Trailer Maintenance

We are only 2 sleeps away from the opener on the Ottawa river. With my opening day fishing plan in place (since Feb.), thoughts turn to other important aspects of Muskie fishing that can definitely make or break your day.

Trailer Maintenance

by Trevor Smith Originally published in the Muskies Canada Release Journal May/June 2010

The soft water season is fast approaching! Our boats have been cleaned and prepped, but what about your trailer? Over the years I have come up with a check list, I go over not only in the spring, but throughout the season. Let’s get started!

I will start by providing a reference for the trailer wiring colours:

Brown -Tail lights / Marker lights
Yellow – Left signal
Green – Right signal
White – Ground wire

Most lighting problems can be diagnosed with a multi meter and a 12 volt test light:
When diagnosing, start with your tow vehicle; trailer unplugged. Test for power at each terminal, with the appropriate accessory on. (Turn each light on individually). This will verify you have power on the correct terminal.

After this has been completed, plug the trailer wiring in and connect trailer to vehicle. It is important to have the trailer connected as this can be your ground connection on some trailers. Continue to test for power working back to the problem light.

Lighting Tips
Most lighting issues are related to a bad ground. A bad ground can cause vehicle lights to malfunction, and numerous lighting problems with your trailer. Some ofthese problems include: dim lights, flickering, or not working at all.

When I wire a trailer, I like to have the ground wire from the trailer connected thru the trailer plug to a well known ground on the vehicle.

As mentioned earlier, some trailers ground thru the trailer ball, which can cause connection problems; due to rust and dirt.

Another problem I have found is the wrong bulb has been used. The most common bulb is part # 1157. This is a double filament, incandescent bulb. It can be identified by the 2 contacts on the bottom of the bulb and offset notches on the body of the bulb.

This bulb can be mistaken for an 1156 bulb, which is a single filament, 1 contact on the bottom and no offset notch. The bulbs should not be able to get interchanged, but do. The sockets on trailers tend to be cheaper lighter gauge metal; making it possible to install the wrong bulb. This can and will cause major issues.

Newer trailers use 30 and 31 series bulbs and LED lighting. If you are looking for an upgrade; LED lights are a great choice because of there low maintenance.

Wheel Bearings
Wheels bearings are integral in getting you to and from the lake. In my opinion they need to be inspected yearly.

Tires / Wheels

  • Tires should be checked regularly for cracks, cuts and foreign objects in the tread.
  • Tire pressure should be checked regularly when the tire is cold.
  • Trailer tires are identified by the ST in front of the size. P and LT identify passenger and light truck tires.
  • Tires only rated for trailer use should be used. Passenger tires are engineered for ride comfort and sometimes cannot handle load capacity.
  • Tires are rated by load range and identified by a letter. (Usually B, C, D) The higher the letter, the more weight the tire can carry. Your tires work in conjunction with your trailer suspension. Increasing tire load range does not allow you to exceed axel rating.

Load Range “B” = 4 Ply
Load Range “C” = 6 Ply
Load Range “D”= 8 Ply

A tire showing signs of wear that indicate a replacement is due

Wheels should be checked for tightness at least once a season. Check tightness with a torque wrench, if available. Torques specifications will vary depending on stud type and size. ( refer to manual or internet).


  • Look for broken or damaged leaf springs.
  • Tighten all hardware.


Frame Inspection

  • Inspect trailer frame for cracks and loose bolts.
  • Check rollers for adjustment and wear.
  • Inspect trailer bunk for damage and wear.
  • Check license plate mounting screws. I have upgraded to lock nuts for my license plate, as it has come loose on a couple of occasions.
Inspect rollers and frame for cracks, wear, etc.

Trailer Winch / Tie down Straps

  • Check winch mounting bolts for tightness.
  • Make sure winch locking mechanisms release and lock properly.
  • Inspect winch strap for frays. Be sure to check safety hooks and latches as well for damage. Inspect tie downs straps as well.
Check winch mechanism, strap and mounting bolts
Replace broken hardware

That’s it! You can inspect your trailer relatively quickly, and you should do some sort of an inspection before each use. Spending a little time before your trip can provide you more time on the water, and that’s what it’s all about.

