Muskies are exhausting. Mentally and physically they will push you to your limits. They require not only that you beat the water endlessly for little reward, but also that you huck the largest, heaviest baits until your shoulders scream and your hands go numb. These gifts are given in generous portions to those few of us who crazy enough to target the ultimate predator.
Despite all of this you could say that more often the heaviest toll is dolled out on our tackle. Simply put - rods, reels and lures all take a serious beating in the pursuit of muskies. These toothy predators hit hard and pull harder, pushing your gear to the limit. Rods breaking, reels locking up and the line snapping like high tension wires ...I've seen it all. Unfortunately, these stunning equipment failures can turn the catch of the lifetime into just another big fish story.
We all know that loosing fish is an undeniable part of fishing, but loosing a fish due to equipment failure is totally unacceptable. As a musky guide I religiously check my gear because if you have a weak spot in your "Signal Chain" the muskies will find it. So here is my check list for being ready to tangle with these unyielding monsters.
Lures : Maintenance and Repair or Hard Baits
It's pretty obvious that your lures take a lot of abuse when muskie fishing. Banging into rocks and bouncing off timber are nothing when compared to the brutal impact lures receive when a muskie finally decides to strike. Therefore you could say that a little maintenance goes a long way. Hard plastic lures should be visually inspected for cracks and weak spots around and under hook hangers and line ties. Also, attention should be paid to the joints of segmented lures as they are under tremendous stress when landing fish. If your lure has large cracks or separation at any of the hook hangers or line ties, it may be time to retire it. However, hairline and small cracks can be easily remedied by applying super glue to the area. If the lure has some slightly larger gaps or is taking on water, super glue and baking soda can be used to form an extremely strong and lasting filler. I preemptively apply super glue to the hook hangers and line ties of all my new hard lures to prevent water intrusion. These modern hard plastic lures are mass produced and occasionally will have gaps, invisible to the naked eye, so adding an extra layer of sealant is always a good measure.
Wooden Lures :
The same concerns apply to wooden hard baits with screw-in hook hangers and line ties.
Inspect the area around the metal fitting for cracks and damage and fill as necessary.
As an extra measure, I add water proof glue to the threads of the metal fitting to prevent them from loosening or turning while in use. This keeps the lure running true and in tune with less adjustments and adds a little peace of mind by preemptively preventing screw-eyes from pulling out of the body.
Split Rings : The First Point of Impact
The lowly split ring doesn't always seem very exciting and not too many people feverishly stand in line at fishing shows to see the latest and greatest models. But don't let their simplicity be overlooked. These small rings are a critical part of your fishing "Signal Chain". When you hook-up with a fish, these rings are saddled with an enormous amount of pressure, force and torque excerpted by a unruly fish. Keeping a keen eye on the condition of your split rings is critical. Every time you put on a new lure conduct a quick visual inspection. Check each ring for any deformity in it's shape or separation in its layers. A quick inspection should alsobe done after landing a fish or removing a lure from any obstruction.
Hooks : Getting to the Point
Sharpening large muskie hooks is a skill that takes a some practice, but is always worth the effort. Many musky anglers assume that hooks are sharp out of the pack; unaware that the factory point on most hooks are rarely sharp enough to penetrate some of the harder parts of a muskies jaw. I personally use a fine hand held file and draw it up each side of the hook. Then I follow this procedure with an extra fine file to de-burr the point. Tackle stores have many options that are all efficient at getting your hooks battle ready.
Hooks should also be visually inspected for deformity after strikes, snags or periods of extended usage. I do not recommend bending hooks back into shape after they have been bent from their original position. Re-bending hooks only contributes to creating more micro stress fractures in metal thus further weakening its overall integrity.
Line : Don't save a few dollars trying too loose a trophy.
The Muskie Super Braids available on the market today are light years ahead of what I started fishing with in the 80's. There is simply no comparison. The superior quality of these super lines does have one negative side effect: their reliability gives most anglers a false sense of security.
I rarely see musky braided lines fail, but when they do it is simply from a lack of maintenance.
