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Sharpen Your Musky Game

Just because musky are increasingly difficult to catch doesn’t mean they aren’t catchable.

Sharpen Your Musky Game

By: Simms Fishing 2024-06-13

Sharpen Your Musky Game

By: Simms Fishing 2024-06-13

Drop a shrimp off the edge of a dock and wait — eventually a snapper, sheepshead, or at the very least, a pinfish will grab it. Soak a worm on the bottom of a lake and at some point, a catfish will likely give you a pull. Fish a nymph rig with a San Juan worm and a rubber leg long enough and you’ll probably hook a trout. Obviously, there’s no guarantee to the catching aspect of fishing but there are some fish/fisheries where catching is pretty damn predictable.

On the other hand, plenty of skilled anglers spend days, weeks, and in some cases, even months targeting fish such as permit and steelhead without getting a single follow or grab. For fish like these — not catching is all but expected. If there’s an undisputed king of fish that fall into this category — it would have to be musky. Musky are big, toothy, and aggressive but they’re equally elusive and mysterious — this is a big reason why there are so many anglers that are more than willing to fight the elements and beat their heads against the wall for a sliver of a chance of hooking one. When the net sinks around a musky, it’s a huge deal — and not just for the angler with the rod in his/her hand — it’s a huge deal for all parties that witness the rare spectacle.

Keep in mind however, just because musky are increasingly difficult to catch doesn’t mean they aren’t catchable. When it comes to success in musky fishing, the biggest keys are maintaining your expectations, keeping your head in the game, and doing anything and everything you can to give yourself an edge, no matter how slight it might be.

Check out the Q&A below with Simms Pro/seasoned musky guide, Doug Wegner and give yourself a leg up the next time you find yourself in musky water.

 

Doug Wegner Prepping for a Musky Session

 Simms Pro, Doug Wegner gets rigged and ready for a session of chasing down a 50 incher.

 

Simms: When did you initially start musky fishing?
Wegner: Well, I guess to start, I’d say I come from a family of musky anglers. Both my grandfather and my dad were really into it. I don’t really know exactly how old I was when I started but I can comfortably say, I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember. My Dad would take us out on the Wisconsin River a lot and he’d have us throwing musky size spoons and catching everything that would eat them. I remember getting out of school in 3rd Grade for the summer and my Dad picked me up and we went right to the river with all our camping gear. We caught tons of pike, smallies, and largemouth. We would camp out on the river all summer and fish hard, not necessarily for musky but we’d seem them from time to time and those are the encounters I can still remember themost.

 

Simms: Do you remember the first musky you ever caught?
Wegner: I do.  I was 11 years old. I remember it like it was yesterday. I had all these encounters on the rivers, all these follows, but I had yet to connect with one. I was at my grandfathers cabin fishing off the dock. I always woke up before anyone got up in the morning and I would get out there and just fish hard for whatever, bluegill, bass — anything. One morning, I was throwing a white JawBreaker Spoon that was black-and-white with a little rubber skirt off the back. All the sudden I heard these fish blow up on my left. They were up shallow on this sand flat so I burned my bait in and I pitched my spoon over there and all the sudden I feel this tick and I jacked the hook and totally missed the set. Then this quote came through my mind “don’t set until you feel the weight of the fish” so I threw it back over, waited this time until I felt the weight of the fish and I juiced this thing. It started shaking and jumped and I just started screaming. My uncle started running down to the dock. I’m sure he probably thought I fell in or something. He runs down and lands this thing for me and it turned out to be a tiger muskie which is a subspecies, a cross between a Northern pike and a musky which are super rare. We didn’t have phones or a camera or anything, nothing to measure it, I estimate it was a 38” to 40” fish and we let it go. I didn’t catch another musky for another three years, despite the fact that I was fishing super hard and as often as I possibly could. However, it’s worth noting, I caught four or five that year. And a year after that, I finally caught my first big one.

