If you've decided to try your hand at catching a musky for the first time then you might be aware that a lighter bass or trout setup quite simply isn't going to cut it.
Let's face it musky are the largest freshwater predatory fish that most people will probably target.
Unless of course you happen to be lucky enough to take a fishing vacation to some exotic place that have giant river monsters lurking there.
Musky are big;
Really big and you need the right tackle to handle them.
Below we'll discuss a decent casting setup. Ultimately the best musky reel that you can afford and the right length rod paired with a strong enough line is the basis for the right tackle selection.
A good musky casting setup that is a proper balance between reel, rod and line will give you the best results.
A bad pairing of any of those with the others will certainly result in not getting the best possible performance from all of them.
A musky setup for casting is almost always going to require a baitcasting reel.
Sure a large size 4000 or 5000 spinning reel is strong enough to handle a large muskie but if you are casting all day on a heavy spinning setup it can become really tiring.
A baitcaster gives you the ability to cast one handed. Hit the button, flick the lure out and control with your thumb on the spool.
That being said there is a learning curve to using a casting reel so if you have only ever used a spinning reel then it really is worth taking the time to learn.
Most people fear the dreaded birds nest.
Modern baitcasters have come a long way so don't be deterred. The best bet is to get someone experienced to show you how to use it.
And yes as a beginner you may get a few birds nests and that may be a little annoying but everyone goes through the same process.
One thing for sure is that once you master the technique are likely to never go back to a spinning setup unless of course you are looking to use really light tackle as that is where it excels.
The best musky rod will have a heavy to medium-heavy fast action and is the usual the go to choice for musky fishing.
Length wise you should be looking at least a 7'6" rod. My personal preference is for an 8'6" fast action rod with a heavy power rating.
This may be a longer rod than you are used to be it is worth it. The longer rod with larger lures makes for some very long casts assuming everything is matched up right.
Longer casts give you the ability to cover a lot more water in a day. This is something that is often overlooked.
A heavy action rod will have a lot more backbone than a lighter one. Musky are heavy fish and the rod really needs to be up to the job of absorbing a lot of the energy these big fish can put down against you.
The fast action is preferred for a good casting performance. A Fast action rod will start to bend a lot closer to the tip versus a slow action which will begin to bend closer to the reel seat.
Bending at the tip allows you to load the rod blank for a much longer cast. Think of the blank as a spring that is loaded on your back cast. You want all of the power that you put into it to whip the lure out quickly.
If you are casting then the go to choice is going to be braid. Especially when using a baitcaster.
Most musky fishermen will opt for braid that is at rated at least 50 lbs . That's at a minimum. It is not uncommon for those targeting large musky to use 80 lb braid all season.
Braid not only casts well on a baitaster but it has the added advantage of being able to slice through weeds a lot easier than mono. This is due to the diameter being smaller than the equivalent rating monofilament line.
It also has a lower stretch than mono. A lower stretch in the line mean more precise hook settings and will generally give you a lot more sensitivity.
A big strong wire leader is a must on any musky rod and reel setup.
Take one look into the jaws of a musky and you'll see row after row of sharp teeth. This teeth will make light work of either braid or mono.
A good wire leader should give you a lot more confidence once the strike comes that the fish will not slice it's way through your line.
Being one of the biggest freshwater fish in the US it's of little surprise that a Musky's teeth are one of it's most notable features.
If you have ever caught or seen a musky in the flesh then you probably agree that the teeth are some of the biggest and intimidating of anything you are likely to catch in freshwater.
Row after row of sharp teeth adorn it's mouth with the sharp canine's that line the outer edge of the jaw being the most impressive.
Muskie fishing line needs to be heavy for a reason and a lot of anglers will use a heavy wire trace as their leader purely because of just how sharp those razor like teeth are.
Musky are ambush predators and like all large fish or animals that have evolved to be near or at the top of the food chain in their environment musky have a very well developed set of teeth that are designed for catching prey.
A muskies head has a flat, duck-billed shape that is designed for grabbing it's prey and then swallowing it head-first.
Each type of tooth performs as specific task.
The main teeth that are used when hunting are the large canines that can be found on the outer rows of both the upper and lower jaw.
