When it comes to muskies, as with all fish, you’ve got to catch them where they’re at.
Often, that’s around the kind of complications that play havoc with lures.
“Structure is the key,” said “Musky Joe” Netti of Cortland, N.Y. “”Bridge abutments, weed edges, those kinds of places. They like to be there.”
He knows. Though now officially retired from guiding, the inductee of the New York State Outdoorsman Hall of Fame spent 35 years pursuing muskies. He boated more than 2,000 in his career.
His personal best fish went 52.5 inches and 35 pounds, though clients landed larger ones.
Always, they turned up around structure.
That cover – especially grass – can be a problem, though, especially when musky trolling.
“Once you get weeds on your lures, you’re done. Muskies don’t want salads,” Netti said. “They want meat. They want lures.”
He came up with a trick for keeping his lures clean.
When musky trolling – using a Buck Perry spoonplug more often than not – Netti puts the tips of his rods in the water behind the boat.
A snap swivel attaches his lure to the leader, a 50- to 60-pound length of fluorocarbon. Another swivel attaches the leader to the main line, which is 60-pound braid.
Just above that second swivel, though, he attaches a small Styrofoam ball to his line. That’s the key.
“If you’ve got surface weeds, they’ll go on the rod, not on the lure,” Netti said.
As for how fast to troll, he lets the fish and lures decide that.
In spring, when the water it still a little cold, he trolls slower. When it warms up, he speeds up.
But he doesn’t feel the need to fly either. Especially with some lures.
There are those out there that allow for “speed” trolling, or going as fast a 6 miles per hour, he said.
Not all work that way, though. So he adapts.
“You hear a lot of stories about, you’ve got to troll fast, you’ve got to troll fast. You don’t have to troll fast,” Netti said.
“Put the lure in the water and see how it works best. If it’s working at 4.5 miles an hour, that’s OK. Four miles per hour, that’s OK. Three miles per hour, that’s OK.”
He warns that in all cases, vigilance if critical. Muskies that hit don’t often give you a second chance.
“You want to be ready when you’re trolling. Because they’re not going to sit there and say, oh, I’m hooked,” Netti said.
He prefers to troll in 10- to 12-feet of water, as a general rule. He uses counter reels to tell how deep his baits are.
”I like to be about two feet off the bottom,” Netti said.
He’s got another trick for making sure his lures get there.
“I can’t remember every lure and every depth and every combination,” Netti said.
So, on the bottom of each lure, he writes two numbers. One is the depth it will reach and the other is how much line he needs to let out to get it there.
That way, he knows how to work each individual bait.
“It’s what I call precision trolling,” Netti said.
There are occasions when he goes shallower, of course. If he comes across a weedbed only 10 feet below the surface, for example, he’ll let his lures out just 20 or 30 feet, so they’re right in the wake — or the prop wash — of the boat.
His lures may be fairly close to the surface then, but muskies don’t mind.
“They’ll come up and smack it. They’re not scared. They’re not scared of anything really,” Netti said.
None of those techniques guarantee fish on any particular day. It takes patience to catch muskies, Netti said. They’re “moody.”
Some days they bite, others they don’t
They’re worth the effort, though.
“They’re the king of the freshwater fish,” Netti said. “If you’ve caught a muskie, it’s like shooting a white polar bear. You can’t, in freshwater, catch anything more sought after as a trophy.”
When not musky trolling, it’s musky casting
“Musky Joe” Netti sometimes casts for fish, too.
In fact, he believes using a walk-the-dog technique with a One Eye Willy lure is about as exciting as things get.
Muskies hit it, often from the side, right on the surface.
“That’s the ultimate way to catch them., You see them come up and smash the lure,” Netti said.
Spinnerbaits and in-line spinners are other good lures for casting, he said.
There’s one thing he doesn’t do with them, though.
Many anglers pull their lure in a figure 8 or O-shaped circle when it gets next to the boat, to convince any fish following to strike. Netti does not.
Not initially anyway.
“Don’t believe everything you see on TV,” Netti said.
Instead, he drags his lure around in an “L” shape until he actually sees a musky at the boat. Only then does he switch to an 8 or O.
If there’s no musky in sight, it’s better to cast again, he said. That puts your lure back in more water, where it has a greater chance of being seen by a hungry fish.