Targeting Big Fish

By Jeff Gardner
Originally published in the Release Journal March/April 2010

Browsing across the various web forums or flipping through the pages of magazines, one might be led to conclude that trophy muskies are only accessible to those willing to pound it out in frigid, windy November and December conditions.

The fact of the matter is that the biggest fish in every body of water swim beneath the surface all year long, just like their smaller brethren.  While they won’t be at full winter weight during the summer and early fall, would anyone turn down a 30 or 40lb’er earlier in the year just because it wasn’t at peak late season weight?  What follows are my general thoughts on what it takes to target and catch the biggest fish in any particular body of water.

Pick Your Waters

If your goal is to catch a fish over 50”, you need to concentrate on bodies of water with a fishable population of them.  While the odd 50” might come out of numbers areas like the Kawartha chain of lakes, fishing there for a giant stacks what are already long odds even  more heavily against you.

There’s no secret about the bodies of water that routinely crank out trophies the eastern shores of Georgian Bay and the rivers and bays that connect to it, the North Channel, Lake Nipissing, the St. Lawrence River, the Ottawa River,Lake St. Clair, Lake of the Woods, Eagle Lake, Lac Seul,etc.

What makes these bodies of water so good?

Massive acreage, cover and structure options, forage base, and the strains of Muskies prevalent. Now, this doesn’t mean you should stop reading if you aren’t inclined to fish these waters.What will follow applies to catching the biggest fish in any system whether that’s a 40”er, 45”, a 50”, or bigger.

Right Place at the Right Time
Trophy Muskies are elusive beasts.You could be fishing the greatest piece of structure in town, but if you are there at the wrong time, you might as well be casting onto shore.  For a thorough explanation of structure favoured by Muskies on both mesotrophic and trout water, pick up a copy of Dick Pearson’s  Muskies on the Shield.  As a quick summary, you will increase your odds greatly if you focus on complexes.  Complexes are areas where multiple pieces of structure and cover intersect for example, a group of islands located in/near a neckdown, with points, saddles, reefs, cabbage beds, inside turns, current (wind or natural), bait, a feeding flat, and quick access to the safety of deeper water.

The more of these things you can put together, the more often big fish will be found.  No matter how good it looks, a lonely piece of structure might cough up a big musky only from time to time.  Complexes, on the other hand, hold fish consistently either right on them or off the edges, depending on conditions.

When it comes to the right time, particularly in summer and early fall, I am a firm believer  that big fish and smaller fish are distinctly different. The biggest fish will use the easily identifiable classic structures mostly under prime conditions. That means stable or  rising warm temps, some wind blowing, a cloudy sky, one of the majors imminent (sunrise, sunset, moonrise, moonset), and there could be a storm coming.

In these conditions you may find the biggest girl in town up on the spot-on-the-spot, and possibly even in five or fewer feet of water. For many musky hunters, fishing skinny water is a piece of cake; it’s where they spend much of their time regardless of conditions. The problem is, in less than prime conditions, this usually results either ringing the doorbell when no one is home, or only contacting the smaller fish.

So, what about cold fronts, bluebird cloudless days, and other less favorable conditions?

I  curse these days, but fish whenever I can and try to make the best of it.  Remember, they haven’t vacated the lake, and while it may be more of a challenge, they can still be caught. Based on experience, my most successful approach under tough conditions is to fish the outside edges and a cast length or two off the edge, where classic structure that forms complexes drops off quickly into deeper water.
Depending on the body of water, this could be a drop to anywhere from 5-15′ into 25-90′ of water in a matter of a few boat lengths.  In my experience, 40-60’seems to be best.

The key is that whatever the depth of water, fish your lure at the same depth the structure dropped off. If a saddle dropped off at 5′, fish your lure 5′ down. If a shelf dropped from 15′ into 50′, work your bait in the 10-15′ range.  Some will argue that under cold fronts  Muskies might be predisposed to drop vertically when they do slide off the edge. That may be the case, but a fish that negative (dropping vertically in the water column) is not likely to be persuaded by any means.