A musky will generally ambush smaller fish. As it strikes it can open up it's large flat mouth a considerable distance giving it the ability to attack larger prey that can be up to 20% of it's own weight.
The roof of the mouth has mush shorter almost brush like teeth that are used to help grip it's food as it tries to swallow.
Unlike some other larger saltwater predators such as sharks the muskies jaw and teeth are not designed to take large bites out of it's food. Instead the teeth are designed only for grabbing.
Once a musky catches it's prey in it's canines it will use the rest of it's teeth to grip the prey and turn it so as to swallow it head first.
It turns it's food to a head first position as it is easier to swallow this way. And when swallowing smaller fish such as perch and walleye it can flatten down the dorsal fins that contain sharp spines.
This will vary greatly by age and size. Most muskie have probably hundreds of the smaller brush like teeth that they use for gripping it's prey as the swallow them.
The number of larger canines in the mouth can vary. You can usually find that the mush larger older fish will in fact be missing quite a few of their main teeth. They probably break off due to age and use.
Without a doubt trolling for musky can be on of the most productive ways to cover a lot of water, especially if you are new to the lake that you are fishing on.
Easily the most popular method to catch large muskie at it's core it's pretty simple:
Drag a lure behind your boat at the right speed at the right place and depth
Sounds so simple a child could do it.
However there are a few subtleties that can make all the difference between skunking out and landing the tiger muskie of a lifetime.
Most people who troll for musky will generally do so on the edge of a weed bed in a large lake.
This is by far the most popular way to find them and then present them with a lure.
Lure size, location, time of year, trolling speed and depth are probably the most important variables to get right.
The main tackle is usually a good quality trolling rod for musky, either a conventional or a baitcasting reel and heavy main line such as 80lb paired with a wire leader.
For deeper trolling you may wish to use a downrigger or even lead core line depending on the situation.
Given that they are one of the largest freshwater predators around it is perfectly natural for a beginner to choose as big a lure as possible.
That's not always the case however and musky have bee known to hit some pretty small crankbaits and swimbaits.
All they need is plenty of shine and a little bit of wobble put in front of them to bring out their inner predator. If a muskie is hungry enough they'll even hit a plastic worm!
That being said larger lures do tend to attract the larger fish. One nice side affect of using a large lure is that smaller fish are less likely to hit your lure.
Although a big lazy muskie will hit a lure that's just being twitched on the water surface most people do prefer to troll somewhere in the range of about 2-10 miles per hour:
Of course the depth and type of lure that you use will have a huge impact on the speed at which you troll.
Muskie are mostly ambush predators and given their markings it's easy to see why they favor weed beds and other dark structures that can help to camouflage them from their prey.
Given their size they do tend to stay out a little bit deeper than say a pike would but they will still generally both patrol and lie in wait along the deeper edges of larger weed beds.
In summer months they can be found in shallower waters and some will actually spend a few hours motionless quite close to the surface sunbathing during the summer heat.
Mushy tend to stick to two different locations and that is usually dictated to as to the time of year and the temperature.
In spring/summer months they will tend to move towards the shallower waters and the temperature is around 60 degrees.
In the winter months they will move to the deeper waters at about 40 degrees.
As mentioned above the time of year has a big impact on the depth that you will find muskie.
Trolling along the edge of a weed bed using a fish finder is by far the most consistent way to troll where the fish are.
However you can also target the bigger fish in much deeper waters. You'll need some specialist tackle to get your lures down deeper than they are designed to swim such as:
Everyone has there preference as to which one to use personally I will always favor a downrigger as I believe it gives the best possible control of the depth that your lure is swimming.
Make no mistake about it big muskies require a super powerful rod and reel setup.
A musky reel is a completely different piece of engineering than a regular reel you might use for bass or trout.
And with good reason;
These large freshwater predators are built for the kill and with fishermen commonly taking fish up to 30 lbs and beyond they pack a mean punch once hooked.
Even a smaller adult musky in the 10 to 15 lb range is capable of giving regular freshwater spinning gear a real beating.
That's why you need a heavier musky rod and reel in one of the following varieties:
Although quite a few people will troll for musky especially if the are running deep, the preferred tackle is a baitcasting setup.
