I do most of my casting for Muskies on the Detroit River and Lake St. Clair, so my recommendations are based on the knowledge I have gained primarily from these bodies of water. I'm sure however, with the right interpretation this information will apply almost anywhere. First of all, I would recommend that anyone who is serious about casting invest in at least 2 good rod and reel combinations. I personally recommend that you start with a 6' - 6'6" Med. Hvy. to Heavy action rod for Jerk Baits and Cranks, and a 6'6" - 7'6" Medium action rod for Bucktails or plastic baits. I use St. Croix rods, but through Cabela's and Bass Pro Shops you'll find a fine assortment of comparable rods. As for reels, there are several good options to choose from. I have always liked the Ambassadeur 6500C, and as of late, I believe the Shimano Corsair 4000 is good reel for the money. If money is not an object, than I suggest you outfit your rods with a Shimano Calcutta CT400. The Calcutta drag system is without question the best,
but if you do your job setting the drag, I don't think you'll have problems with any of the reels I mentioned.
All right, now that you have your rods and reels, it's time to decide what kind of line to put on them. I'm a firm believer in monofillament in clean water. Therefore, I use 25 lb. Trilene XT green. Monofillament may stretch a bit more than braid, but it
is a good universal line. I like to then make my own leaders out of 60# - 80# clear monofillament. The mono leaders do tend to get chewed up a bit more, but you'll find that the mono leaders will last quite a while. I have also used wire or steel leaders, but I like the flexibility of mono. and the fact that you can make them pretty cheap.
Don't worry, I'm gonna tell what lures to use a little later, but that won't do a bit of good if you don't have a boat.. Casting is best done out of a smaller more maneuverable boat. Those of us with the bass and walleye style boats have the advantage over the guys running the 27' Sport Crafts. The only piece of equipment I suggest you add to your boat is a good fish/depth finder with a temperature gage. OK now that we understand the basics, I feel there are three critical topics that need to be understood. Those are Location, Lure Selection, and
Location is very simple. Fish where there are Muskies. The trick is finding a good population of Muskies. In my opinion, Muskies are a lazy fish that spend most of their day near an area that holds food. In other words, Muskies have feeding areas and re
sting areas that are not too far apart. finding the feeding areas is simple. I like to target changes in structure. Steep drops or weed lines are a great place to concentrate. I like to work the deep edge of a weed line or drop off when trying to find active fish. Muskies will typically move up out of deep water to feed and then they will drop back into the deeper water to digest food. Because I like to fish the river, I also like to focus on current breaks. For example the back edge of islands, or drop offs will typically hold fish. Drops that go from 8' to 15' or more are good places to concentrate. I got started by looking at a HotSpots map of the Detroit River and marking areas that had good deep water near shallower weedy flats (most areas in the River also have good current breaks) and I would move from one to the other not spending more than 1-2 hours at any one location. If I had no action, I moved on. The Detroit River is a huge body of water and there are plenty of good areas, so don't waste
too much time in one area. Keep in mind, weather conditions have an effect on the clarity of the river and unlike trolling, I find the cleaner the water the better. There are too many good areas in the river to mention any specifics. I have caught fish from St. Clair to Erie and even along the Michigan shore of Lake Erie where the conditions are favorable. I don't spend much time in Anchor Bay, but that area is also excellent for casting.
