How To Fish For Musky

Muskellunge, commonly known as Musky, is a large, freshwater fish native to North America. It’s a member of the pike family and is renowned for its size and elusiveness, making it a highly sought-after trophy for anglers. Musky can grow to impressive lengths, often exceeding 50 inches, and are known for their striking appearance, marked by a long, slender body and a mouth full of sharp teeth.

Musky are often referred to as the “fish of ten thousand casts” due to their elusive nature. They are apex predators in their environments and are smart, cautious, and often picky about what they eat. This behavior makes them difficult to catch, but it also adds to the thrill and satisfaction when an angler does manage to hook one.

Successful Musky fishing requires specific techniques and equipment. This guide will cover the essentials for musky fishing, including tackle, bait, techniques, best times and places to fish, and tips for beginners.

Musky Fishing Setup

When targeting Musky, the selection of the right tackle is crucial due to the size and power of these fish. The most common tackle setup for Musky fishing includes a heavy-duty rod, a robust reel, strong line, and the appropriate lure or bait.

The best fishing setup for Musky typically consists of a 7 to 9-foot heavy-duty rod, a strong baitcasting reel, 50 to 100-pound braided line, and a sturdy steel or heavy fluorocarbon leader. Using large, life-like lures that effectively mimic the Musky’s natural prey will significantly increase your chances of a successful catch.

Best Bait For Musky

Muskies are apex predators and their diet reflects their position at the top of the food chain. They primarily feed on fish, but they are also known to eat frogs, ducklings, muskrats, and other small mammals when available. Their preference for large prey makes choosing the right bait crucial for successful Musky fishing.

When it comes to live bait, the best options are those that mimic the Musky’s natural prey. Large sucker minnows, ranging from 10 to 12 inches, are among the most effective live baits. They are fished either under a bobber or with a quick-strike rig to prevent deep hooking. This setup allows the live bait to swim naturally, attracting Musky with their movements and scent.

For artificial Musky lures, several types stand out as particularly effective for Musky fishing. The best musky lures include:

  1. Bucktails. These lures consist of a weighted head and a tail made of hair or synthetic material. They are simple to use and can be extremely effective. The key is to vary the retrieval speed and add occasional jerks to make the lure more enticing.
  2. Crankbaits. These hard-bodied lures are designed to dive underwater and mimic the movement of fish. They come in various sizes and shapes, with some models designed to dive deep and others to stay near the surface. Trolling or casting crankbaits along weed lines or over submerged structures can be very productive.
  3. Jerkbaits. These lures are known for their erratic, side-to-side action, which can trigger strikes from aggressive Muskies. They require a more active fishing style, with the angler using sharp jerks of the rod to impart action to the lure.
  4. Topwater Lures. For explosive surface action, topwater lures are a thrilling choice. They are most effective in the early morning or late evening. The key to fishing these lures is a steady retrieve with occasional pauses and twitches.
  5. Soft Plastics. Large soft plastic lures, such as swimbaits or rubber worms, can be very effective, especially when fished near cover or in deeper waters. They should be retrieved slowly to mimic a wounded fish.

Musky Fishing Techniques

Here are some of the most common and effective techniques for catching Musky, along with details on the setup and optimal conditions for each method.


Casting is one of the most popular techniques for Musky fishing. This method involves using a heavy-action rod, typically 7 to 9 feet in length, paired with a high-capacity baitcasting reel and 80 to 100-pound test braided line. The setup often includes a steel or heavy fluorocarbon leader to prevent the Musky from biting through the line. Large lures such as bucktails, jerkbaits, crankbaits, or topwater lures are used.

Casting is most effective in areas where Muskies are known to feed or hide, such as along weed lines, near submerged structures, or around rocky points. The key is to cast the lure near these potential Musky hotspots and retrieve it in a manner that mimics natural prey, varying the speed and incorporating occasional pauses or jerks.


Trolling is another effective technique for targeting Musky, especially in larger lakes where covering vast areas is beneficial. This technique uses a similar rod and reel setup as casting, but the focus is on using diving crankbaits or large swimbaits that can reach different depths. The boat is driven at a slow, steady speed, allowing the lure to move through the water and cover a large area.

