By: John Dettloff © 1996
Reprinted from the book Surface Bait Subtleties by permission
There are many types of enticements that trigger muskies into striking surface baits. First off, when fishing for active, shallow water muskies, (fish that are relating to the surface) keep in mind that it is not uncommon for a Musky to see your lure coming through the air, just before it hits the water. Some strikes will come simultaneously as your lure hits the water. So, be ready for it!
Remember that muskies' eyes are on the top of their heads and they look upward. They have been known to grab at low flying birds that skim the water for insects. I once had a musky dart out from underneath his haunt, come out of the water, and grab my Topper while it was still six inches above the water! If you fish long enough, you'll be amazed at what can happen.
The next, and one of the key enticements to be aware of, is the period of time just after your lure hits the water. The splash of your lure is often a big attractor to a feeding Musky. And because the majority of strikes come just after the lure splashes down, and setting hooks with a surface lure tends to be more difficult make sure you stop your reel spool with your thumb to take the bow out of your line just before your lure hits the water. With a tight line you'll have a strong hookset when those early strikes come.
Other key enticements that trigger many strikes are the subtle wrist action twitches or lure speed-ups that I only like to use sparingly during each cast. (Remember: one twitch will go a long way.) When I get a follow on a surface lure, I never like to stop my lure. The musky is entranced on the lure's vibration (or sound) and, if the lure stops, so does the vibration. As far as the Musky's concerned, the lure is gone and he may lose interest.
When I spot a follow behind a "prop bait", (a Globe or Topper) I'll continue to keep the lure coming its normal speed for a few feet. And if the musky doesn't strike, I'll try a very slight speed-up and then a light twitch. I keep repeating these steps until the lure gets near the boat.
But when I spot a follow behind a Creeper, Hawg Wobbler, or Mud Puppy-type lure (lures with much built-in action), there is little I can do to add further enticement so .aside from very slight occasional speed-ups I'll just keep the lure coming at its regular speed. If the lure nears the boat but the Musky still hasn't hit, don't rush it, you still have time to trigger a strike.
When the lure is about 10 feet away from the boat, I like to create a slight angle change by sweeping my rod tip off to one side. The resulting slight vector change of the lure often triggers strikes. If not, when the lure arrives boat side, make a 90-degree angle change. This irresistible enticement tricks many a finicky Musky into hitting. It's a good idea to make sure you have your freespool button pressed and your thumb hard on the spool, just before you initiate this maneuver. This will enable you to get a good hookset, while at the same time allowing the Musky to make its usually explosive first run under the pressure of your thumb.
But, if the Musky still doesn't hit on the right angle change, just continue pulling the lure alongside the boat, making sure the lure stays on the surface and maintains its normal speed. I'll slowly walk the lure around the entire perimeter of the boat, adding an occasional twitch here and there, as long as the Musky keeps following. You could call it a huge "figure-zero" around the boat. Whether you choose to do a large FIGURE-8 or make a huge oval next to the boat, or circle the entire boat with your lure, doesn't matter that much. What matters is that you do something that will keep your lure working near the boat for a prolonged period of time to entice boatside muskies into striking.
I once had a 43 1/2-inch Musky follow an orange Topper (for the entire length of my cast) up to the boat, swim completely around the entire boat, and then hit the lure. Luckily I had my button pressed and thumb on the spool the whole time I was pulling my lure around the boat, because when the fish hit, it was very explosive! Had my reel been engaged with my tight drag, I could have lost my rod when the Musky powered away.
Even if I don't notice a Musky following my lure, should I still do a FIGURE-8 at the end of each cast? This is a question that I get asked by many of my guide clients. Well, without a doubt, a well executed figure-8 at the end of each cast is bound to increase your boat side catch percentage. But, realistically, it takes time to completely execute this maneuver after every single cast; time that will slightly impede the coverage of the area that you're fishing because of the resulting reduction in how many casts you will make into that area.
So in order to have the best of both worlds, at the end of each cast when using a surface bait, I always do an angle change next to the boat and then pull my lure parallel to the boat as far as I can reach - while carefully looking for the slightest hint of a Musky behind my lure. If nothing is there, I'll quickly rifle out another cast in order to best cover the area. But if something doesn't look quite right or I even think I see any kind of a flash, I'll immediately break either into a figure-8 or will continue working the lure around the boat.
Never snatch the lure out of the water without at least doing an angle change next to the boat because you will eventually get burned and muff a good fish. And quite often it's the big fish, which tend to be a little lazier, that commonly come up late for your lure at the very last minute. You don't want to pull the lure away from these muskies you want to catch them!