 

Simms: So when you caught that first good one, were you rigged and ready for a fish of that caliber?
Wegner: God no. It was horrible. I think I was using like a 7’ medium rod with a close faced push button reel and straight 20 lb. mono. Like the most janky equipment, with that setup, I didn’t have any business catching that fish whatsoever. All my stuff was at my dad’s house and I didn’t have it on this trip. I remember my dad got me a Pfleuger President rod and brand new baitcaster spooled up with 30 lb. braid one time — that was the coolest present of all time.

 

Simms: So that was your first baitcaster then?
Wegner:  Yeah, I mean there’s pictures of me with fish I caught on a spinning rods while I was still in diapers. My first legit musky rod was a St. Croix Premier, extra heavy. I got it from a guy at a local tackle shop. My dad wouldn’t buy it for me, that’s not how he rolled. He offered the guy my services in exchange for crimping thousands of wire leaders that he was going to sell in his shop. I remember coming home some nights after school and my Dad would say “alright we’re making leaders tonight, you owe Mike 100 leaders by the end of this week”. I still have that rod, I will never sell it. I’m never selling a rod I poured my blood sweat and tears into. I would get tired of crimping and tell my dad “I don’t want to do this anymore” and he would hit me with the classic “that’s too damn bad!”.

 

Simms: Obviously your dad was super into musky fishing. Would you say that’s where you got your passion and work ethic from?
Wegner: Yeah totally, he had an insane work ethic that was really instilled in me from a young age. Now that I’m older, I realize, that in a nutshell is musky fishing. You’re just going to work, and work, and work and you just hope the reward comes at some point — none of it comes easy.  My grandfather had a skin mount of a 49 incher he caught in the river above the bar in his garage I remember just staring at it as a kid looking at this thing with all the teeth in its big skull. All the thousands of teeth and big daggers and it just seemed like the biggest fish in the world. We used to do a ton of ice fishing as a kid. Every Saturday we fished, Sunday we worked. I grew up in Southeastern Wisconsin. My parents split when I was four and in hindsight, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. My dad lived in a super rural area and my mom lived in town so I got the best of both worlds.

 

Simms: What’s the best piece of advice you can give to someone hoping to get into musky fishing?
Wegner: Don’t expect results anytime soon and always remember, it’s a long-term payoff. Don’t get discouraged, it takes time, everyone has fishless days, months, even years. I remember having years where I didn’t catch a fish.

 

Checking out electronics for signs of fish

The majority of musky fishing is grinding through the mental aspects of the game, the weather, and staying glued to your electronics.

 

Simms: How many days did you go fishless that year?
Wegner: Keep in mind, this was before I knew what I was doing, but I would say anywhere from 15- to 20-days. I still have days where I go out and don’t catch fish, every musky angler does. To this day I get hit with hate in the comments on my videos of people asking why I fish so hard for a fish that fights for 10 seconds. My answer to them is it’s not about the fight, its about the bite. Obviously, we are fishing super heavy tackle so it’s about everything that led up to it. We develop relationships with specific fish which in it of itself is extremely unique.

 

Simms: Do you end up naming the fish you develop these relationships with?
Wegner: You can, yeah. Like you can name spots after them. I have one spot I call crazy bitch. I’ve never caught this thing but this fish would follow me on a figure 8 and go around and around and around but never eat. I swear it was blind, but this fish was absolutely crazy. It would chase but never eat, so we named the spot crazy bitch.

 

Simms: What is the most generic musky setup for someone getting into musky fishing? In other words, what should a newbie start with?
Wegner: For somebody that’s just getting into it, I’d suggest a 9’ or a 10’ rod if you’re comfortable with it. As far as action, you’re going to want an extra heavy action on your blank for power, its all fast action. Reel size is going to be a 400-size bait caster like a Daiwa Lexa, with 25-30 lbs. of drag. I’d also suggest 100 lb. braided line, and a 130 to 170 lb. leader.