A good baitcaster for musky has got to be capable of handling lots of heavy line usually in the range of 50 to 80 lb braid and have a drag rating of 20 lbs minimum although you may get away with a reel with a drag of 15 lbs.
Most anglers should be familiar with the three types of reels that are available for freshwater use:
All the reels share a few common attributes i.e the line is wound around the spool by the turning of the handle. They all also have some for of drag mechanism that can be adjusted and will also have some method or design that will allow you lure to be cast out.
However, they differ greatly in their usages. Understanding how each reel works and what it is suitable for is the first step in deciding what kind of reel you need for musky.
If you've never fished before you may not be familiar with the following types of reels so here is a brief introduction to them as why they are or are not good choices as reels for musky fishing.
Spincast reels are probably what a lot of people learn to fish with when they are kids. They are extremely simple to operate and this is why they are seen as a good choice for a young child to learn how to fish with.
Simply press the button cast and now you are fishing, no bail are or spool drag to play with.
Although they might be fine for smaller species such as crappie and panfish and even small brook trout in a river or stream they are most definitely not suitable for muskie fishing.
A spincast reel is no match for a large musky.
The drag is too weak, the type and breaking strength of line will be too light and the spool will not be big enough to hold enough line to comfortably let a muskie run and tire itself out.
Also the internal gears are not suitable for pulling large fish and you will feel that there is a serious lack of power in the reel for anything over 5 lbs in weight.
Spinning reels for muskie are a serious step up in terms of strength and performance over a spin cast reel.
A spinning reel using a bail arm that winds the line around the spool as you retrieve the lure. To cast you simply flip the bail arm open, hold the line with your index finger, swing the rod and release the line as the rod is pointing forward.
More to it than casting a spincast reel and not as difficult as a baitcasting reel.
Spinning reels are usually chosen by those that are using very light lures on ultralight tackle. Most freshwater spinning reels would not be suitable for using for muskie.
They are generally to light and the drag is not strong enough to handle a large 30 lb musky as it runs away from you with it's nose down in the weeds.
You can of course use a heavier saltwater spinning reel.
Although these heavier spinning reels(in the appropriate sizes) will be more than capable of handling a musky they have one major drawback in that the weight of them will make casting all day very tiresome.
Casting large lures over and over as you try to cover a lot of water is not a lot of fun with a big, bulky and heavy spinning reel.
Another drawback is that if you choose a spinning reel you are also limited to the types of rods you can choose.
Spinning reels rarely work well on a baitcasting setup as they need the eyes lower down close to the reel to be large so as to accommodate the circular motion of the line as it comes off the spool during casting.
Without a doubt the preffered choice of reel for muskie fishing is a baitcasting reel.
Most muskie fishermen will opt for a level wind baitcasting reel as it will generally give the best casting performance and is also mush easier to use than a regular baitcaster.
The level wind feature is a small guide that move across the spool as the spool moves. It ensures that the line is laid on the spool in an even manner.
Reels without a level wind require the user to use their thumb to guide the line across the spool as you retrieve.
A baitcaster blends all of the best attributes you would want in a reel:
Some fisher men will shy away from a baitasting setup as they think it is too difficult to learn how to cast a baitcaster.
Although there is a specific knack to it with a little practice it shouldn't take long to learn how to throw a lure with these reels.
In fact once you learn how you'll regret not having done it sooner.
Although best is always subjective below you'll find a list of the top musky reels available on the market.
The Tranx 500 is one monster of a baitcasting reel and can do practically anything you may ever need. However it is a little on the pricey side and there are others that are cheaper and perform almost as well.
The Daiwa Lexa and the Okuma Komodo are both very popular mid-priced reels and are the go to for the average muskie fisherman. So if you are on a budget then these are the ones to go for.
The appropriately named Revo Toro "Beast" from Abu Garcia most certainly lives up to it's name.
Available in two sizes a 50 and 60 model it is second only to the Tranx 500 in terms of hauling large musky. Although it is a slower reel in terms of retrieval speed than the Tranx it makes up for it in brute strength and pulling power.
