Hard-bodied lures of all kinds take pike and muskies in all seasons and at all depths. It’s simply a matter of selecting the right bait at the right time. Jerkbaits are particularly noted as big muskie catchers, but their effectiveness on big pike is equally as deadly.
Buoyant jerkbaits produce a classic up-down action with only a slight lateral movement. They’re ideal lures for heavy weed cover. The bump-and-rise movement creates a great strike-triggering action, while at the same time, frees the lure from weed fouling. Usually, buoyant jerkbaits are best-fished in warmer water temperatures since they require a fairly fast retrieve. Adding some weight to these lures to decrease buoyancy improves their cold-water capabilities.
Low-buoyancy, torpedo-shaped jerkbaits, often nicknamed “gliders,” are versatile lures that can catch pike and muskies spring, summer and fall. They do not work nearly as well over heavy weed cover as buoyant versions; however, their side-to-side action is simply unbeatable in many other fishing situations.
Long, thin, shallow-running minnow imitations, recently coined “minnow baits,” are highly reputed pike and muskie plugs. The average angler will usually cast it out and simply reel it in with a straight retrieve. Nothing is wrong with this approach since it is often all that is needed. However, imparting a short, constant twitching action can turn spooky pike and muskies onto this bait more so. This trick will usually fool even the most stubborn fish.
When you use crankbaits, natural baitfish patterns that lean toward darker hues are usually more attractive to muskies.
When pike and muskies go deep, nothing beats deep-diving crankbaits. They get down quickly to these fish, and pike and muskies both love to tear into them. As a whole, deep divers remain an overlooked secret for both of these gamefish.
Crankbait length is important when you’re after big fish. Larger, 5-inch to 9-inch models will take far more lunker-class pike and muskies than smaller walleye and bass versions. This is especially true once the water warms into early summer.
Jointed models and one-piece versions containing rattles are particularly productive in darker waters and after dark. They emit a lot more noise than straight model divers do. In particular, the clicking noises created by a jointed lure’s body parts hitting each other has a tremendous fish attracting and triggering effect.
Straight-bodied, one-piece, deep-diving crankbaits are preferred for most clear-water applications during daytime. These baits are especially responsive to faster retrieves and speed trolling.
Productive crankbait colors can vary greatly between muskies and pike. Generally, pike are less selective, but appear to react to chartreuse “fire tiger” baits. Natural baitfish patterns that lean toward darker hues are usually more attractive to muskies, but pike will also hit them. Natural perch, natural sucker and black shiner are a few known favorites. Hybrid muskies, which often exhibit many more pike traits than muskie habits, usually go for brighter colors.
Topwater: Surface Baits
Just about any topwater bass or muskie lure will take both pike and muskies on the surface, but some work better than others at certain times. Muskies and pike nearly always prefer surface baits worked with a steady retrieve, unlike the productive pause-crank-pause that bass seem to like so well.
Buzzbaits and floating prop-style lures work well in shallow waters less than 8 feet deep. When a lot of water needs to be covered quickly, buzzbaits and prop lures also work best. They are particularly good in warm, summer conditions, and produce well even when there’s wave action.
Slower surface baits that produce a great deal of noise with less forward movement are especially productive on trophy-sized fish. They also work better over waters deeper than 8 feet than buzzbaits and prop lures. However, because they require a slow retrieve, fish location is essential. It’s best to pitch these lures over known big pike or muskie haunts.
Jigs: Great Cold Water Lures
Once the water temperature drops below 45 degrees, jigs become weapons worth your consideration. Popular fish such as crappies and walleyes often school tightly during these times of falling water temperatures, and a lunker pike or muskie are frequently right next to them.
Recently, a very specialized group of pike and muskie jig fishermen has evolved, and they’ve fished during cold-water periods with consistent success. Usually, they fish stand-up jigs with big hooks attached directly to a light wire leader without a snap. The tails, commonly called “creatures,” are usually 6-inch to 10-inch lizard-like plastic bodies produced both commercially and homemade. Another popular plastic for this style of fishing is the Reaper, which has a wide, beaver-tail profile.
These “creature” fishermen work their jigs off 6 1/2-foot to 7-foot rods, either spinning or baitcasting. A high-visibility line of 12-pound to 17-pound test is also a must for detecting strikes and visualizing bottom contact on the jig’s drop. Instead of lifting the rod and vigorously jigging the lure, experienced jiggers prefer to point the rod low in a hookset position at nearly all times, and simply swim the jig with a few cranks of the reel followed by a pause which allows the jig to drop back toward the bottom.