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  • Writer's pictureSteven Paul

Muskie Fishing On a Budget

Simply put, musky fishing is too damn expensive!

I can't imagine the state of shock that new musky anglers experience when first exposed to the extreme prices of rods, reels and tackle. When your average bass lure costs about as much as a cup of coffee, the price tag on most musky lures has got to be hard pill to swallow. Not knowing where to turn, confused novice anglers continually seek out advice from guides, magazines and other fishing professionals to answer questions such as, "what do I need to get started?"

While there are the some obvious places to turn for information, often it's like leading a lamb to slaughter. The world of "Musky Fishing" that you know from television, magazines, and social media is a machine, constantly fueled by hype, pseudo-celebrity, and dollar signs.

The opinions given by many "Pros" are dictated solely by which lure or rod company is currently shelling out free gear. These sponsorships are often short lived love affairs; you can bet once the freebies stop rolling in, all the "must have" testimonials and gushing Facebook posts will also cease to exist. Not surprisingly, the catch rate on these "amazing lures" also drops dramatically when they aren't free.

A rare photo captured at the exact moment an endorsement deal was made.

So in an effort to skip the sales pitch, let's look at some budget-friendly rods, reels, release tools, and a selection of musky lures that will get you fishing, but won't break the bank. All the items on this list I have personally used, tested, and paid for out of my own pocket.

*Disclaimer: There are definitely benefits to using some of the higher-end musky gear. I am guilty of throwing some $100 plus lures and using pricey rods, but the purpose of this article is to shine some light on budget friendly options available to new and novice musky anglers.*

What is considered "affordable" varies from person to person, so I have tried to include multiple options where available and by no means is this the definitive list of affordable musky fishing tackle, but it's not a bad place to start.

Budget Muskie Rods

When it comes to muskie fishing, choosing a quality rod is one of the most critical components of your set-up. Remember, the rod fights the fish, the reel just picks up the slack. If your on a tight budget, this is where you should spend the majority of it. You don't need a suitcase full of lures to target muskies, but you definitely need a rod that can handle some abuse.

Tooth Tamer Muskie Rods $150-$220

Tooth Tamer offers a variety of rods with multiple length and power options. These rods have a build quality that out-performs rods costing hundreds more. Tooth Tamer rods have the feel and sensitivity of a custom rod without the boutique price tag. If you are limited to purchasing one rod "to do it all", I would recommend the 7'6" Heavy Fast.

Shimano Compre Musky Rod $99.99

The Shimano Compre series of musky rods are also a great choice for the budget minded angler.

The Compre rods share a lot of the same features as higher-end rods, as well as, feeling well-built and durable. This series of rods are not overly sensitive or responsive, but if your burning bucktails and chucking big rubber baits that won't make or break you. The model I purchased held up well and is still in use, but the reel seat did need repair after a single season. The Shimano Compre may not last a lifetime, but it will definitely get you on the water.

If spending a hundred dollars or more on a rod just isn't an option for you, the isle of your local Wal-Mart might have you covered.

Ugly Stik GX2 6'6" $39.99

It's not a Cadillac but the Ugly Stik GX2 will get it done. With a price tag of $39.99, it's the least expensive rod I could find that has the backbone and durability to handle muskie fishing. Most modern musky anglers can't imagine using a 6'6" rod, but years ago these where the standard. I was easily able to land a 48" musky on the GX2, and it was no worse for wear, showing no signs of stress or damage. For the bargain price tag, it performed exceptionally well. If your just getting started or are on a college-kid budget this might be the only option for you.

*Pro Tip: After my little Wally World rod experiment, I started using this as a trolling rod, and it has handled the rigors of trolling large lures surprisingly well."

Budget Musky Reels

What makes a musky reel different than the average reel collecting dust in your garage? Well, these reels are specifically built to endure the strain of large fish. The gear ratio, drag system, and spooling mechanics are designed for playing heavy fish on heavy line in all conditions. The following reels are some budget models that will help you do just that.

Abu Garcia 5500 / 6500 $89 - $99

If the Winchester Model 1873 is the gun that won the west, then the Abu Garica is the reel that conquered the north. I started using a left handed Abu Garcia round reel in 1988 and haven't stopped yet. It isn't sexy or sleek, but this reel is a work horse. Abu Garcia 5500 / 6500's were the industry standard for many years. This wide availability means replacement parts are cheap and many modifications are available to super charge their performance.