 

Simms: Once you’re set up, are you more or less fishing with a locked drag?
Wegner: You’re completely locked and you want to be completely locked inorder to get the hooks into the fish. Their mouth is so big and bony, you need a lot of power to get the hooks to stick. Any time the fish wants to take line, I just freespool it and let them go. Some people like to back off it on the star drag, the problem with that is if you just spin the star drag back, you have no idea how much pressure you have on the fish. I just like to keep my thumb on the spool, sort of like palming a fly reel. This way, you’re able to manage the pressure and be in total control of that pressure.

 

Simms: So if you’re locked down like that, do you worry about breaking off?
Wegner: We don’t really break off. Our gear is all set up so heavy that we don’t lose baits. The only way fish come off is if they throw the bait, or you rip it out of their mouths by applying too much pressure, there is no breaking gear. If you hook them on the fleshy part of their mouth, that can lead to a weak hookset and the fish throwing the bait.

 

Simms: Next noob question, what’s the most generic musky bait?
Wegner: Our most generic bait is a bucktail or an inline spinner. Super basic and straightforward — you cast it out and retrieve it in. If there was a second generic bait it would be a rubber bait like a bulldog — more of a pull, pause retrieve, but everyone starts with a bucktail because they are effective and are super easy to fish.

 

Musky bait

Musky baits come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. The best baits are the ones you have the most confidence in. 

 

SImms: When is the best time to fish for musky?
Wegner: It really depends on where you’re fishing. Obviously, the Summer months are when most anglers are out fishing. It’s also when they are hanging in the shallows. Musky anglers are generally shallow water fisherman who like to beat the bank. Usually, less than 15’ of water. In the summer, fish are feeding, metabolism is rolling, you get tons of follows. However, for me personally — I like the fall the best. There’s just something to being out in the elements, plus the fish are generally packing on more egg weight, there are less people on the water, it’s more quiet — and I love throwing the big giant rubber baits and those are generally more in play during the fall.

 

Simms: Can you explain what you mean by egg weight?
Wegner: Muskies spawn in the spring, but their eggs start developing in the summer. Later in the year, the egg development is further along, more weight is then added to the fish. I always hear the term fall feedbag and it makes me cringe, there is no fall feedbag. The water is cold and they are metabolizing — they don’t pack on fat. By and large the belly that time of year, if it’s pronounced, it’s because it’s full of eggs. The fish don’t put on weight for the winter. They will generally eat one big meal in the fall as opposed to a bunch of smaller meals throughout the summer, but they don’t bulk up or put on fat.

 

Simms: Can you talk about how the moon affects their behavior?
Wegner: The moon is a big deal for us. It’s not just musky, it’s all fish, but muskies especially. The gravitational pull of the moon affects their attitudes. We have moon cycles every single day. The four main ones are moonrise, moonset, moon overhead, and moon underfoot. This is all determined on where you are in the world. You get windows where all day you don’t see a fish, then all the sudden you come into one of these moon phases and you start seeing fish. These bite windows open around these moon periods. Even now during deer season, people are starting to see the big whitetails responding to these moon phases. Watching the cycles especially coming into a full or new moon, things generally tend to be a bit better. The real sleepers are the ones that people call quarter or half moons. On a full moon, your sunrise and moonset are the exact same time and your sun set and moonrise are the exact same time. This is essentially two major events happening simultaneously. On a new moon, the cycles of the sun and the moon are synchronized, rising and setting together. On the half moons, the moon is directly below you when the sun is setting or above you when the sun is rising. This all affects the fish in a certain way. I will say that weather trumps moon and there’s no denying that, but on your worst weather days sometimes the moon activity is the only time you will see action. I track this every day. For me, I want to be on my best spot during the day on one of those 4 time periods throughout the day. I always look at these moments to the minute. For example, say moonrise is at 6:54. I want to be making my best cast in my best spot at 6:54. Moon for us is a huge piece of the success puzzle for sure.