I think for the most part we’re pretty good at knowing what kinds of structure and cover  Muskies like.  The key to finding big ones lies in knowing when to fish what.
Big fish call for stout tackle.
When it comes to line, 80 or 100lb braid is the bare minimum.  It’s required to cast large lures, eliminates line breakage, and keeps the fight short, which is a must for successful and responsible release.  You should be able to put every fish – whether it is 24” or 60” – in the net in a matter of a couple of minutes at most. The epic tales of half hour battles may sound glorious, but the end result of that is a dead musky (either at the boat, or near certain post-release mortality).

Heavy and extra heavy musky rods in lengths over 8′ help hook big fish and keep them  pinned. They are also much less fatiguing than shorter rods through the course of the day, and are easier to figure eight with. I wish I’d found that out when I first started. One thing I wish more manufacturers would do is make an action slightly slower than ‘fast’ or ‘extra fast’. While stiffness and backbone are critical for hooksets, your rod must maintain bend while fighting a big fish.  Most of us know all too well that a split second of slack line  results in a tail-waving goodbye and a stream of obscenities. Rods with the right amount of bend during the fight eliminate the possibility of slack.

Stout rods will also take the fatigue out of throwing big baits all day long.

Match durable well built reels to the stout rods. The reel is going to take the brunt of abuse  from throwing big baits.  Preferences vary greatly on this, but some popular choices include Abu 7000, Shimano Trinidad, Daiwa Saltist, Abu Revo Toro, and Shimano Calcutta 400TE.

Leaders and terminal tackle:
It is up the individual what kind to use – solid wire, seven strand, fluorocarbon, etc.  Personally , I prefer solid wire in heavy gauges (140lb or more), tied in a haywire twist, in lengths of 12-18” for casting, and up to 36-48” for trolling.  I fish a lot of rocks, and after seeing a 130lb fluoro leader nicked after landing a fish a few years ago, I made the switch back to wire. These fish are not leader shy , and I believe solid wire gives me the best chance of no break off, and standing up to pounding rocks.

Whatever your choice of leader material, remember that your setup is only as strong as the weakest link.  Pairing heavy wire or fluoro with undersized rings or snaps doesn’t cut it.  Stick with 150lb-400lb terminal components. Some will contend such tackle is overkill, but the fact is that insufficient terminal tackle can result in near certain death for a fish that swims off with a lure pinned in its mouth.
There is no such thing as a magic lure. Big muskies eat everything – surface lures,crankbaits,jerkbaits,bucktails, spinnerbaits, and so on.  I pick something I believe in, that has a high hook-up ratio, and follow the guidelines below.

When it comes to Musky lures in general, I believe bigger is better; all the more so when it comes to targeting big fish.  I know , I know – lots of big incidental Muskies are taken on little walleye lures and jigs. On St. Clair it is practice all season long to catch big fish on 6” baits, etc.  But, I’ve caught so many big bass and small pike on 10” lures that when it comes to targeting four foot plus beasts, very few lures under 10” get the nod for me these days, regardless of conditions.

On speed – I spent a couple of my first years starting each day with my best one or two  lures, regardless of conditions.  This typically meant throwing a jerkbait or crankbait all day to hopefully catch one fish when I could have been throwing fast moving lures and catching multiple fish.   I ultimately stumbled across an article that suggested the best approach was to always fish the fastest that the prevailing conditions would dictate.

For example, with a warm summer storm pending, the sky clouding over , and wind starting to kick up a

Above: necessary terminal tackle – 100lb line, 140lb solid wire, and swivels, snaps, split rings and solid rings in the 200-400lb range

bit, I would highly recommend you throw something you can run back to the boat as fast as possible -inline blade baits, spinnerbaits, tail prop topwaters.  Or, if it is dead-calm bluebird skies at mid-day, think more along the lines of low and slow.

