Deep-water pike and muskies sometimes turn off, and start ignoring fast-moving artificials. Smart anglers take the hint and switch to real baitfish. Fished slowly, live or dead bait is a tantalizing, easy-to-catch meal.
During the summer months, live bait usually out-performs dead fare — for both pike and muskies. Fish the live bait around those rock piles or bars in 35 feet to 40 feet of water. Start by plotting the structure with your depthfinder, marking the edges and shallowest point with marker buoys. Then, search every nook and cranny around the edges, and don’t forget the top.
The old adage of big bait catches big fish is true. Chubs 10 inches to 12 inches long are just right. If the cover isn’t too heavy, the best hooking system going is a quick-set rig. This twin-hook system, with one stationary hook and one that can slide along the leader, allows you to set the hook the instant a fish takes the bait. Hooking ratios climb, while the number of deep-hooked fish falls. Quick-set rigs almost ensure that the fish will be hooked in the mouth, making it possible to release the fish unharmed. As soon as a strike occurs, it becomes a matter of tightening the line and setting the hooks.
Live bait in numerous ways can be presented with a quick-set rig. One is to put enough weight ahead of the leader to sink the bait to the bottom. While watching the depthfinder and following the preset marker buoys, use your electric trolling motor to slowly troll the bait along the bottom. Stop here and there, allowing the bait to rest each spot for a short time. Start by working the bait across the top of the structure, then along the edges and finally into the surrounding deeper water.
Every few feet, slowly lift the rodtip about 3 feet, then allow the bait to fall back to the bottom where it remains motionless for about 30 seconds before moving on. When a fish strikes, point the rodtip at the fish and set the hooks hard when the line tightens.
Suspending live bait over deep-water structure with a slip bobber is another productive method. A live chub suspended a couple of feet above the bottom, over a deep-water rock pile, can be extremely effective at taking big muskies or pike, especially when the predators are not actively feeding. Once again, offer this presentation with a quick-set rig. With a slip bobber, you can set the quick-set rig at any depth. The large, European-style slip bobbers, made of balsa wood, are perfect for this kind of use. They can easily support up to a pound of weight.
Vertical jigging has proved to be a solid and sound fishing method for walleyes, but knowledgeable pike and muskie hunters also know that this method works on their favorite fish. The techniques are basically identical, except for the size of the bait presented. All you need is some heavyweight jig heads, in the 2-ounce to 6-ounce range, with large, stout hooks. Six inches of uncoated wire, at least 30-pound test, should be used to attach a stinger hook to the jig. Use a No. 2 treble for the stinger. Either live or dead bait works well on the jig-and-stinger combination.
The most productive jigging spots are rock bars, humps, rock piles or the ends of deep-water points. Experienced anglers, using a depthfinder or graph, can even locate and catch suspended deep-water pike and muskies. Simply lower the jig (you can see it on a flasher screen) to the fish. Remember, however, that most fish like to swim up to a target from below. When jigging, rely on the lift and fall to attract the fish, but be ready for a strike on the fall. Lift the jig 3 feet or 4 feet and let it drop. Twitch the rodtip a few times, then let it rest about a minute. Follow with a shorter lift, about a foot; let it fall, twitch and rest again. Repeat the process until you connect with your trophy.
The strike, when it comes, can be vicious, but more often it is very subtle. Even huge muskies and pike can take a bait without the angler feeling a thing. Stay alert and keep a sharp eye on the line. If it twitches or if the lure seems to stop falling, set the hook.
Fishing the deep water for big muskies and pike is foreign to a lot of anglers, but the trophy fish are there if you just take the time to look.
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