For each size there are two available retrieve ratio's:
The exact amount retrieved per turn will of course depend on which handle you opt to use and how much/diameter of line you are using.
All editions are available in either a left or right hand versions giving a total number of eight different variations available.
The Beast is built for a combination of casting performance and retrieval power.
It comes with two power handles that are fairly simple to swap out. A longer handle gives you a lot more torque so if your game is hauling heavy baits in search of trophy musky then it is preferred over the shorter handle.
The max drag rating is 25 lbs and uses Abu's Carbon Matrix Drag System which gives a super smooth drag performance that remains consistent even under full pressure.
Both the Lexa 300 and 400 from Daiwa are what's described as low profile baitcasting reels. Unlike smaller reels for bass fishing the 300 and 400 models are high capacity and are capable of holding a large amount of high diameter line.
On the 300 for example you can hold about 240 yards of 40 lbs braided fishing line.
They come equipped with an all aluminum spool and MagForce cast control ensuring a smooth spool speed all the way through the casting range.
The "Ultimate carbon drag" provides up to 22 lbs of pressure which is pretty considerable for a low profile baitcasting reel.
Ultra-low profile baitcasting reels were once reserved for much smaller capacity sizes but the times are changing. The introduction of the Komodo SS from Okuma coincided with lots over other offerings in the 300 and 400 sizes being released by all of the major brands.
Essentially a newer, larger version of the well received but little known Komodo 364P(still available).
Tthe SS gets upgraded to all stainless steel hence the 'SS' in the name. The main gear, spool shaft, drive shaft and pinion gear are now all heavy duty stainless steel.
The spool, frame and side plates are all made from high quality machined aluminum.
Depending on the size you opt for the Komodo comes with either six or seven HPB High Performance stainless steel bearings.
The drag is made from high output carbonite and is capable of a max force rating of 30 lbs which is one of the highest you will find on a low profile baitcaster musky reel.
If the Tranx is just too big for your needs then the smaller 300 and 400 sized models are a great alternative if you are not hunting massive muskie.
The Tranx line up has replaced the much loved Curado series that was quite popular for many years as an all round musky fishing reel.
There are currently eight different models available across the 300 and 400 sizes.
So you effectively have a choice of a 300 or 400 in left or right handed version and also with a high or a low geared ratio.
The low gear ratio 5.8:1 has a 30 inch retrieve per turn of the handle and the high gear 7.6:1 has a 40 inch retrieve per turn of the handle.
Of course the line capacity will be lower than on the Tranx 500, with the 300 model holding up to 190 yards of 50 lbs power pro braid and the 400 model holding 170 yards of 65 lbs.
Note: these reels have a lower max drag of about 18 lbs
The Okuma Coldwater series of trolling reels have been a massive hit with freshwater fishermen whether that's for large lake trout of hunting walleye deep down on the great lakes it comes as no surprise that they make a great musky trolling reel.
There are seven models to choose from, the DLX variations are left handed ones and there are three of those available.
The Coldwater are a very low maintenance trolling reel and have a self lubricating gear system.
Built with trolling specifically in mind the internal gears feature a mechanical stabilizing system which helps eliminate flex and warping under extreme loading.
Muskie along with catfish are the two species of freshwater fish that require the use of heavy fishing reels that are capable of housing a large capacity of heavy braided fishing line.
As stated early your best choice is probably going to be a low profile baitcasting reel in the correct size.
If you are only used to spinning reels then the thoughts of casting with a baitcaster for the first time can be a little unnerving.
But fear not;
It is not that difficult to learn how to cast a baitcaster. With a little practice and perseverance you be amazed just how quickly you get the hang of it.
In fact once you make the change you'll regret not having doing it earlier.
Having the ability to toss a lure with the flick of the wrist will mean a lot more accurate casts and it will also mean less arm fatigue as the day wears on.
Shimano have established themselves as one of the top reel manufacturers in the world. They have earned a lot of trust from fishermen by producing some of the most innovative and high tech reel available.
If you are looking for a Shimano musky reel then there are a number of options available on the market:
Personally Shimano are my go to brand for reels and have been for many years whether that's on the hunt for large muskie or throwing small Rapala's on ultralight gear for trout.