Trolling is highly effective in locating active Muskies over a wide area. It works well along drop-offs, over submerged vegetation, and around other structures. Varying the depth and speed of the lure can help in finding the depth at which Muskies are feeding.


Jigging can be particularly effective in colder water conditions or when Muskies are holding in deeper water. This technique uses a heavy-action rod with a baitcasting reel and braided line. The key component is a large, heavy jig that can sink to the desired depth, often tipped with soft plastics or live bait for added attraction.

Jigging is best near steep drop-offs, deep weed edges, or submerged structures. The jig is allowed to sink to the bottom or desired depth and then jerked upwards in a series of sharp movements, followed by a pause, mimicking an injured or fleeing prey. This can trigger strikes from Muskies lying in ambush.

Live Bait Rigging

Using live bait can be extremely effective, especially with large sucker minnows. The setup involves a heavy-action rod and reel with a strong line, paired with a quick-strike rig to prevent deep hooking. This rig includes one or more treble hooks attached to a wire leader, ensuring that the bait remains alive and active while preventing the Musky from biting through.

This technique is most effective in slower-moving or still waters, like bays or along weed edges. The bait can be presented under a bobber or free-lined, allowing it to swim naturally. The key is patience and waiting for a Musky to take the bait, then setting the hook firmly.

Best Time To Catch Musky

Understanding the best times to catch Musky is crucial for any angler looking to target this elusive species. Here’s a concise overview:

  • When do Musky spawn? Musky spawn in the spring, typically when water temperatures reach between 55°F and 60°F.
  • Best time of day to catch Musky? Early morning and late evening are the best times. During these periods, Musky are more active and likely to feed due to lower light conditions and cooler water temperatures.
  • Best time of year to catch Musky? Fall is considered the best season, as Musky feed aggressively in preparation for the winter, making them more likely to strike.


During the spring, post-spawn (late spring) is an ideal time to target Musky. In this period, Musky recover from spawning and begin to feed actively to regain energy. Casting near shallow waters where Musky spawn, using smaller to medium-sized lures like bucktails or minnow baits, can be effective. This is a time of rejuvenation for Musky, so focusing on areas with abundant prey like coves or inlets can yield good results.


In the summer, Musky can be more challenging to locate as they move between deep and shallow waters. Early morning and late evening remain the optimal times to fish, as Musky avoid the heat of midday. Trolling along weed lines or drop-offs with large crankbaits or rubber baits can be particularly effective. Also, night fishing can be productive during hot summer nights, using topwater lures for an exciting surface strike.


Fall is prime time for Musky fishing. As water temperatures drop, Musky feed heavily in preparation for winter. This is the time to use large, high-calorie baits like big crankbaits, jerkbaits, or large soft plastics. Focus on areas with structures like rock piles, fallen trees, or sharp drop-offs. Both casting and trolling are effective, with late afternoon to evening being particularly productive as Musky capitalize on the dwindling light to hunt.


Winter fishing for Musky can be challenging due to cold water temperatures and reduced Musky activity. In regions where it’s legal and safe to fish during this season, focus on deep, slow-moving areas. Slowly jigging large soft baits can be effective, as the Musky’s metabolism slows down and they prefer an easy meal.


Catching Musky at night can be an exhilarating experience. Use large, noisy topwater lures to create vibrations and disturbances that attract Musky. Focus on areas with shallow, weedy cover, as Musky move into these areas to hunt at night. The key is to retrieve the lure slowly to give the Musky time to locate it in the dark.

Where To Find Musky

Lakes and large rivers are prime habitats for Musky. In the Midwest, Wisconsin is a hotspot for Musky fishing, boasting thousands of lakes including the famous Chippewa Flowage and the lakes of the Vilas County. Minnesota is another prime location, with Lake of the Woods and Mille Lacs Lake being notable for their Musky populations. In the neighboring state of Michigan, Lake St. Clair is celebrated for its high density of Musky. Moving south, Kentucky’s Cave Run Lake and Green River Lake are well-regarded Musky fisheries.

Here is a guide on how to find and catch Musky in different water bodies.


