A question I'm asked quite often by most Illinois Muskie anglers is, what is my favorite lake close to home? Without hesitation my answer is the Fox Chain O'Lakes in Antioch IL. While this may surprise some due to the high amounts of pressure the Chain gets, in this weeks blog we will discuss ways to unlock the secrets of the Chain!
First and foremost, I can not stress enough how dangerous the Chain can be on the weekends. If I must fish the Chain on the weekends I know my day is done by 10 or 11am. The amount of boat traffic out there is insane! Jet Ski's, Water Skiers, and big Power Boats run wild out there. Unfortunately those driving these vessels have no regard for us anglers as they run dangerously close to us while running wide open. If you can, fish the Chain on a weekday otherwise be ready for a short day on the weekends.
I fish the Northern half of the Chain. I focus on Channel, Catherine, Marie and Bluff lakes. If you are looking for a great boat ramp that puts you right in on this good Muskie water, I recommend Bob's Marine on Lake Catherine. We can literally come right out of Bob's channel and drop the trolling motor and start fishing.
Catherine, Channel and Bluff lakes can be fished just as any "classic" Muskie waters. Weed edges come straight out to the main break lines. We can fish these weed edges with great success and we can fish the weed edges that go around the entire lakes that we just mentioned. However there is a little trick that some Muskie guys may miss.
There are 4 BIG weed flats in the lakes mentioned that we will break down a little further. The North end of Channel Lake, just off of Mentones Point on Channel Lake, the South Bay on Channel Lake and Airport Bay on Bluff Lake. These areas mentioned are massive weed flats. Don't just focus on the weed edges on these flats! Take your time exploring these flats. Start your first pass on the outer edge, then move up on the flat and keep working your way up the flat, even fishing the inside weed edge. So much is talked about Muskies being on the outside edges but they also roam the inside edges!
Now the odd ball of the group of lakes, is Lake Marie. The weed edges here come nowhere near the main breaks! In fact some areas may have 20 to 30 yards of bare ground, mostly mud, before the break line. The weeds may be anywhere from 2 feet of water to 8 feet of water but they hold Muskies! The weeds may be thick at times and it forces us to find pockets in the main flats to get a bait through but we can also fish the edges of these flats.
Now here's an interesting tid bit for ya, and this applies for all the lakes mentioned, fish docks. Yep, you read that right! Docks aren't just for Bass guys anymore! Muskie on the Chain relate to the docks as cover and an ambush point just like Bass do.
For those of you that like trolling, the Chain produces many Muskies this way. Short line trolling is a preferred method out there. We can troll break lines and my favorite trolling tactic is something we've called "Zombie Trolling". So many fish out there roam, suspended over open water. We can cover depths from 9 feet of water to 40 feet of water. However there is no reason to run baits deep. Muskies suspended over open water tend to sit in the top 6 feet of the water column. With another angler in the boat with me, I'll run a 4 rod spread. The two outer rods with Planner Boards and shallow running baits and place my two inside rods right in the prop wash. Always have your rod holders positioned so your rod tips are in the water. Due to the high boat traffic there is a ton of floating, cut weeds out there and having our rod tips in the water keeps the weeds on our rod tips and not sliding down the line to foul our baits.
When we are casting, we can throw anything from Bucktails, Tandem Spins, Jerkbaits, Twitchbaits, and Top Waters. Trolling, I prefer shad body baits, like a Super Shad Rap, Monster Shad or a G&M Shad. Spring and Fall more natural colors work well as the water is clearer. During the summer months the water can turn to chocolate milk and bright colors are a must!
Using some of these little tricks can help you become a better Fox Chain angler. The numbers of Muskies in this chain is amazing. Multiple fish days are VERY common and the potential for a BIG fish is there! Take the time to explore this body of water close to home and you will see why it is one of my favorite Muskie lakes in the Chicagoland area.
As always if you have any questions or comments or would like to see a certain topic covered in our weekly blog, drop us an email at email@example.com Thanks for reading and tight lines everybody!
While Muskies are the biggest and most dominant predator in the lakes they reside in, very special care is required to properly catch and release these big fish. In this weeks blog, we will discuss the proper gear to catch these fish, land these fish, and release these fish safely so they can become even bigger and be caught again.
A word you will see a lot in this weeks blog is "stress". We will stress the point how important it is to not stress these fish throughout the catch and release process. The first step in reducing those stresses is using the proper gear to catch and land these fish.