Muskie reels are generally built to a very high specification and as with a lot of things in life you will generally get what you pay for.
Whatever about your rod purchasing a cheap reel is a recipe for disaster. A cheap musky reel is probably going to fail once it is put under any kind of real pressure.
A large muskie that keeps it's head pointed down into a reed bed once hooked is going to put a huge strain on the drag of any reel and low quality components will usually mean one thing:
A seized up reel and a musky still on the hook
You are probably best staying away from any reel that is under a $100 as the quality and durability quite simply won't be there.
Hauling large muskies on light weight rods quite simply isn't going to cut it.
If you've ever snagged a muskie on bass tackle you'll know that all that extra weight can put some serious strain on a light/medium power rod.
One kick from that massive tail is enough to make a regular baitcasting setup almost bend in two.
At the end of the day targeting large musky requires specialist gear that is up to the job of handling these powerful fish.
Choosing the best musky rod for your setup depends on just how exactly you intend on fishing.
Lets take a look at just what kind of tackle you can use. The following three methods are the most popular types of gear that you can catch muskie with:
By far the most popular rod setup used for musky is a baitcasting setup. The gear will usually fall somewhere in the following ranges depending on the lure being used:
Muskie rods will usually be between 7.5 and 9 feet in length of course if you are trolling you may have a larger rod depending on your boat setup.
A longer muskie pole gives you that little bit extra casting distance so you can cover a bit more water throughout the day. A longer pole will also help to a lot of the energy out of the fish as you are playing then as the long pole will help to absorb some of the power as the fish run away from you.
A sweet spot seems to be in and around the 8 foot mark. Be aware that some of these longer rods unless they are in a two piece can be a pain to transport around and to store in your garage.
Some of the brands will have their longer rods as telescopic or collapsible. Usually they will break down to less than 7 feet in these cases.
Heavy powerful fish require a rod with a lot of back bone. The rod blank will take a hammering when you are playing a big muskie.
Sometimes the bigger fish can take almost an hour to land without snapping any of your gear. Which means your rod needs to be able to handle a lot of pressure on it for an extended time period.
At a minimum you will want to choose a rod that has a heavy power rating at the lightest. At lot of guys will opt for an extra heavy power rating especially when casting really heavy lures.
A good action to use is going to be fast. A fast action gives the rod a lot more backbone.
A fast action means that the bend in the rod will happen much further up the rod blank. This gives the rod a lot more backbone and means you can firmly set the hook in a muskies tough mouth.
A faster action will also allow you to whip the lure out giving a better casting performance. With a fast action you end up loading the top section of the rod more unlike a slow action where the rod will start to bend closer to the reel seat.
This 'action' combined with a long rod allows you to use the weight of the lure to store a lot of energy in the rod blank as you cast, as you release that energy is used to throw the lure further distances than you would normally get on slower/shorter rods.
The Veritas Toro is probably Agu Garcia's most popular Musky rod. It is a no frills well built alternative to the St Croix rod above and is usually priced in and around the same level.
It is designed to withstand the stresses of musky fishing from the bottom up. A rod blank that is built from 30 ton graphite for lightness and sensitivity is reinforced with Abu's "Sublayer Armour" for extra strength.
The handle is high density EVA and the guides are stainless steel with Zirconium inserts. Altogether a well built rod that is aimed at inshore casting or musk
Although most fishermen won't have heard of Tackle Industries before venturing into the wonderful world of Muskie fishing, they have built a solid reputation as the go to musky specialist rod range.
The only major drawback to the brand is that availability can sometimes be a issue. Usually they can be found in specialist tackle shops that cater to muskie fishing or occasionally in online stores.
This is a 9' rod that is actually telescopic and reduces down to 7'6" for easier transport.
This rods are specifically built for throwing large muskie lures in the 2-8 ounce range and are suitable for line ratings in the 60-130lbs range.
Not everyone is going to be casting big lures in pursuit of specimen muskie. On many smaller lakes you do find that muskie will only grow as big as the lake will allow them to. In other words only if there is a really big supply of food will they grow to monster sizes.
Saying that you might only want a rod that is to be used for muskie that are all under 15 lbs or there about. If that is the case then a slightly smaller rod might be suitable.
