Slop Musky On Plastics
"A Bass Technique For Spring 'Lunge"

Todd Koehn   2014

Early season Musky success is often measured by the number of fish following lures 6-8 feet behind. With short hits common and cold water temps still keeping fish lethargic, fishing can be fruitless without a system. On my daily occupational drive there is plenty of time to review mental notes of the prior weekend's fishing experiences. For example, recently I recalled a strange early season incident on a lake I had guided on for seven years. While fishing a favorite spring bay I heard and then saw frequent large swirls and surface turbulence along the shoreline. The commotion was coming from several Muskies devouring frogs in 1-3 foot depths. Motoring further along this shoreline revealed more "frog feeding" Musky.

A plastic 4" frog seemed to be an ideal selection. Mister Twister's Hawg Frawg has an accompanying "keeper hook" with three barbs along its shank held the plastic frog body in place perfectly. The frog body had a recessed linear cavity in the belly permitting easy access to the hook. I soon discovered that even light Musky tackle is a poor casting choice. Since these fish were spooked easily it was critical to utilize tackle that could make long casts keeping the angler and boat away from wary fish. I like to compare it to deer hunting in an open area with no cover. A rifle capable of making a long shot is needed to remain undetected.

Making these lengthy casts requires a long rod, and as a Musky nut and guide, I have been an advocate of them. Rods recommended for steel-head seem to be the best choice. One example is an 8' 6" medium action bait casting St. Croix Imperial XL rod. A bass sized bait casting reel with 12# line is an ideal match. This combination is perfect for casting the medium weight plastics, along with big plastic worms and lizards. The other is a spinning steelhead/walleye model. The 9' 6" St. Croix, Legend is one example. This rod has a unique cam-lock graphite spinning rings which allow widespread placement of the reel on its 24 inch handle. It's surprising back bone when fighting heavy fish is its foremost feature. A medium spinning reel with an in-spool drag and 12# line is a good choice. Both of the rods are specially designed for catching steelhead trout in rivers. These fish can reach up to 20, even 30 pounds, and produce a fight in a river's current that is a test of rod strength. It's common for them to make drag-screaming runs of 25 to 50 yards.

Long rods allow a greater vertical line angle from the rod tip to the lure at long distances. This steeper angle will enhance your ability in finessing lures through bulrush beds and other thick cover. Short rods often leave too much line laying in the water, making it easy for the fish to see, besides being prone to hanging up on weeds, downed timber and brush.


Look for three keys in identifying potential spring Musky water. Lakes with established bulrushes provide excellent cover for spring fish. Also large bays with newly emerging shallow cabbage often hold fish. And, always, explore dark mucky bays that warm faster than any other area of the lake. Once targeted areas are found run parallel to them, using an electric trolling motor and visually check the shallows wearing Polaroid glasses. Look for panfish, small game fish and, of course, frogs. If any such forage is available Musky should be on the prowl.

After scouting ultra-clear spring waters it's easy to understand how fish detect your presence. You must remain as quiet and sneaky as possible. If there is a wind present use the electric motor to stay within casting distance of the key fish-holding zone. Slowly and thoroughly work a section at a time. Think of yourself as the predator. Making long casts without spooking shallow feeding fish will pay off in great early season action. When retrieving these plastics hold your rod at a 45 degree angle. Retrieve them slowly, while gently twitching them to create a natural pulsating, swimming action. The movement of the rod tip should be as slight as possible. Make sure that the bait lands well past cover that a Musky would likely be holding in. Retrieve it through the area naturally instead of landing on top of the fish. A very delicate twitching is required to generate natural looking frog movements. It's best to lightly shake the tip and reel with just enough speed to keep the frog, big worm or lizard moving on or approaching the surface. It's strange how Musky hit these plastics. They simply swim up, lightly grab them and swim away.

Bright lure colors help to keep the bait in sight at distances of up to 50 feet. Use the white/green or yellow/green color combination for best results. Incidentally, monitoring the bait's progress while retrieving is necessary in timing the hook set. Picking up great amounts of line to set the hook is no problem with a rod of this length. What is a problem is getting a good hook set. The best way I've found is to set the hook by striking the palm of your reeling hand, against the butt end of the rod... sharply. The hand holding the rod will act as a pivot point. This fast downward motion on the butt end with your cranking hand away from the body and towards the fish delivers a tremendous hook-setting force. Practice this procedure outdoors with a less forceful movement. Pushing the rod butt only six inches away from the body, propels the rod tip four feet in the opposite hook setting direction. This shock of energy will rip the hook from the plastic body, impaling it into the Musky's jaw. The importance of sharp hooks is also vital with this presentation.

When fighting a fish in this skinny water, it is critical to get near the fish rapidly, usually within 20 to 25 feet. Most fish will leave shallow water heading for greater depths when the boat becomes visible. During the fight is when the long rod really comes into its own. Applying heavy pressure on the fish, even with only 12# test line is possible. Taking up slack line from jumps, head shakes, runs and continuing to keep constant pressure on the fish is no problem. One bit of caution must be practiced when landing a fish with long rods. Leave enough line out from the rod tip to enable landing a fish 3 - 4 feet away from the boat. This is a good practice to keep from breaking the rod on the boat gunwale.

For leaders, I rig up a nine to twelve inch, 17 pound seven strand wire tied directly to the hook with a ball bearing swivel on the opposite end. There are also several light northern pike leaders available commercially that should be appropriate.

Snagging surface obstructions will be an occasional problem. Otherwise you are not casting into the fish holding zones. While positioning the boat to remove the snag, sighting a spooked fish swimming out of an area will be commonplace.

When fishing alone a foot operated bow mount motor is the best means of boat control. Both hands are free to cast, fight a fish, or handle a landing net. A hand operated model works fine with a partner taking turns controlling and positioning the boat.

This system works! For example, I took nine Muskies in one spring outing of which four were legal; the largest 37 inches. Mid-morning to early evening in late May or early June is best. And light tackle is a real thrill; even smaller legal fish are exciting battles. The cool water temperatures of spring invariably allow quality releases, too.

So get some plastic frogs, big plastic worms or lizards, a long rod and give this method a try. Additionally, bonus fish caught add to the action. It's not uncommon to encounter a sizeable northern pike or trophy largemouth bass enjoying this warming area of your favorite lake or flowage. And that's not such a bad deal either.