You’ve been out casting since sunrise. Your wrists are sore, your shoulders are tired, the sun’s been beating on you all day, and you haven’t even seen a fish. You start to wonder whether there really are any muskies in this lake or whether it’s just an elaborate hoax by all the other muskie fishermen to keep you off their real favorite lakes.
Suddenly, you look up to see a muskie following your lure toward the boat. That fish trailing your bait is the most beautiful sight you’ve seen since your wife walked down the aisle. You mentally record everything about this moment. You can see the old-age version of yourself: “Gather around, kids and grandkids, as I tell you the tale of the muskie follow on Great Hoax Lake.” The fish looks up to see you, turns around, and bolts off in the blink of an eye.
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While even scoring a follow from the fish of 10,000 casts can be exciting, what you do next can make the difference between just another follow and hoisting that heavy brute out of the water for photographic evidence of your catch.
Here are some important tips to keep in mind when you see a muskie following behind your lure:
- Stay Calm! This isn’t always easy to do, especially if the fish is big or you haven’t seen one in a while. Reactions can range from smoothly transitioning into a figure eight to stopping everything (including your retrieve) to point and stare at the fish. Try to stick with the former of the two. The younger version of myself would shout loudly and point wildly, making sure everyone in the boat was aware of fish. For some reason, I never managed to get those muskies to bite…
- Focus on the figure eight, not the fish. A good figure eight is a work of art. The lure will turn smoothly, maintaining a steady speed until you’re on the outside of the first turn, when some fishermen like to slow down a bit. By slowing down on the turns you can make the lure appear to hang, often triggering a strike. Dig the lure deep when it’s under you to make the fish think the bait is trying to dive to the safety of the depths. If you’re watching the fish instead of the lure during the figure eight, you won’t be making a good figure eight.
- If the fish doesn’t bite, cast back. The fish may swim off as you begin your first turn, or may follow the lure through a dozen or more turns before swimming off. Either way, cast in the direction it swam off. If you have multiple rods rigged up, try throwing whatever is on your other rod. Sometimes just seeing a different bait can trigger the strike.
- Mark the fish on your GPS map. You do have a GPS map, don’t you? Most fishermen have one built into their boat’s electronics/sonar. If your boat is a little more “vintage” like mine, there are many free smartphone apps that can handle this duty. By marking whenever you get a follow, you can get a good idea over time of the best places to fish.
- Keep fishing! Apex predators like muskie are often triggered to feed by environmental factors, such as weather fronts, moon movement, and pressure changes. If you see one active fish, chances are there are more. Focus especially on structure similar to where you just got a follow. If it was on rocks, fish more rocks. If it was on weeds, work more weeds.
Last Friday, I set out after work with fellow Legendary Whitetails angler Ryan Swan. I’d had some previous success on this lake a few weeks ago (read about it here) and wanted to see if the fish were still biting. It was a beautiful evening on the lake – fairly calm with a slight wind out of the north, warm, and cloudy. It was a great night for drifting. We started on the north side of the lake and let the gentle wind push us out into deeper water. On our third drift, as we got out to 15 to 17 feet of water, Ryan pointed out a fish. It had come in far behind his retrieve and he was already pulling his lure out of the water when he saw it. He confidently casted back out in the direction it had gone. We watched his black and orange bucktail spin back to the boat with that same muskie right behind it. At about 4 feet from the boat, the fish lunged forward and nipped the end of the lure. Ryan set the hook swiftly, and a wild fight ensued. The fish was not hooked well, and Ryan was using my backup muskie rod, which included a spinning reel and heavy mono instead of braid. After a lively fight, I netted the fish, and it quickly shook the lure.
That was the only muskie we saw on the trip. For us, casting back made the difference between an uneventful night with one lazy follow and one nice muskie who put up a heck of a fight.