These reels are battle tested and have proven their effectiveness for decades. Paired with a great rod, Abu's are unstoppable, musky-busting reels that will last for years.

Bass Pro Shops MegaCast Metal Round Baitcasting Reel $39.99

Bass Pro Mega Cast Budget Reel

The Bass Pro Megacast is a budget friendly round reel that is capable of handling some toothy critters. This reel is on par with other Chinese import reels on the market and has 8.8 lbs of drag. This is a little on the low side, but it does have a built in bait clicker for trolling or sucker fishing. The overall construction is reflective of it's price tag, but it is sturdy enough to get you going. If your on a Ramen Noodle budget this a viable option to start putting muskies in your net.

Musky Net & Landing Tools

You can't land a musky without the proper tools, and these tools require shelling out your hard earned cash. To keep you from breaking the bank, these are some effective tools at a reasonable price.

Frabill Pro-Formance Tear Drop Net $46.99

The Frabill Pro-Formance Net measurements are 29" x 34" with a 48" sliding handle. This net is durable and was the largest net available from local big box retailers in Tennessee. The dimensions of this net are large enough to be forgiving on average-size muskies, but was a challenge to fit larger fish. But with a price tag under fifty dollars, it is a top consideration for budget minded anglers. This net seemed to be the only viable budget friendly option that was available.

Landing tools $1-$5

I always try to buy USA made goods, but when it comes to long nose pliers and other tools used to properly release a musky, it's hard to beat the prices from Harbor Freight. Many online musky retailers offer imported "musky tools" with their brands slapped on the handle and packaging to up the price. Harbor Freight offers 11 inch long nose pliers, bolt cutters, and other hand tools ranging in price from one to five dollars.

A basic musky release tool tool kit should at least include: long nose pliers and bolt/hook cutters. I recommend also having jaw spreaders, release gloves, and vise grips. Everyone has their own method of hook removal, but please focus on minimizing stress and physical damage to muskies. More often than not cutting the hook and then pulling it through is the best option.

Budget Minded Musky Lures

The lures included in this section are far from a comprehensive list, but are more a collection of lures that are durable and proven producers for anglers on a budget.

Joe Bucher Outdoors

700 Series Buchertail $16.99

Joe Bucher invented modern musky fishing full stop period. The Buchertail is a "bread and butter" lure; no matter the season or location, they put muskies in the net. While lesser known manufactures demand higher prices for their musky bucktails, Bucher continues to maintain affordable prices for his great quality lures.

The jointed Shallow raider also from Joe Bucher Outdoors is a great first musky crankbait.

It casts like a bullet even in heavy winds, and it's solid plastic construction makes it a far more durable option for the budget conscientious angler.

Drifter Tackle

Hell Hound $20

The Hellhound is an easy to use glide bait for beginners and pros alike. These musky killers can purchased for just around twenty dollars.

To learn more about glide baits for beginners check out this article

Poe's Giant Jackpot $15.99

The Poe's Giant Jackpot is an easy to use top water lure that should be in every musky fisherman's arsenal. The Jackpot is one of those lures that needs a little tweaking before throwing it, feel free to message me for a complete guide on how to modify this lure. The Poe's Giant Jackpot is a lure that could have made this list..

Strike King KVD Magnum Squarebill $12.99

At $12.99 the KVD square bill is tough to beat. This is one of those little lures that is phenomenal at targeting southern musky on Melton Hill and is the perfect option when muskies want something a little smaller. The construction and hardware are solid and can handle all the abuse that fifty inch, post-spawn Tennessee muskies can dish out.

Savage Gear Alien Eel $10.99

It's undeniable that muskies love big rubber baits. They always seem to crush these oversized hunks of jelly. But if your luck is anything like mine, they rip off the tail or damage the body. Most times you're lucky to get more than a couple of fish per bait before they go in the trash can. Needless to say, the disposable nature of these lures makes dropping a ton of cash on them a losing proposition. At $10.99 the Savage Gear Alien Eel is a little easier on the pocket book and has been very popular with Tennessee Muskies. The Alien Eel performs as well as, if not better than Bull Dawgs, but has a unique feature of a hook clip to hold the front hook against the body, which translates to a higher hooking ratio.

Regardless of what tackle you choose to use remember that musky fishing is for everyone, and it isn't just a rich mans game. This sport has a history of elitism and overly inflated egos, but don't pay any attention to the "Musky Guys" and get out on the water.

I've never seen a musky turn down a lure because it was inexpensive....

Steven Paul

Tennessee Muskie Guide



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