Before hitting the water, it is important to check your braided line for abrasions, fraying and bunching. Minimally, you should visually inspect the first fifteen to twenty feet for damage, but I also recommend running it through your fingers to feel for any unevenness. Upon further inspection, the small bumps you may feel are often tiny knots or bunching that greatly weaken the tinsel strength of your musky line. Replace any damaged line that you find as soon as possible.
Leaders : Don't play Russian Roulette with your musky leaders
What muskie leaders you should be using is a topic that if frequently debated, but what is not up for debate is leader condition or quality.
Whether you choose to use fluorocarbon, multi strand or straight wire, you need to keep a keen eye on your leaders throughout the day. Fluorocarbon muskie leaders should be checked for abrasions, gouges, and fraying regularly. Also snaps and swivels should be checked for metal fatigue or damage. If any of these are found on a fluorocarbon musky leader, I recommend immediate replacement. The same is true with multi strand or straight steel wire leaders, any damage should be a clear sign that replacement is necessary. The quality and condition of your leader is not where you should attempt to save money.
Reels : Be your own mechanic
The new era of musky reels are built like tanks, but are still susceptible to failure. Again, simple maintenance and a basic understanding of how your reel works can save you from catastrophic failure and future headaches. Keeping the gears and other moving parts clear of debris and well lubricated will in most cases keep your musky reel working perfectly for years. Occasionally, some more in-depth cleaning and lubrication will not only familiarize you with how your reel works but also give you some mental assurance that it is working as intended. I recommend keeping a schematic of your musky reel on your smart phone. This is an invaluable tool for making emergency repairs while on the water. Keeping common spare parts and the tools necessary to repair your musky reel on your boat are also highly recommended.
Rod and Rod Eyes :
Muskie rods take a lot of abuse, from getting tossed in the boat, chucking large baits and being raked though the water performing countless figure eights. The torque and strain on your musky rods can create issues ranging from minor to catastrophic, so keeping an eye out for early warning signs can not only save your rod but also save you the heartache of loosing a trophy.
Check the rod itself closely, looking for any small spiderweb cracks. These usually occur near or under rod eyes or around other hardware. Small cracks can be filled will adhesive to prevent the spread of further damage. If you find large cracks or splintering near or under hardware, it is usually best to replace the rod as a repair is not cost effective.
Rod eyes and guides need to be checked for any burrs or sharp edges. Feeling with you finger for any oddities in each rod eye will alert you to an issue. Even slight rod eye damage can fray or simply cut your line. If damage is found, the easiest option is replacing the entire guide (eye). This is a simple process that can be done cleanly with professional results at home.
Reel seats should be checked for their sturdiness on the rod blank. If the reel seat has even the slightest shimmy side to side it should be addressed. Pins through the seat, adhesives or heating the original glue can all be used to sturdy the seat and can be accomplished at home. I have even performed on the water fixes by forcing super glue under the cork and into the reel seat with great results, allowing me to finish out trips.
Net : don't have holes in your plan
This might seem like a "no brainer" but checking and maintaining the net is something many musky anglers fail to do. This is another case where the quality of nets on the market give most a false sense of security. Checking for weak joints, fraying, and tears will save you the embarrassment of loosing one out of a hole. This is a lesson I have learned the hard way a couple of times. The bag of your net can be weakened from not only thrashing fish but also the sun, ice and other environmental factors. With the price of replacement bags on the high side, repairs can be made using braided line in a pinch. Permanent repairs can be made using trot line or other heavy water proof lines. Taking a second to check your net for damage after releasing each musky should be a part of your release ritual.
Being ready to battle the beast is the first step in the pursuit of muskies. Making time to check your gear and remedying any issue you find will only take a few minuets and is worth every second. Nothing is worse than fishing for hours or days only to loose a musky due to a lack of preparation. So make your own mental musky gear checklist and stick to it every time you hit the water.
Steven Paul is A Tennessee Musky Fishing guide and has the Tennessee State Record Muskie.
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