Fishing as fast as conditions warrant allows you to make contact with the maximum number of catchable big muskies on any given day.  Don’t make the mistake of  thinking big fish are fat and slow either; they are explosively fast. No matter what reel you are using or how fast you crank, I guarantee you can’t reel too fast for a big Musky (or any Musky) to catch and annihilate your lure.
To illustrate, let’s say you are a machine and you can reel 10′ per second (that is five full cranks in 1 second on a reel that picks up 24” of line per crank) – that converts to 6.8mph.
Most of us have seen fish easily cover 20′ in one second; that’s 13.6mph. You simply   cannot reel (or troll) faster than they can swim.

Big lures for big fish. A selection of baits from 10-18”, covering the water column from top to bottom. Don’t worry about going ‘too big’. Many big bass and small pike ar e caught on 10” lures, and the author has caught Muskies down to 36” on 14” lures.

We are already targeting the apex predator , and therefore lowest density fish, in the system.  When you take that a step further and target not just any musky you can catch, but the biggest one that swims, you have to accept that you are going to spend a fair bit of time not catching.  While some bodies of water carry larger numbers of big fish, by and large it is a trade-off; numbers for size.

You could go days without even seeing a fish. You could also hit conditions right, make the right choices about where to fish, and catch (or at least see) several fish over 50” in one day.

Some guys have the trophy bug so bad they will fish all year for the sake of a couple of   bites from 50+”ers.  Some guys are happy to land a 30”something on most of their trips.

Some like to mix it up between the two. Just make sure you know what you’re getting into with targeting the big ones, because that first rod buckling behemoth might change you forever.

Spend some time before the season thinking what camp you want to fall into this year and gear up accordingly.

John Anderson Talks Ottawa River Muskie

Paul Shibata talks with Ottawa River muskie guide John Anderson about the 2015 season, keys to success and how new gear helps make you a better angler.

We’re still a couple of months away from getting on the water, but listen in and get your self ready (like you haven’t been ready since the day after the season closed last year …..)

This was originally aired on Renegade Bass Radio in October 2015.

Catch and Release Angling: A Review with Guidelines for Proper Fish Handling Practices

Casselman, S. J. 2005. Catch-and-release angling: a review with guidelines for proper fish handling practices. Fish & Wildlife Branch. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Peterborough, Ontario. 26 p.

Click here to view summaries from all archived OMNR publications.

 Executive Summary

The use of catch-and-release practices by anglers is increasing. This increase is a result of both anglers viewing the process as a conservation technique and also because catch-and-release practices are being mandated by fisheries managers. Despite the widespread use of catch-and-release, there is generally a lack of understanding regarding the mortality caused by the practice and how variation in catch-and-release techniques may affect the level of mortality.
Fortunately, the increase in catch-and-release practice by anglers has coincided with an increase in research examining catch-and-release practices. While most of the studies to date have been species specific, there are general recommendations that can be made based on the available information.
While catch-and-release is physiologically stressful, stress and therefore mortality can be minimized by following some general catch-and-release guidelines. Gear should be appropriate for the species being angled, allowing for quick retrieval. The use of barbless hooks and circle hooks should be considered to reduce the amount of time required to release fish. Air exposure should be minimized and fish should be released quickly. Depth of capture, hooking location and bleeding should be taken into account when deciding on whether or not to release a fish.
When performed correctly, catch-and-release can be successful with minimal harm to the fish and should be encouraged. However, due to the variation among species in response to catch-and-release techniques, it is recommended that further research is needed to create species-specific guidelines.