 

Simms: So how exactly does the moon directly affect the fish, is there science theory there?
Wegner: There isn’t any real science behind it as far as gravitational pull. It’s not like a tide. They claim lake Michigan doesn’t have a tide, though I swear it does. Where you see it is in the wind a lot of times. Generally, when you’re right on one of those periods, you’ll notice the wind changes, either it picks up or lays down a touch. We call that moon wind. It doesn’t happen every day, but you’ll often see when you’re 5-10 minutes off a peak all of the sudden the wind starts to pick up a bit. Moon wind is a thing. The wind is a change in the conditions, and sometimes a simple change like that is all it takes to turn a fish on to an eating pattern. When you’re fishing for a fish like musky, all you need is one bite a day, that’s the goal, so any variable you can stack in your favor is helps towards an upper hand. Bite windows are a thing. You can go all day without a follow or a bite, then all the sudden you hook two fish on back-to-back casts. Bite windows are very real. Even if you’re fishing around other anglers, you see it. Look at tournament results for example. Generally the bites all come around the same timeframe across the lake and in general, this is not a coincidence.

 

Simms: You mentioned that weather trumps the moon. What’s your ideal weather pattern?
Wegner: I am a fan of any stable weather pattern and when I say stable, I mean similar weather for multiple days. In a perfect world, I prefer a little pressure system coming after that stable weather. I like a little wind, a little chop (6” to 12”). It breaks up the clarity on the surface, which plays in to how much they can see. This is especially important with musky anglers because of all the boatside interactions we have with the fish. It’s a lot easier to trick a fish in cover like that. But yeah, when low pressure systems move in, the hairs on the back of my neck start standing up when we got a big storm coming. In these conditions the energy Is higher, you feel like there is a fish behind your bait every cast.

 

Musky fishing in the snow

The summer months aren't the only months to target musky. Early to the middle of fall can also be prime time. 

 

Simms: What separates a good musky guide from a great musky guide?
Wegner: It depends on the clients and what they’re looking for. If someone is just coming for a picture that’s one thing, but for me its about education. Basically, training them for one opportunity. My goal is one fish. It doesn’t matter how many people are on board, its going to be one person generally. It’s definitely important to train and educate to prepare them for that one opportunity. Also, just knowing conditions and being in the right spots. I can’t tell you how many trips I have extended because the wind started to pick up at the end of the day. Another one is making sure your guys understand how to do good figure 8’s at the boat which does take a good bit of training. Every lure you have to figure 8 in a different way, a different style. That said, you can have them figure 8’ing like a pro then when the fish comes in behind their bait, they shit the bed. It’s different when they see a 4’ fish behind their bait they have been dreaming about, that’s a different game. So many people just freeze in those moments, you got to be clutch, that’s one thing that comes with experience. These fish owe you nothing. I guide around 15 people for my season and I am super fortunate to be able to fish with the people I like to spend time with.

 

Simms: What is the best way to entice an eat on a figure 8?
Wegner: I could talk for days about figure 8’ing because there are so many nuances and concepts. But really, it all comes down to reading fish. How hot they are on the bait, are they 10’ behind it or are they 6’ behind it or are they 3’ behind it? Is their nose on the back of the lure? It’s about being able to read a fish in a split second and then make the right moves to put yourself in the best position to get that fish to strike. If you’re really good at the boat, you can convert say 5% of your follows. There’s a lot of times these fish are following, and they already know they are not going to bite. But, that’s kind of the nature of a musky. They are curious fish, but they are also super cautious. They’ll come in and check out lures. They are the biggest and baddest fish in the lake, and they chase things around like they are, but the reality is they are incredibly cautious about actually opening their mouth to eat something. Reading the fish is the biggest thing, the biggest trigger with a fish is speed. When I see that fish, I want to speed that lure up, speed is the #1 trigger. When I speed up the lure and I see that flick of the tail coming into the first corner, that’s generally a good sign. Change of direction is second, hence the figure 8. There is a speed up section of the 8 and a slow down section of the 8. When you get really good, you can control where the fish bites the lure.