After working in tackle shops for so many years, the most commonly heard statement I've heard from customers is "I don't want that heavy Muskie tackle, I like to have fun with my fish and fight them on light tackle." That is the worst statement to hear ever! So many do not realize that an over played fish on light tackle seriously increases the chances of Post Release Death Syndrome. As a Muskie fights it's muscles produce a form of acid. Under a normal battle, on real Muskie gear, that acid is reabsorbed into the fish and everything is fine. However, when the battle lasts too long and that fish is over stressed, there is so much acid built up that it can not be reabsorbed by the fish, thus resulting in a fish that has swam off but odds are will die within 24 hours. I can not stress enough that true and proper Muskie gear should be used when targeting these fish. We can control the fish better and end the fight quicker to help insure a healthy released fish.
Now, don't get me wrong, I know bass fisherman, walleye guys and heck even a crappie guy or any other angler may accidentally hook a Muskie. It happens. You can't tell Mother Nature what to do and you can't tell a Muskie what it can and can't eat. While true, landing these fish on light tackle will cause much unneeded stress, I cannot deprive an angler a shot at landing what could be a fish of a lifetime for them, when a Muskie is hooked while fishing for another species. If you are specifically targeting Muskies, please, Please, PLEASE, use the proper gear to battle the fish properly.
So now that we have a Muskie hooked and we are about to land it we need a good landing net. The net also helps reduce stress to the fish as well as helps maintain the anglers safety. Beckman nets produces an awesome Muskie net. The bags are treated so they will not remove the fishes protective slime coat. This also helps reduce cuts and tares to the fins of the Muskie. Also once we have the fish in the net, the fish can remain in the water while we get out our tools for hook removal, tape measures and cameras ready. NEVER remove a Muskie from the net or take the net out of the water until you have everything ready to go. Also remember to remove hooks while the Muskie is safely in the net, in the water. If that fish should slip from our hands while we remove or cut a hook, the fish will gently fall back into the water in the net. Muskies can not take a blow to the head. If that fish was dropped in the boat or on any hard surface, a blow to the head could be devastating. The brain of a Muskie is literally about the size of a pea. Amazing since so many of these fish seem to outsmart us on a daily basis. While they do have a skull covering the brain, it doesn't offer much protection.
So we just mentioned having our tools ready. Those tools consist of Long Nose Pliers, Hook Cutters or Bolt Cutters, and if need be, on a deeply hooked fish, a set of Jaw Spreaders. If I can recommend a Hook Cutter or Bolt Cutter to anyone, Knipex is the top of the line in my opinion. With one hand I can cut through a 3X or 4X strong hook. These tools come in handy when a fish is really "Buttoned Up" or hooked in a way that using pliers to remove a hook will cause unneeded stress to the fish. Once a tine on a hook has been snipped they are easily removed by pulling the hook through away from the barb. When possible do not leave hook tines in the fish.
Now that the fish has safely been detached from the lure, we can lift the fish up for a quick pic. Some guys prefer using a fish handling glove for this. It is not necessary but it may help protect your knuckles from the gill rakers of a Muskie. The gill rakers are like small needles that are on the gills. When we grab a fish under the gill plate they may head shake a bit and those rakers may scratch up your knuckles a as they brush against them.
When we grab the fish from the net, slide your hand under the gill plate, keeping your fingers just inside the plate, NOT in the actual gills. Once your hand is up all the way, your index finger knuckle will be pressed up against a piece of cartilage. Your thumb will squeeze down on top of that cartilage. Lift the fish straight up and as soon as possible turn the fish horizontal and support the belly with your other hand. Also, always make sure you go for the gill plate grab with your dominant hand and support the belly with your other hand. Take a couple of quick pics. Think about how long you can hold your breath, that is the maximum amount of time that a Muskie should be held out of the water.
After pics, gently place the Muskie back in the water. Hold on to the tail with your dominant hand and gently support the belly of the fish in the water to make sure the fish stays horizontal. If need be you may need to slowly rock the fish back and forth to push water over the gills to help revive the fish. Gently hold the fish until you feel the tail kick as the fish begins to swim away from you. Make sure the fish has swam off strong before you start fishing again.
