Muskie expert Pete Maina is a master at targeting monster muskies during the fall when he sets his casting rods aside to troll for trophy fish. One thing is for certain ... Pete knows how to fish muskie and he's got ten tips for the surest way to catch fish consistently.
1. Key Indicators Troll Fishing is Going to Produce
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When efficiency is key, trolling allows Maina to eliminate unproductive water quickly. Example, a lake with fairly straight break lines and lays fairly flat or has large areas devoid of structure calls for trolling techniques.
2. Good Lines From Bad?
He’ll use Humminbird Helix 12 fishfinder units, GPS, and Humminbird's LakeMaster mapping to keep his lures in the right zone. “Where there’s tonnes of forage, the big predators are going to show even if you don’t catch one at that time,” he said. He’ll punch a waypoint and check the spot throughout the day.
On a sharp breaking deal, down-imaging is more important whereas the flat-type deal is made simple with side-imaging. Screen watching definitely works as Maina’s caught fish that he saw using side-imaging.
Transitions where the bottom changes from hard to soft are important and he’s aware that bait like suckers and bullheads are not easily identifiable when trolling at 3- to 4-mph. He’ll have rods spread out aware that he might stumble onto an unassuming area, like a non-descript shoreline, that can produce. “Normally the classic stuff is best. You find stuff that doesn't technically look good- but it is,” he said.
5. Muskie Feeding Windows
“Rarely will you troll and get bites every hour,” Maina explained. “You are probably going to have 1 to 2 windows of activity during the fall. They’ll be caused by weather events or if you have extreme steady weather it is going to come on a moon rise or moon set overhead or underfoot.”
6. Getting Geared Up to Catch Muskie
Maina advises anglers to spread their lures through the water column while maximizing the legal number of lines allowed out.
During the fall, especially after turnover, he’ll run one bait about half way down in the water column for suspended fish and one right near the bottom.
Mud basin lakes call for a higher bait, a bait running 2-feet off bottom, and one covering the mid-range of the water column. He’ll switch rods out once he figures the fish out.
7. Dialing it In on Your Trolling Speed
During the fall, Maina’s average trolling speed is 3.5 mph- he’ll slow down in dingier water. Pay close attention to the trolling speed as muskies can be patterned based on the speed of the lure.
Try different speeds and don’t be shy to make aggressive sharp turns. “Those outside lines are always going to speed up especially if you‘re using planer boards. They’ll speed up and the other ones will slow down and you can usually pattern when the strikes occur. If I get a strike on a bait that is slowing down on the inside turn, maybe I better back off on the speed or vice versa,” Maina said.
Walleye guys aren’t the only ones wise to the planer board program, Maina runs boards on flat areas. He’ll cover as much water as possible. Keeping a close eye on his electronics, he’ll watch for sharp breaks, depth, and muskies as he believes they lay on bottom during the fall. Muskies are prone to follow so Maina will speed up, slow down, or stall the bait out to trigger a bite.
8. Boat Rigging 101
If he only had 4 rods when fishing non-descript flats, Maina sticks one rod in the prop and spreads the other 3 to cover more water. “There’s something about the prop wash bait, even if it might be 10-feet or more below that kicker motor, sometimes fish just want that,” he said.
When running a break line, he’ll usually run 2 or 3 rods downline to get his baits deeper depending on how sharp the break line is. The sharper it is, the more he’s going to want to concentrate right in that zone. Depending on whether or not it is super shallow on the inside, he may run an inside bait or an outside suspending bait.
Maina runs both the Bass Pro Shops Muskie Angler Rod Series in a 9-foot and 8’6” model, the latter doubling as a great trolling rod. He prefers an Abu Garcia reel that has a line counter and spool capacity of 200 yards of line. He’ll run 40-lb test monofilament line on anything that has a release be it a down-rigger, in-line planer board, or mast system.
On downlines, he’ll run Seaguar 80-pound Threadlock braided line with 8- foot leaders of 100- to 130-pound Seaguar Abrazx fluorocarbon. He likes the invisibility of fluorocarbon and it’s better for the fish since muskies like tend to roll at the end of a fight and steel leaders can cut them.
Fall calls for bigger baits like the Livingston Bulldozer. He’ll troll soft-plastics and also a smaller cheater lure to mix things up. His big crankbaits will be a mix of jointed, straight, flat-sided, and round-sided baits. “Bigger fish like bigger baits,” Maina said.
He’ll match the hatch but keep color selection pretty simple knowing most lakes have something silvery white or resembling cisco patterns. Gold works where walleye and smallmouth are prey to muskies, clear water means natural perch patterns, and dark water requires chartreuse and red/orange.
10. Operation Fish Care
Maina pointed out muskie are much easier to release in the fall and can handle being out of water for a quick photo as opposed to the summer where fish never leave the water.
During the fall, Maina cautions anglers to be extra careful with pulling muskies out of deep water. It's not healthy to catch Muskie deeper than 25 feet you will cause damage to the fish resulting in swim bladder issues, because the pressure change is too much. “I’ve caught muskies trolling off the bottom in as deep as 52- feet. I stopped doing it is because the fish can’t handle the ascent- they can’t bleed their bladder. You get fish that are totally bloated and can’t swim so they go belly up. You shouldn’t target fish any deeper than 25-feet.” Fish that are hooked on deeper running baits in the 15 – to 25- foot range should be gingerly fought and slowly reeled back to the boat.
Swim bladder disease, also called swim bladder disorder or flipover, is a common ailment in catch and release game fish and aquarium fish. The swim bladder is an internal gas-filled organ that contributes to the ability of a fish to control its buoyancy, and thus to stay at the current water depth without having to waste energy in swimming. Swim Bladder Disease, Wikipedia
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