Les pêcheurs pratiquent de plus en plus la prise et remise à l’eau du poisson vivant. Cette augmentation a deux raisons : les pêcheurs considèrent que la technique va dans le sens de la conservation et les gestionnaires des pêches la prescrivent. Malgré le recours très fréquent à la prise et remise à l’eau, il existe en règle générale un manque de compréhension concernant la mortalité qu’elle engendre et l’incidence que peut avoir la variété des techniques sur le taux de mortalité.
Heureusement, l’élargissement de cette pratique par les pêcheurs a coïncidé avec des recherches poussées dans ce sens. Quoique la majorité des études à ce jour aient porté sur des espèces particulières, il est possible de faire des recommandations d’ordre général en fonction des renseignements disponibles.
Bien que la pêche avec remise à l’eau soit psychologiquement stressante, ce stress et par conséquent la mortalité peuvent être minimisés si on respecte certaines directives générales. Les pêcheurs doivent posséder du matériel de pêche approprié à l’espèce pêchée, permettant ainsi une capture rapide. L’usage d’hameçons sans barbe et d’hameçons circulaires devrait être envisagé afin de réduire le temps de remise à l’eau requis. Le poisson devrait passer un minimum de temps hors de l’eau et être relâché rapidement. Il doit être tenu compte de la profondeur de capture, de l’emplacement de l’hameçon et de la quantité de sang perdu avant de décider si un poisson doit être remis à l’eau on non.
Le poisson sera blessé le moins possible si l’opération de prise et remise à l’eau est effectuée correctement. Cette pratique dans ce cas devrait être encouragée. Toutefois, en raison des différences existant entre les espèces relativement aux techniques de prise et remise à l’eau, on recommande la poursuite des recherches afin d’élaborer des directives particulières aux espèces.

Read/download the full report by clicking the link below (PDF – 323 KB)

OMNR – Catch and Release Angling: A Review with Guidelines for Proper Fish Handling Practices_2005

Fishing Jerk baits

I love going back through old Muskie magazines and articles looking for “new” ideas.  This isn’t rocket science.  The tools we use now are radically different and better than they were 20 years ago, but we’re still trying to fool an animal with a brain the size of a pea and get it to attack our bait.

I found this article in the Muskies Canada Release Journal  – April 1986.  I’ve always struggled with jerk baits and as a result, I don’t fish them that often.  The article is 30 years old, but I’m hoping it pays dividends next season …..


By John Parry – From Muskies Canada Release Journal April 1986

What kind of a person hurls a piece of wood on a line into the water, reels it in and does it again and again – all day long?

Well, if you’re not a muskie angler I think I would call you a jerk, however if you are a muskie angler you’re definitely a jerkbaiter.

Using a jerkbait is hard work if you do it all day but there are some ways to make it easier.

Rule number one is pace, think of how long you plan to be on the water then work the biat with the appropriate  vigor.

Rule number two is to not overwork your baits but to develop a consistent pattern with moderate pulls.

The moderation of the extent of the pulls will allow your bait to work well, help you keep control over the bait, make it easier to maintain your balance and will keep you from feeling like your arms and back had been run over by a freight train by the end of the day.


I mentioned the word consistent when I spoke on how to work the bait, this can mean different things but in this case it was directed at the setting of a specific pattern and following it.  If you do a pull, pull, pull, twitch, twitch, pull, pull, pull pattern follow it and build a rhythm with it and after a while you will find it quite easy.

I have also found gliders are the easiest type to work because they have virtually no water resistance and like their name glide through the water.




In contrast, the diving baits such as the Suick and Bobby baits have to be pumped down with very rapid pulls and quick reeling.

The vertical movement of these lures causes quite a bit more resistance in the water and can tire you quicker than the gliders.


The two lures have their own place in your arsenal and if used properly they can be very productive.  The diving baits are best utilized in areas where you want to get down to the fish such as at drop offs or over deep weeds.  In contrast, the gliders perform much better over shallow rocks and weed beds where their tantalizing side to side action can be effective without hanging up.

The understanding of why these lures work is extremely important to the way they are worked.

These lures are representing the muskies favorite snack, that is a wounded bait fish and must somewhere along the line give a reasonable imitation of them.

Injured bait fish do very strange things because in most cases they can predict their own future, such as someone’s dinner, therefore they give their last ounce of strength to get out of dangers way.


I have personally witnessed many injured perch, bass and sunfish on their sides attempting to dive to the safety of the weed bed below and after a very short period of time they mystically disappear.  These fish have all but lost control of their bodies, as they seem to gain buoyancy and lose their equilibrium.