 

Figure 8

 The figure 8 technique is highly effective, but it does take time to master all of its nuances. 

 

Simms: And where exactly is the ideal spot for a fish to eat on the figure 8 and why? 
Wegner: Ideally, you want the fish to bite the lure in one of the corners of your 8. The reason is, it sets them up to get the hook set in the side rather than straight on. Set the fish up coming around fast on the start of the 8 and then turn it slowly then when the fish eats it. This way, you have leverage to set the hook at a better angle. If they don’t eat in that first corner, this is where it gets tough because you have to take the time to set the hookset up again. You have to be patient enough to set this following fish up for another eat then hookset. Its all about keeping the fish engaged to kick it’s tail on the first corner to set it up to eat on the next. You want to keep your 8’s wide and not cut the corners. Muskies never want to lose sight of the bait and definitely don’t want the bait coming straight over their head. This is where the long rods come into play because you are able to make these HUGE circles, or 8’s I should say.

 

Simms: It’s crazy that the fish doesn’t spook with a giant rod in the water next to leading this bait, do they just not care?
Wegner: Well, they do and they don’t right. You really have to work to position the fish and the rod in the right way. When you’re coming into the figure 8, you always come into the boat first then you turn away from the boat. Ideally as you get the fish coming in towards the boat, you want to go deep with the rod, you don’t want the fish looking up at the boat as you speed up the lure. By going deep coming into the 8 and towards the boat the fish is focused on the bait only. As they then turn on that figure 8 you then go high with the rod on that outside corner so they are looking up at the sky, up at that lure and the angler is then behind the fish — everything looks natural in their field of view. Then you start the next turn and go deep again towards the boat, then on your other outside corner you go high and away again, so they are looking up away towards the surface.

 

Simms: When do you start your figure 8? How far from the rod tip to the lure?
Wegner: It depends on the lure. There are two standard lure styles. You have your straight retrieve lures you are reeling in the entire time for them to activate their action. With those, generally you have a 6, 9, or 12 inch leader and with those you only want it like an inch or two off the tip. Your rod tip is only 14 inches max away from that bucktail. The reason being is you can make your corners a lot wider with that. You have a lot more control over the bait whereas if you leave out a bunch of line, your corners are going to be really small and you’re not going to be able to control the bait as well. When it comes to your pull/pause lures, you’re generally fishing with a 12 to 18 inch leader, and leave out 1 to 2 feet of line off the tip. But with those lures, your kind of pulling, pausing, ripping it around throughout the figure 8 so you want a little more line to have room to move the lure to get action on the bait. There is no point when you stop moving the bait. This is a hard concept to explain but as you reel your bait into the rod you kind of ease off the reel and start to move your rod. It’s easing into it — a combination of slowing down your reel and moving your rod. It is hard to teach. This is my favorite way to catch them, right at the boat, hands down.

 