One last side note, when surface water temps hit the 80 degree mark, that is our time to hang up the Muskie Gear till the water temps cool below 80. While the Muskie will be very aggressive in those water temps they are most likely to succumb to Post Release Death Syndrome. Those acids that build up in the muscles during the battle cannot be reabsorbed by the fish in that warm of water. While they may swim off just fine, they will unfortunately die within 24 hours of the release.
So to all my fellow anglers out there, let's always remember these practices for the safe handling of these beautiful creatures. Practice CPR, Catch, Photo, Release and when done properly, you can help insure the future of Muskie fishing for generations to come.
As always if you have any questions or comments or if you would like to see a specific blog topic covered, drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading and Tight Lines everybody!
As long as people have been chasing Muskies, they have been using a bucktail as a search bait to find active fish. But what makes these baits so great for this application? How can you improve your odds of Muskies reacting to your bucktails? That is exactly what we are covering in this weeks blog!
First off, what does a bucktail look like to a Muskie? Let's face it, there isn't a fish swimming in fresh water that has hair and a blade! However, the bucktail can take on many different forms to a Muskie. Something we call "Matching the Hatch". That's a term used to describe matching whatever bait fish the Muskie is chasing in a particular body of water. Color patterns that match a bluegill, perch, walleye, carp, bass, shad or really anything that swims, is "food" to a muskie!
With all that hair and flash fiber pulsating under the water during the retrieve, a Muskie can see a resemblance to its favorite food! But, not only can a bucktail resemble a particular species but it can also mimic a small pod or school of shad or fingerlings swimming in a tight formation. 90% of the time a bucktail is whizzing past a Muskie and it catches a glimpse of color and will instinctively react to it.
So, with that being said, speed also helps trigger fish to attack or show themselves on a bucktail. We can cover a tremendous amount of water "burning" a bucktail. Meaning we are retrieving it at a high rate of speed to induce what we call a "œreaction". This concept works best in warmer water when Muskies are most active. The term "Speed Kills" holds true here. Let's set the scene here. Nice weed flat with the weed edge coming out to the first main break line. CLASSIC Muskie structure...we position the boat to cover part of the flat as well as covering the weed edge and the break line. When that bucktail comes zooming over a Muskies head at a high rate of speed they will either jump and snap at the bait or they will follow it back to the boat as if they are chasing it out of the area they are patrolling. Regardless of the outcome, we now know the Muskies are staging on this type of structure and if they didn't eat a bucktail we can rest the area and come back with one angler throwing a bucktail to see if the Muskie will react and if not we can have a second angler throwing a jerkbait or twichbait or if the conditions are right, a topwater, to get that fish we raised earlier to eat!
On top of using a bucktail to imitate a Muskies food, there is another reason bucktails can be so effective. Pure curiosity of the Muskie! Bright colors and at times big blades can cause a Muskie to attack or follow a bait. So many times on the water, when the usual doesn't produce, I've switch to a bright and gaudy color pattern and have produced action. As much credit as we give these fish for having a high intelligence, we can trigger that "Kill" factor in them by changing it up color wise. In the worst case scenario, we will at least get a follow from a fish as we can, at times, see a bewildered look on their faces as if they are saying "What the heck is that thing???"
Now we've just talked about how bucktails excel in warm water and moving at a high rate of speed but let's talk about how bucktails can be used effectively in the cooler water temps of Spring and Fall!
I will try to not get too "wordy" with this section but there is a TON of info to be covered here! There is no closed season here in Illinois nor is there a closed season in Indiana or Kentucky. As water temps start to rise and we enter the pre-spawn period, a small bucktail, such as the Muskie Attacker Frenchie is a great choice to cover water and find active fish. I have found at this time of year a small compact presentation gets the most action. Also we have to play around with retrieve speeds as "Burning" is not really the preferred retrieve. We tend to us a steady to a slower retrieve this time of year. I will also say this time of year produces the most follows for me instead of strikes. However we are using this bait as a tool to find fish that we can come back to and catch with a different presentation.
Now, here is where we get a little funky! In Illinois in a pre-spawn period that small Frenchie is in the water. However when we fish Indiana and Kentucky waters, where the main forage base is Shad...and I mean BIG shad, we have to match the hatch. It may not be uncommon to throw the Muskie Attacker Cable model or even the Two Hook model to get a reaction from a Muskie. Again speed is not the best choice and a steady to slower retrieve will get the most results.