This is what your jerkbait is attempting to duplicate, and that is why I have found an erratic retrieve in most cases will interest more fish.

The next problem we fact after getting them interested enough to take a good shot at trying to inhale your offering is how to keep her on.

This year I have been a good example of what not to do, because I ended the season 0 for 5.  All of these fish I had on and had hooks into, so call it what you want but let’s be kind and say I’m a very good sportsman involved in long distance release.

The truth of the matter is that the problem I experienced last year is a common one for Jerkbait anglers, because the weight of the lure combined with the problems of getting really good hook sets leaves the greatest odds of the fish escaping.

There are ways of getting around these odds, the first being the use of extra sharp hooks, these will make it much easier to penetrate the extremely hard bony mouth of the lunge with a good hook set.  The second is with tackle, a relatively stiff muskie rod combined with heavy dacron fishing line gives you that no-stretch and power combination required to drive home those sharp hooks.  I also use a good quality heavy bait casting reel, and this is a must, because a light reel will virtually fall apart internally when attempting to handle these big baits.

The grip of the rod is very important if you want to obtain the maximum leverage during the hook set.  A very good friend of mine, and might I say one of the best muskie men I know, converted me from the standard grip of cupping the reel to holding onto the top grip of the rod.


The new method of holding on to the rod felt very strange to me, but after a while it was quite natural and I really can feel the added pressure I am able to exert through the rod.

The playing of the fish is really no different than if you were fighting any muskie, only you must realize that if the fish jumps the odds seem to be much greater on you losing the fish, (I know that’s how I lost most of mine this year).

The next topic that I feel that I should mention is when and where to use these baits.  These lures can produce fish all year, but I have a particular preference for using them in the fall season.  This time of year is when the truly large fish become relatively easy to locate and are really hungry.

The way I discover these locations is first by marking on my hydrographic map the fastest breaking shorelines and then picking out the best areas to concentrate my efforts.


The inside turn on this shoreline is a prime fall muskie spot, as it is close to deep water and is not far from a large week flat area which draws these fish during the summer season.




The very fast drop off helps these large fish fee effectively at a time of year when weather conditions change very quickly.




In the summer with the more stable weather conditions, the muskie can travel further because once she gets to the feeding area the chances are that the conditions will not change radically and therefore she will not be in constant motion without feeding.  With this increase in the distance she is willing to travel, so increases the locations where you might find her and makes it a more time consuming process.

In the fall I have found that either the fish is in a location or she isn’t and within a few casts you will find this out and you can eliminate a lot of water very quickly.

These are but a few suggestions to make it easier to use these lures productively, but the main point is you must use the bait.  To gain confidence in it you will need to work it properly and you must feel comfortable with it on your line.  After you see the first lunge take a shot at it I’m sure you’ll be like me, hooked on Jerkbaits !








Did You Know

Muskies Canada Release Journal – March April 2006

Sunny Afternoon: Many times during the summer, you find yourself fishing between the hours of 11 am and 3 pm in prime afternoon sunshine and boating traffic.  On busy water these can be less than prime times.  Even though this is summer, your energy and a muskie’s energy is rather high, you’d think fast presentations.  Under these circumstances, contrary to some views, this is time to slow down.  Focus on heavy cover type spots (heavy weeds, docks, shady rock areas).  The key is to work the selected spot with lots of casts.  It’s also wise to throw 2 or 3 different lure presentations at the spot.  Trollers can also apply this advice by slowing down and thoroughly reworking high percentage break lines etc…

Short line trolling

By John Anderson

Catching a fish trolling at 5.8 mph with 4 feet of line out off the corner of your boat is one of those things that you just have to see before you can believe it. I didn’t start trolling short lines seriously until the early 90’s. Last year, it became a game of seeing how short I could go. 12 inches of line off the end of the rod to a 12 inch leader was the answer.

If you don’t short line troll, you’re missing out on what is one of the most powerful learned behaviours in modern musky fishing.