The Helios listed here from Okuma is a 7'6" rod with a heavy power rating. It's a pretty light rod so if you are covering a lot of ground all day whilst casting from the shore on a smaller lake then it can be a lot less tiring than some thing a bit more beefy.
Trolling is the best way to target larger muskie that are living down in the depths in larger lakes. A good muskie trolling rod needs to be able to handle constant strain on it.
There are a few different techniques to trolling such as using downriggers, lead core lines and weight either on a three way rig or as inline weights.
Each method does can need a specialty rod especially when using downriggers. The model shown above is suitable for use with downriggers as it has a slow action.
This Accudepth rods from Daiwa are surprisingly cheap considering how well made and durable they are. Lots of backbone and yet still has a pretty decent amount of sensitivity.
Although we have mentioned length, power and action above there are some other important considerations to take into account before you purchase a rod for muskie fishing.
Firstly lets do a recap on what was discussed earlier:
Rod length plays a significant role in both how you use a rod and in it's power.
For most applications a good fishing rod for muskie will generally fall into the range of between 7.5 feet and 9 feet in length.
Trolling rods for musky can be on the shorter end of this range whereas a baitcasting rod for musky would be in the higher end of the range.
There is some what of a sweet spot somewhere in the middle.
Surprisingly even a small difference of six inches to a foot can have a dramatic influence over not only how the rod feels but also how much backbone it has and just how good the casting performance will be.
Smaller freshwater fish like bass or trout will rarely require need a rod of more than seven foot. Musky rods however need to be able to cast much heavier lures long distances and they will also need to be able to handle much heavier line.
As a general rule of thumb a longer rod will cast further and will also be more accurate than a shorter one.
A longer rod length also gives you a lot more control once you hook into a large muskie. It's much easier to land a larger fish on a long rod than on a shorter one. That being said it is still possible to land a monstrous muskie on a short rod.
Make no mistake about it bigger fish require a rod blank that has a lot of backbone. Fighting a large muskie for a long time will put a huge amount of stress one your rod.
Shorter rods with a light power rating will quite simply not be up to the job and some in fact may even snap resulting in a lost fish and lure.
A heavy power rating is the order of the day. Don't be alarmed if you are used to using lighter rods for smaller species you can still get very accurate casts thanks to the increased rod length.
Rod action is one of those things that is sometimes misunderstood by quite a few people.
A fast rod action means that the rod will start to bend much higher up on the blank. Whereas a slow rod action will start to bend much closer to the handle.
A faster action allows you to load the top section of the rod much more easily when casting.
With a slower rod action you need to work a load harder to whip the lure out to it's maximum distance.
Loading the top section stores the energy of the back swing in the top of the rod like a spring. When you whip it forward all that stored energy will transfer into the forwards increasing the speed of the lure just as you release it.
Because a musky fishing rod is usually a lot longer than other freshwater species you will almost always find that there will be a long split handle.
Smaller spinning rods and baitcasting rods can sometimes have a single piece handle usually in cork.
On longer muskie fishing poles however you will almost always find a split handle.
The longer split handle allows you to control the back swing of your cast a lot easier. On longer rods this is a must especially when using very heavy lures.
The longer rods also require quite a bit more muscle to load the rod blank. Having a longer split handle gives you a much better mechanical advantage as you can use the extra long handle as a better lever.
Ultimately the choice of rod handle is usually a personal one as it rarely affects the performance of the rod.
Cork handles are still pretty common on a lot of high quality rods. Cork is a well proven material on fishing rods and it also can add to the look of the rod significantly.
The only problem with a cork handle is that it does tend to have some durability issues especially as it gets older.
Foam grips are both light and very comfortable to use. They are nice to hold even all day long and do tend to age better than a cork handle. They are also a lot less absorbent than a cork handle so they can be a little easier to keep clean.
Quality reel seats are a must especially when tackling larger fish.
However they are often an element that are overlooked. If you stick to any of the big name brands you will mostly find that they use a good reel seat.
Fuji are by far the biggest name in both reel seats and rod eyes and if you rod has a Fuji reel seat you can probably be assured that it is a very high quality one.