We all know Muskies feed on damn near anything they want. Therefore you would think you could throw just about anything in your tackle box and catch a Muskie. While this may be true on occasion, a more tactical approach to lure selection will significantly increase the number of Muskies you boat. I mainly fish 3 types of Lures: Bucktails, Jerk Baits and Crank Baits. I usually arrive at a fishing location with a Harasser or Mepps Bucktail with either a perch or a black skirt. I have used gold, silver and orange blades and had success on all at different times. Also ready to go is going to be another rod rigged with a jerk bait of some fashion. I love the action of a Suick or a Bobbie bait and they come in a wide range of colors to match the popular bait fish. Sucker or perch are always hot colors, but on sunny days, I prefer something with a bit more flash like Chartreuse or Orange. The advantage of these types of jerk baits is that they have an adjustable lip that allows you to set the depth range you want the bait to work in. I adjust the depth depending on the water clarity. If the water clarity is poor adjust the bait to run deeper to allow fish hanging in the cover a chance to see it. Lastly, if I can't find a hungry fish on top of the drop with one of these lures, I will switch to a crank bait and work deeper off of a drop. For cranking I like to throw a super shad rap or an Ernie bait. Smaller cranks get down faster and have the right action to trigger a passive fish hanging in deeper water. When casting bucktails, I use a steady pace keeping the bait 1'-2' below the surface always watching the bait. Muskies will frequently follow the bait for some time before deciding on whether or not to strike. When I get a follow I jam three foot of the rod tip down into the water and make quick figure 8 passes with the lure trailing the rod tip by only about 24". Don't worry about scaring the fish. If it is in a mood to feed, it is only interested in the bait in front of its face. I have had Muskie hit the side of my boat while attempting to make a swipe at my lure while in a figure 8 motion. When I throw jerk baits, I like to rip the bait hard through the water, advancing the lure 6'-8' with every jerk, then allow the bait to sit still while I pick up the slack. Most of the time the fish will hit as soon as the bait sits still. Once again, keep your eyes on the bait. If a fish is following, pick up the pace and figure 8 if necessary. Crank baits are a little different. Because you cant usually see the bait, I try to follow the structure while I am fishing and visualize where the bait is at all times and think of where I might get a strike. While casting you will get plenty of follows, and if you're ready, you can influence some of those fish and get them to strike. Sure there are plenty of other lures to chose from and many variations of presentation that work, but these are some of the basics that have helped me improve my catch/cast ratio. If you're like me, you don't want to cast 10,000 times to catch a Muskie. Trust me, if it took me 10,000 casts for every Muskie, I would quit fishing for them. Any man who wants to cast a 2-4 ounce lure all day without some action is crazy in my book.
Structure, Water Temp, and Food Supply all change throughout the year. As a result, so do the places where Muskies hang out. Early summer is usually a good time to target Muskies in the river or shallow bays. We have a Muskie season where I fish, so I get started the first week of June and work areas through July or until the weeds prohibit getting a bait through the water. After the weeds choke me out of one area, I begin looking for other areas where the weed growth might have created a new ambush point for a Muskie. In the Detroit River weed beds grow up in the middle of the river and in bays and along Islands. Usually the shallower areas tight to structure are too thick to fish by mid summer, so I focus on open water areas and I work the edges.
I'm a firm believer that Muskies have feeding times throughout the day. While fishing consecutive days, I have had repeat action at nearly the same time each day. I suspect that the changes in daylight effect the fish and trigger a feeding alarm clock. If I get one follow or hit I fish extremely hard for the next hour in the same area. In addition to this, it is important to pay attention to the wind. Increases in wind speed will usually turn Muskies on like nothing else. Wind is usually the indication of a front moving in and that means action when it comes to Muskies. This is also a good time to try shallow. When the surface is broken, Muskies are more apt to move up to feed.
One additional topic that I like to discuss is the handling of fish for release purposes. I like to do everything I can to get Muskies back into the water as soon as possible without harming them. To do so, I use a cradle to land the fish. The cradle that I use is a Stidham Muskie Cradle purchased through Rollie & Hellens, a distributor of everything a Muskie Angler could dream of. The cradle is designed to allow you to swim the fish into the cradle close it up and then lift the fish into the boat. The radle supports the entire body of the fish in a straight position without harm. The cradle is easily laid open and hooks can be removed from the fish with little trouble. The cradle also has a ruler built right in so you can measure the length at the same time. I have landed over 100 Muskies in a cradle and have yet to get one tangled. In addition to helping the fish, you will never be frustrated with a fish that has rolled and tangled itself in a standard dip net. Try it...you'll like it!