It has taken many years and many varied experiences to understand why this technique is so effective for catching big fish in most conditions, and at almost any time of the year. If you don’t short line troll, you’re missing out on what is one of the most powerful learned behaviours in modern musky fishing. Man has taught the muskellunge to feed off of boat motors and boats.

How Muskies Learn About Boats

Consider the learning curve of a musky as it progressively relates to a boat and motor in its’ environment. Increasingly there are more and more boats on the musky waters we love and in many cases there is high boat traffic already. Muskies see a lot of boats and they adjust to them as simply a natural part of their environment. Initially, a boat is something to fear. It’s big, loud, aggressive, and often random in its movements. This is the perception of a baby goliath in her formative years.

The second benchmark in this learning curve is when the musky comes to the realization that a boat and motor never comes to attack it and thus it is not something to fear, merely something to avoid.

The author (left) and a guest with his first ever musky
The author (left) and a guest with his first ever musky

The third realization of a juvenile musky is that when a boat comes, most other fish scatter. Schools of baitfish break up and every fish’s attention is drawn to the boat. They are now distracted, even separated from the herd and vulnerable to attack. Meals can be had when a boat goes by.


It fears nothing and nothing attacks it.

The fourth and final step in this learning cycle is that a boat represents an opportunity to feed. When a musky reaches 34 to 36 inches in length, or about 6 years in age, it is ready to spawn for the first time. I believe that this is a point in the muskies development where it begins to grow its ego and attitude. It is now the queen or king of its domain. It fears nothing and nothing attacks it. The understanding of its position in the hierarchy of fish is clear; I am the biggest, baddest, fastest creature in the water and I rule it. A passing boat is now an opportunity to hunt.

The first time I perched high on the bow of a boat and searched for muskies was an amazing learning experience. It was on Pigeon Lake at a Can/Am event. Pigeon Lake has a lot of eager muskies and clear water and in the early morning hours, on a glass surface that shadowed beautiful thick weed flats, I began to search. To do this successfully you should have a set of great polarized lenses, your MCI hat, and a hood to dampen as much light as possible around your eyes. You should also talk with your driver and cover the safety issues in the event you fall in.

To my amazement, it did not take long to spot the first of many shiny emerald green beauties. This fish and a number of others turned off the side of the boat and moved out of the way at varying speeds and angles. Some moved quickly, others slowly and only a short distance. After about 20 minutes, I came across the first 4 foot class fish to enter my field of vision. Instead of peeling off into the weeds, this experienced warrior princess slowly descended to the bottom in 8 feet of water. She had seen this routine a thousand times and knew exactly what was going to happen. She rested comfortably as the motor passed directly over her head. I saw this process repeated many times over the next couple of days. Left: the author (left) and a guest with his first ever musky. 6 RELEASE JOURNAL

Jim McGlaughlin’s Just Fishing magazine had a great behavioural article written by a musky addict who has chased fish for a lifetime in Northern Ontario, Minnesota, and Wisconsin among other places, and has done so with a camera mounted underwater and off the side of his boat. One of his stories I remember was how daily he would have muskies come right up to his kicker motor to investigate. By now most of you have heard of a musky attacking an electric motor prop in the water as well. Stories like these tell you that muskies are curious by nature and are clearly not wary of your boat or your presence at least some of the time.

Have you ever trolled a bait off the corner of your boat and kept a vigilant eye on it for a long time? As I guide I have had a number of guests watch a prop wash lure short lined off the side of the boat for hours. I can recall one day where we did not catch a fish for several hours on an afternoon session of trolling but my guest got very excited 6 times over a musky coming right up to the visible bait but not eating it. Feedback like this tells you that you indeed have active fish in the zone you are hunting and you have a presentation problem. Adjust your speed, your lure colour, or your lure until you find what they actually will hit. In this case a colour change made all the difference for us.

