Craig Sandell 2011

With all of the items on the market meant to attract the attention of the Musky angler, it is very easy to lose sight of the reason that all of these products are available. The basic credo for Musky tackle is to balance your tackle so that there are no weak links in your configuration. All of the items available in the marketplace are there to provide the Musky angler options. This article will offer you some perspective into balancing your tackle. The reels, line, rods and leaders shown here are used for the purpose of demonstration and are NOT and endorsement of the products.

For many Musky anglers the first tackle mystery is what reel to use. Anglers new to Musky fishing sometimes make the mistake of thinking that they can use their bass, crappie or walleye reels when fishing for Musky. Unless the reel you are using is a heavy duty bait casting reel, you will need to go out and invest in a good bait casting reel that has good line capacity. My suggestion would be to make the reel dedicated to your Musky fishing exploits.

Remember also that if you plan to setup more than one rod you will need more than one musky reel. (Heavy duty spinning reels are OK if you plan to use monofilament line.) The reel should have at least a 4.7:1 retrieve ratio and should have a large retrieve handle like the one shown here. Reels run from $55 to $130 depending upon where you buy them.

Now that you have your reel, you will need some line...what line to get? There are many new line materials available today. Many claim to be indestructible. Frankly, no line is indestructible.

Although these new line materials offer smaller diameter, they do not perform well under some applications. If you have ever tried to undo a serious backlash of spectra fiber or Kevlar line you understand the problem.

If you use spectra line, you need to change your casting technique so that you don't overpower your cast and cause persistent backlashes.

The Musky fishing line of choice for many years has been braided micron. This line material does not stretch very much and so, it is good for lures from jerk baits to suckers. Tuf-line, a spectra line, has been around for a few years and has developed a good reputation. The Tuf-line Plus (pictured) is a rounder line and has a smother finish which will resist fraying.

What color line should you use?

As is the case with lure color, line color selection is almost a religious experience. Consider though that IF Musky can actually see the line in the water, they would see it only as it passes overhead. If the sky is overcast or even blue, white line would be the least visible to the Musky.

What line test should you use?

This also is a matter of preference, however, you run the risk of being broken off with line weight under 25 pounds. The lighter the line weight the more likely it is to fray. If you have ever lost a fish to a frayed line you probably retie your line every time you finish fishing a spot (This includes Tuf-Line). If you're not doing that, you may have a great story for the bar as I did in the 2009 Musky season. Consider 40 to 50 pound test line in Tuf-line for your light to medium rods and 40 pound test Micron for the rod you have setup for your heavy jerk baits. You could also use the 80 pound Tuf-line Plus for all your rods.


If you fish for Musky, you probably use a leader. Solid, not braided, wire is usually the leader material of choice and the wire should be stainless steel. What test should the leader be? Wire under 174 pound test (.029 gauge) tends to be prone to twisting and kinking while the heavier leader wire tends to inhibit lure performance.

There are some good titanium leaders available on the market. The tag ends of these leaders are secured with a crimp...a potential weak link in the tackle chain.

What snap to use?

The snap should match the gauge of the leader wire. It should be easy to unclasp for the purposes of changing lures but have enough tensile strength to maintain its clasp during a violent Musky encounter.

What about swivels?

Remember that a swivel is just one more link in the chain that could fail. If you are using a bucktail you should probably use a swivel to prevent your line from twisting. Twisted line makes your line prone to backlash. If you are going to use a swivel, buy a good one. A good swivel may cost $1.50 each but it will not let you down and it will stand up under hard use. If you go on the 'Cheap' and buy the Berkley swivels, which are more suited to bass, you will regret it.

What size leader should you use?

Depending upon the lure you are using, lengths from 7 inches to 11 inches are good choices. The smaller sizes for surface lures and bucktails and the larger size for jerk baits.

And Then There Are Rods

Finally I get to the fishing rod. Rods also come in a variety of materials and sizes. Rod selection is also a religious experience for many Musky anglers. There are some standards that you might want to consider.

Composite rods of fiber glass and graphite offer good backbone as well as the flexibility to properly play a fish reluctant to be landed. Rod lengths from 6 feet to 7 feet are pretty standard with the shorter and more stout rod being used to throw the jerk bait. If you're not sure, 6 to 7 feet is usually a safe bet. There is a lot of hype about using a 7', 8' and even 9' rods. Cal Johnson caught his World Record on a 5'9" be the judge!

Remember that your rod is going to be attached to you for the better part of your Musky fishing day. For that reason, the handle and grip are areas of key concern. Each of us is different and so it stands to reason that when it comes to fishing rods: ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL.

Buying your rod from a catalog is a lot like buying shoes through the mail. Sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you don't. Go to a sport shop or tackle shop where you can "see, touch and feel". Handles should be around 20 inches from the rod butt to the end of the grip in front of the reel mounting area. (14" of 15" butt and 6" foregrip.)

Your rod is going to be wet all of the time so make sure all metal parts are stainless steel. The rod tip line guide should be made of one solid piece without an insert.

Inserts will dislodge regardless of what the sales person tells you and you will be left with a useless rod.

Rod Tip

I have given you a lot to think about and I would encourage you to do just that before you spend your hard earned cash. When you are in the middle of thousands of acres of water, the last thing you need is bad line, a cheap rod, an anemic reel, and a bent leader.

Spend the time to plan your fishing approach and then match your tackle to that approach. Don't be hesitant to ask other Musky fishermen questions or to ask to see their tackle. As is the case in most things we do in life; we learn by doing… it is with Musky fishing.

Tight Lines