Post spawn and season openers in WI and MN can see great results on the Frenchie size as well as even the Cable model. Depending on water temp, this is when we can start to also increase the speed of our retrieve but it will require some investigation on your part to find the speed they will react to. Again...IN and KY can still at times be better suited for a larger presentation as we continue to "Match the Hatch."
Summer can be a free for all when it comes to size. All three sizes in the Muskie Attacker line up have their place this time of year. The cable and two hook sizes scooted along can produce some AWESOME action. However, the Frenchie shines during cold front conditions or if a lake has been heavily pressured. Downsizing under these conditions will pay off huge!
Lastly, the start of the Fall bite, my favorite time of year, is when Muskies start stocking up heavily on food to get them through the forthcoming Winter. Muskie in lakes will feed enough under the ice to just sustain life. This time of year we switch over to our bigger baits like the Muskie Attacker Two Hook model. Muskies will eat bigger meals this time of year as they don't want to expend a lot of energy on smaller meals.
Now, I did just say Lake Muskies will only eat under the ice just enough to sustain life. We have had GREAT success with River Muskies all Winter long, as these fish are always in current and always burning off food so they need to eat more regularly. Unfortunately, this is the one time of year that a bucktail will not be very useful as our crankbaits, twitchbaits and jerkbaits take over for Winter River Muskies.
Hey thanks for reading this weeks blog everybody. We tried to put quite a bit of info into a small space for you this week. If there is any questions, comments or if you can think of a blog topic you'd like us to cover, please email us at email@example.com
Good luck and tight lines!
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the most often question we are asked is what is the difference between all the different blades that come on Bucktails and what is the right blade for a given situation? Today, let’s talk briefly about blades. How do they work and what are the benefits to each one?
In-Line blade – Probably the most unique blade on the market as these blades do not require a clevis to attach the blade to your bait. These blades spin very close to the wire shafts and do not give much “lift” to your bucktail. They have a lighter or “higher pitched” vibration to them. No thump. These blades are excellent for “burning” bucktails. Very little residence in the water and are designed to be scooted along at a fast pace. When used with a lighter bait they excel at being burned over vegetation or use them on a bigger, heavier bait to comb deep weed edges and flats. Better suited in clear water situations.
French blade – This is another good “burner” style blade. Not much “lift” to these blades. Another blade that rides close to the wire shaft of the bucktail. A “higher pitch” vibration, no thump, and very little resistance coming through the water, with a decent amount of flash. Excellent for burning over weed flats on a lighter or smaller bait and can be worked slower on bigger baits for deep weed edge applications. Can be used in clear and stained waters, may not be the best blade in dirty water.
Willow Leaf blade – Tremendous amounts of flash from this blade. No “lift”, rides close to the shaft of the bucktail, very little resistance in the water and not much vibration. These blades seem to really excel in clear water applications.
Indiana blade – Good amount of “lift” with this blade. Meaning it will cause the bait to rise in the water column the faster it is retrieved. Decent flash and a fair amount of vibration, yet doesn’t have that much resistance on the retrieve. Indiana blades will ride a little further out from the shaft then an In-Line, French or Willow Leaf blade. These blades seem to excel in “mid-size” bucktails. Works great in all water clarities.
Colorado blade – The “thumper” of the blades. Great vibration and lots of “lift” given to the baits. The deeper the cup of a Colorado blade, the more “thump” it will have. Great blade to use in low light periods, dirty water, or where you need to give a mid-size to large bucktail a “bigger” sound and feel on pressured bodies of water. Probably the most resistance on the retrieve through the water. The blade will ride the furthest distance out from the shaft on a bucktail, giving it that great and easy “lift” in the water column. Great for shallow water structure fishing. Preforms well in clear water when we need to give a bait a “bigger” feel and is the perfect blade choice in dirty water, low light periods or night fishing due to its high vibration.
Mag-Willow Fluted blade – My personal favorite blade on the market today. This blade seems to bring together the best of the Colorado and Willow Leaf blades, a “Hybrid” blade, if you will. Enough cup to give it good vibration and thump. The bait rides out from the shaft to give it good “lift” in the water column. Also great flash to this blade as well. Excellent for any water clarities and light conditions and is best suited for shallow water structure applications.
So hopefully this gives you a little more insight to the differences in blade styles we can choose from for our bucktails. Selecting the right blade for the conditions you’re faced with will put a lot more fish in the boat and could help you catch that “fish of a life time” this year!