Why it Works

Here is the answer to why short line trolling is such an effective technique for catching big muskies. Aside from disturbing the fish the boat comes in contact with and creating a ruckus of bubbles and wake with a big motor, I believe it comes down to the decision time you give a musky to eat your presentation eat it now, yes or no. Reaction strikes work well when you are casting and is evidenced when your lure hits the water and is immediately eaten. You startled the fish and instead of running away like most fish the queen of the water kills what startled her or at least gives it enough of a warning nip to find hooks. You don’t give the fish a chance to hone in on a presentation like it has when you long line. There is no ‘good look’ for the fish and limited chance to follow and inspect the potential meal or to use their keen sense of smell to decide if this is real. Yes or no – right now!

In the 70s and 80s nearly all the muskies I boated trolling were on long lines. It wasn’t until I started fishing Rob Dey and River Rat spinnerbaits in the early 90s that I had regular success on what I considered to be short lines at that time. We’re talking about 15′ to 20′. There were a number of people in Eastern Ontario who were pioneers in the technique and these distances still work great today.

Season opener muskie caught in eight feet of water
Season opener muskie caught in eight feet of water

This was considered a great early season and summer pattern around here, especially when the temperature climbed to 60 degrees (yup, I’m old and I still use Fahrenheit to talk musky temperatures), which was  somewhere around July 1st .

Learning to take advantage of shorter and shorter lines was a natural progression with this trolling technique. I can remember fishing with one partner back in the day who always made sure his line was the shortest distance from the boat, especially when we trolled spinnerbaits. If I let out 15 feet of line he would let out 12 and if I went to 11 he would go to 9. The thought here is that aggressive muskies would hit the first bait they saw and there is definitely some truth to this. A common short line distance now for me is 5 or 6 feet trolled right off the corner of the boat.

The How

Here are some tips for short lining: Ideally this works best for me in shallower water around cover. This is not cut in stone as I have caught fish in open water at 30 or 40 feet on short lines as well but since muskies are by nature sight feeders and an ambush predator they tend to sit in spots with cover where they can burst out at prey wondering into their vantage point. If you know of ‘spots on spots’, or very small areas that often hold a musky this would be a perfect location to short line.

When you see fish while casting an area or you otherwise know there are fish in an area but you cannot seal the deal. Remember, don’t tell the fish how you want to catch them.

Doug's short lined November monster muskie.
Doug’s short lined November monster muskie.

Change your presentation until you find what works when you are sure there are fish there. I have often cast a spot for as long as an hour and then scored on the first pass of the same areas with a short line troll.

Adjusting the tilt of your motor changes the sound, the bubble trail behind you, and the waves your boat sends out in its’ wake. Subtle changes like this can be a key to turning finicky muskies into picture fish.

As noted earlier, watching your baits can give you big feedback on whether the fish are interested in your short line presentations or not and whether you need to tinker with bait size, colour, or speed. Jake Satonica, the creator of both the Jake and the Grandma lures never trolls anywhere without a 13-inch musky coloured bait in the propwash. Personally I tend to short line with very bright colours that wouldn’t be described as ‘natural patterns’. Rod positioning in the rod holder can be a key and offers different lure depth presentation options right close to your boat. Keeping a rod tip high off the side of the boat can let you run your bait just slightly sub surface with makes it easy to see. Putting your rod tip 2 feet under the water can let you run a crank bait or diving bait down 5 feet with a very short line and close to the bottom or heavy cover in shallow water.

Drag setting is critical here. I am a believer in tight drags to get a solid hookset on the take immediately. With short lines however one must account for the weight and strength of a monster fish and ensure it is able to peel 30 feet of line away easily. Too tight of a drag setting can rip a slice in the fishes upper jaw which is bad for both you and the musky.

When your short line goes off you now have a very green fish close to the boat and no doubt you have other lines in  the water too. Ensure that there is a path for your short line fish to run straight back from the boat as it will initially do that won’t catch on another line in the water.

To sum up this trolling technique, I would say that if you are not short line trolling then you are truly missing out on a pattern that fools the big girls as much or more than any other way that you could drag a bait. Try it out because seeing is believing and many days the short line pattern will outfish all the other lines off your boat combined.

John Anderson