While many things in life and fishing are arguable (other than the fact that fish with teeth are really cool!), I'll offer that warmwater muskies are likely the most challenging of all muskies to fish for. That's mostly because so many different presentations can be effective. The key to the whole game is finding what they're in the mood for on a given day or hour and offering it to them. Those anglers who do it best realize the goal of having the most release photos to show off. Let's look at three possibly not-so-popular muskie fishing tactics that can lead to holding a muskie's tail.
THE ULTIMATE SEARCH LURE
A big part of this muskie game is simply covering water. The fish is a low-density critter, and a lure that can cover lots of water -- with the ability to trigger responses, and with good hooking -- is ideal. The vast majority of folks would give the nod to an in-line spinner (bucktail) and/or a spinnerbait. And frankly they're dead on, as these baits can be moved quickly, create flash, vibration and generally can hook and hold well.
The only negative is that they've been around for years; on the other hand, maybe these fish haven't seen a swimbait. In fact, it's likely.
To be specific in this instance (as soft baits with vibrating tails are often referred to as swimbaits), I'm speaking about a Sebile Magic Swimmer hardbait, as that's where my experience has been. These are double-jointed lures with a head design and internal weighting that cause them to exhibit an exaggerated, maybe snakelike, swimming action. There are several things that make these lures rate highly as a search lure. Part of being effective with today's much more experienced muskies is showing them something different -- something that they haven't already been fooled into biting. For searching, I find that fast-sinking models are the most versatile by far.
These baits cast like a bullet, thus allowing for long casts despite the wind direction. They offer a big, aggressive profile (deep sides) and have exceptional action at all speeds, in this case, as fast as you can reel. And the way fish seem to attack them, they hook and hold well. On the largest size, 228, the bait comes standard with three hooks; better hooking for muskies is achieved by removing the middle hook and replacing front and back hooks with 5/0.
More "little things" to try to trigger fish can be accomplished once a follower is detected. That can include everything from twitches, to pulls, to a dead pause that turns into a wobbling, swimming fall. The most aggressive retrieve that can be effective in triggering responses is a very fast retrieve with a continuous, varied twitching of the rod. While you may not think it at first glance, those lures go through weeds well too.
Another very important consideration is that they're easy to retrieve. There's very little resistance, amazingly so for the amount of action. That helps big time, as the more hours you can put in, effectively, the better your odds. The "new" thing in spinners these days are big ones, some like garbage can lids. It's like pulling a live goat, and that's hard to do for very long. They're also hard to cast, especially into wind -- less distance, more backlashes. Fish are fish, and they won't always be in the mood for a swimbait, but I'd argue with anyone that, all factors considered, there isn't a more efficient search lure out there right now.
Most folks are aware that jerkbaits can be effective any time of year, yet many still consider them a lure for coldwater angling. Never, ever leave your jerkbaits home. In warmer water, especially so. They are your most versatile and erratic lures.
There are many choices when it comes to jerkbaits, and more so than any other lure type. The best ones come down to personal preference. Part of that is simply based in confidence generally gained from activity. Much so too because any lure's action is so directly impacted by rod movements (twitches, jerks and pulls) and that all anglers are physically different, they are just naturally more effective with certain baits, even down to the individual lure.
What does "look great" mean? I think that's a big part of the equation.
Jerks are erratic; the goal is to achieve the appearance of something wounded and trigger nature's efficiency response to an easy meal. During the warmwater period, sometimes crazy or very erratic action will trigger fish when nothing else will, and jerks have more potential than any other type of lure.
What many anglers like to see in jerkbait action is some consistency, and especially so with a glider (walk-the-dog) style. The hopes are for the lure to go to one side, and then the next -- essentially in a perfect Z-shaped path. While that action can be effective, especially so in warmer water and with pressured fish, completely unpredictable action is often most effective.
So choose lures that, when you use them, they never do the same thing twice. They could go to the same side three times, but different distances; up once, then down and all around. Consistency is not the goal.
In weeds, purposefully make structure contact at times. I would have never suggested this prior to superlines, but with the no-stretch lines such as Spiderwire UltraCast, sharp snaps will generally break and remove weeds. The bottom line is that crazy action with jerkbaits can turn negative fish into active ones.
Just like with the jerkbaits, many anglers assume soft plastics are coldwater lures. Throughout the season though, there are those days that fish just seem more in the mood for something wiggly, and hard baits just can't do it like the soft stuff.
There are so many options now in large soft plastics that it's amazing. There is no segment that has grown like this in the last decade, and I believe it's simply because more and more anglers have seen the effectiveness of wiggly action, therefore creating the market. Some of these lures are all soft plastic, but there are combos of hard baits with soft posteriors. Many have multiple large tails, or in the case of big tubes, many tentacles.
As you can afford it, get a variety of these baits, considering the weighting in them, so that all levels of the water column can be covered. These baits may work in all types of structure situations, but also tend to be very effective with open-water suspended fish. Try weighted models, working them throughout the water column, possibly counting them down for a while at the start of the cast, but always while being watchful for a strike. That wiggle is there on the drop too, and many strikes occur on a pause or fall. There's really no right or wrong way to use them; fish may be in the mood for something very slow on a tough day, but don't be afraid to get extremely erratic with them, as with the jerkbaits.
Finally, have a triggering plan, both out there and at boatside. Practice those figure eights with every single lure type; when a fish is there is not the time. Be certain you can do big eights or circles maintaining control. In many cases, not doing anything real fancy is best at boatside; simply speed up. But you must maintain control and have wide corners. If a follower is noted out there, what are you going to do? Have the plan: pulling any of these lures right up to where they break or push the surface is one good one. Practice it!