Lakes are classic habitats for Musky, offering diverse environments for them to thrive. In lakes, Muskies are often found near structures like weed beds, sunken islands, rocky points, and along drop-offs. The most effective setup for lake fishing includes a heavy-action rod and a baitcasting reel with 80-100 pound test braided line, along with a steel or heavy fluorocarbon leader. Using large lures such as bucktails, crankbaits, or jerkbaits works well. Casting near structures during early morning or late evening is recommended. In larger lakes, trolling along weed lines and drop-offs can be particularly effective.


In rivers, Muskies tend to inhabit areas with moderate current, near structures like log jams, rock bars, and deep pools. Fishing for Musky in rivers often involves casting from a boat or shore. Use a similar rod and reel setup as lake fishing, but focus on lures that perform well in current, such as heavy bucktails or large spinners. Casting upstream and retrieving the lure with the current, close to the river bottom where Musky often hold, can yield good results. Pay special attention to areas where smaller streams or rivers merge with the main river, as these confluences can be hotspots for feeding Muskies.

Use of Fish Finder

Regardless of the water body, using a fish finder can significantly enhance your chances of locating Musky. These devices help identify underwater structures, depth changes, and even schools of baitfish where Musky might be hunting. In deeper lakes or river sections, a fish finder is essential for finding drop-offs and submerged structures where Muskies often reside.

Tips To Catch Musky For Beginners

  • Use a medium-heavy to heavy-action rod, about 7 to 9 feet long, paired with a baitcasting reel. Spool the reel with 50 to 80-pound braided line for strength and durability.
  • Use a steel or heavy fluorocarbon leader (about 12 to 18 inches) to prevent Musky from biting through the line.
  • Start with large bucktail spinners or crankbaits, as they are easy to cast and retrieve. Their vibrant colors and movements are effective in attracting Musky.
  • Spend time mastering your casting technique, aiming for accuracy and distance. Musky often lurk near structures like weed beds or fallen trees, so being able to cast near these areas is crucial.
  • Learn the figure-eight technique. At the end of each retrieve, perform a “figure-eight” motion with your lure at the boat side. Many Musky strikes occur during this action.
  • When you feel a strike, set the hook with a firm, quick upward motion of the rod. Musky have tough mouths, so a strong hook set is necessary.
  • If you catch a Musky, handle it with care for both your safety and the fish’s well-being. Use a large net, unhook the fish in the water if possible, and release it quickly after a brief photo.
  • Musky are known as the “fish of ten thousand casts” for a reason. Patience and perseverance are key in Musky fishing. Enjoy the process and don’t get discouraged if success doesn’t come immediately.
  • Always wear a personal flotation device while on the water, and be mindful of your hooks and lures, as they are large and can be dangerous.

Best Musky Fishing Gear And Tools

The best fishing gear and tools for Musky demand durability, strength, and precision, given the size and power of these fish.

Fishing Rod

A Musky rod should be both strong and flexible to manage the stress of battling these large fish. Typically, a rod measuring 7 to 9 feet in length is preferred. This length provides the necessary leverage for casting large lures and the strength to control a fighting Musky. The rod should have a heavy or extra-heavy action to handle the resistance of a large lure and the power of a Musky strike.

Fishing Line

Given the Musky’s sharp teeth and strength, a durable line is crucial. Braided lines are popular due to their strength and lack of stretch, offering better hook-setting capabilities. A line of 80 to 100-pound test is recommended. In addition, a leader is essential to prevent the Musky from biting through the line. A steel or heavy fluorocarbon leader, about 12 to 24 inches long, with a test strength of at least 100 pounds, is commonly used.

Fishing Reel

A high-quality baitcasting reel is the standard choice for Musky fishing. It should have a good line capacity to hold at least 150 yards of line and a strong drag system to handle the sudden, powerful runs Musky are known for. A gear ratio of around 5:1 to 6:1 is ideal, providing a balance between retrieval speed and power.

Fish Finder

A fish finder for Musky fishing should have a high-resolution display and powerful sonar capabilities to detect structures and fish in deep and murky waters. Features like GPS mapping, side imaging, and down imaging are highly beneficial. These allow anglers to pinpoint Musky habitats like weed lines, drop-offs, and submerged structures. A good side imaging fish finder enables accurate casting to potential Musky hotspots, increasing the chances of a successful catch.