burning (reeling in fast) small bucktails or top water. However they are by-in-large unreliable - gears wear out - been there done that. The high ratio makes for some very hard reeling when throwing large spinner bates (e.g. Mepps Musky Killer w/ willow blade) even though the C4 has an extra ball bearing. Stick with the gear ratio of (5.3 to 1). It is the best overall speed for everything and won't kill your wrist. Unless you find the C4s that have the lower gear ratio -- NOTE the C4 "CLAIMS" to be a better overall reel but I personally don't care for the high gear ratio and the gears in the C4 need to be replaced every other year.

AuroraVengence15'b_small.jpg (3401 bytes)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.

Believe it or not, I prefer the cheep rod over the much more expensive St. Croix rod -- it is the same length (7'5"), same action (medium-heavy) but the light weight is a big difference for me when fishing those 14 hour days! Whenever you buy a new rod, bring your old one with you to compare weight -- always seek lighter weight rods when you upgrade or your be greatly disappointed -- trust me!

Accessories (necessities):

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.

Tuf-LineSpool 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).

Note you want heavy stuff here not to diminish the sport but rather to not harm the fish. Sure you may be able to land a musky with 8' test and a good leader, but by the time you do the fish will be completely exhausted. This reduces your chances of releasing fish with a good chance of survival. Exhausted fish upon release are as good as dead.

Terminator Titanium LeadersThe 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.

Frabill Muskie NetA 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.

Starter Lures:

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.

g_bry.jpg (5175 bytes) Bucktails rule when fishing for musky but colors matter. I like Mepps musky killers with yellow spoon and dirty yellow tail. Also like all orange, all black, as well as white bucktail with silver spoon.
MBTopWalkerPastikasCustomGreenBlack1.jpg (11138 bytes) Top water baits are also a big like this topwalker. I like this color as well as sky blue, perch, and orange. Some of the most exciting catches will be from top water but there are so many baits to choose from you have to be picky about which ones to buy.

Periodic Maintenance:

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.

Yearly Maintenance:

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

[Bruce's Response:] Swapping gears has definitely been done. The higher gear ratio is a KEY value add of the C4. However, the caveat is these gears which product noticeably higher retrieve rates (which are especially great for buck tails) generally last a fraction as long as the gears within the standard C3 reel which has the lower ratio you explained.

I believe it is as easy as requesting a new set of C3 gears from Abu, and then swapping out the set in your 6600C4. For, inside, the reels are remarkably the similar.

In retrospect, while I do love the Abu Garcia reels, they rarely last a whole fishing season without 1 or 2 maintenance sessions which consists of cleaning and re-greasing the reelís internals. If you donít do this, the gears begin to make a loud sound and the once easy to crank reel becomes increasingly harder to crank. One can send these in for "cleaning" repairs too, but that means you would need 2 or 3 spare reels to suffice until the repair one gets shipped back to you. There are some private cleaning shops which have quicker turn around if you donít want to do this yourself. These same shops can also swap the gears for you.

[Jim's Question] Does the Abu Garcia reel in your article for beginners mean the Ambassador C3 reel?? Then that would be the 6500 series of that model?? Thanks, Jim

[Bruce's Response:] Right, my article primarily pertains to the "C3" which is a fairly inexpensive place to start and overall a great "general purpose" musky fishing reel. Note, that Abu has several different series that somewhat look the same, but are different. The 6500 series, particularly the C3 has a larger spool than the 5500 series, even though from pictures they may look very similar.

There are higher grades like the C4, etc. that are a little more expensive but do pay attention to the gear ratio. Unlike spinning reels, too high a gear ratio in Musky fishing isn't all it is jacked up to be. Particularly when you are cranking in huge lures hundreds of times a day.

The C4 is a great reel, but in my experience, the gears in the C4 don't last more than a couple seasons before they need replacing. Plus, you can only crank in smaller bucktails with the high gear ratio - larger lures do a number on your wrists after a while and further degrade the gears. My favorite use of the C4 is for top water, as it cuts down the amount of reeling you need to do to retrieve these large plugs. So, the C4 is a great "second" reel (and great for certain types of lures), but you will find yourself reaching for the C3 first if you had them both at your side...

[Jim's Response:] I just returned the Eagle Claw to Amazon. The retrieve button didn't pop up after a cast and the spool just spun freely. i'm going to buy a C3 at my local store tonight and I'm going to go with the Shimano Convergence 7' rod.

[Bruce's Response:] Note, the "free spin" is a "feature" of bait cast reels and that is the practice you will need to get used to in terms of applying pressure with your thumb against the spool as you cast (particularly as the cast winds down). If you don't apply your thumb, you'll be left with a mess with the line.

The C3 will do something similar to that, as the free spool will not disengage until you start to reel in. In the mean time, you'll need to hold the spool still with your thumb until your able to turn the crank with your other hand to engage the spool and keep it from turning freely.

Note, some bait cast reels spin more freely than others... if they spin too freely it means you have to be even more careful with your thumb - which is a pain. You'll be frustrated with this at first, but once you get used to it you will start to appreciate these challenging differences - particularly the of control you have between your casting with the rod and your feel of the line spinning out with your thumb.

[Jim's Response:] Just wanted to let you know I bought a Shimano Convergence Muskie rod and a Shimano Cardiff 401A reel, left hand retrieve. The local shop threw in 20lb test mono big game line and gave me $25 off the deal. I like to do it locally if possible. I' ve used it a few times now and had some major nests ! but I'm learning and actually enjoying the whole experience. I need some good lures now !! Thanks for all your help,


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