Simms: What’s the best day of musky fishing you have ever had?
Wegner: There’s a couple. Some have to do with big fish and some have to do with lots of action. If we are talking about big fish, the best day I ever had was with a customer on Green Bay. It was a new customer that had just booked for a 16 hour day, sun up to sundown. We’re on Lake Michigan, the 5th largest lake in the world, and it’s windy. We get out there and there’s like a 2-3 foot chop with the occasional 3.5-footer, its rough out. We’re fishing this big giant weed bed you know, its August and were getting to know each other going through the ropes and all. A few hours in we start talking about hunting. The dude is a pretty avid whitetail hunter and used to guide down in Kansas. I used to be a big whitetail hunter myself, so we were connecting pretty well. Both of us bow hunt and I asked him if he shot any big ones down there last year, he said “yeah I got a big one last year” he was being all modest. I asked, how big and he said 214. I was like holy shii- not a 200 incher a 214 incher! I was like man show me a picture of this thing. He pulls his phone out and shows me the photo and it was absolutely as big as he said it was — very impressive for a bow hunter like myself. Anyway, we get done with that drift and he looks up from the phone at me and his face is just green, he got seasick in the waves looking down at his phone. The dude just runs to the bow of the boat and dumps his guts, mind you it’s 8 o’clock in the morning. I’m like shoot, this guy is done, you don’t come back from that. I asked him after he got done puking if he wanted to go in and take a break and he said, “Hell no, we’re fishing!” I was like alright, let’s go. An hour later the dude gets juiced out of the cast, sets the hook and catches a 48 ½ incher — freaking awesome! It was the first one we catch together and we had a great moment high fives all that. We go back to the top of the drift and I catch a 49 ¼ incher, another awesome fish, and a great fight. It’s still blowing nasty gnarly out and about 12pm a fish comes in and my client gets bit like 10’ from the boat. He sets the hook and the fish goes into the bag — a 50 ½ incher — the biggest musky he’s ever caught. The benchmark is 50” to qualify as a fish of a lifetime with musky anglers. His personal best he broke from a fish 20 years earlier. We’re both going crazy jumping up and down — just an awesome moment. We release that fish and two hours later, here comes a fish on the figure 8, a big one, hot. Fish comes in 3rd quarter of his 8, and he gets juiced. He sets the hook, and we measured that fish at 51 ½ inches. Yes, he broke his PB twice in the same day. We were on cloud nine. Four fish in the boat, by early afternoon. The wind starts to lay down, we get into that sunset period of the day and its super calm. We’re still fishing and he gets bit yet again out on the end of a cast. A 51 ¾ inch fish. Just an absolutely epic day. Last year, I had a 13 fish day which was the best as far as numbers go, but nothing tops this day for size and quality of fish. I’ve had two other days with 3 fish over 50, but not all casting, it was a mix of casting and trolling. Fish you catch casting are always the best. There’s just some folks that seem to always be carrying a lucky horseshoe. Plain and simple, he’s just good luck. Last year I got a 55 with him and this year he got a 30 ½ inch Walleye which by the way was the first time he and I targeted walleye together.

 

Giant Musky

Catching a musky of any size is an accomplishment, but if you land a 50+ incher, you've done very well. 

 

Simms: In your opinion, what’s the very best zone to target musky? Do you have a bucket list location you haven’t fished as of yet?
Wegner: Man, there’s a lot of bucket list areas I’d love to hit. But, in my opinion, the best place to chase musky is Canada — that’s just the way it is. I do however consider Green Bay to be in the top five which is obviously why I love it there. Keep in mind, I’m there for the fish, not necessarily the scenery. Canada on the other hand has big fish, quality fish, a lot less pressure, and it’s beautiful. Anywhere is Canada is my favorite place to fish, it’s just so raw and untouched. My bucket list is long, but all of my bucket list lakes are in Canada.

 

Simms: What’s your most memorable catch?
Wegner: My favorite musky fishing is the late fall stuff, just before the lakes freeze. My favorite catch was not the biggest I’ve been involved with by any stretch. It was a 50 inch fish I caught with my buddy Curt and Ben up in Canada. We were in Northwest Ontario and it was the first week of November. It was snowing sideways and was probably in the mid-30s. We were bundled head to toe. We pulled up on this island, lob a cast and start working big bait back. I saw my bait about 15 feet out and all the sudden, I feel this super hard tick. I reel down two or three times then just juice the thing. The water was super dark, stained tannic. All of the sudden, this giant white head with a giant white lure just comes up and goes around a few times right next to the boat. My buddy scoops it and it was just high 5’s and hugs all the way around. Such an amazing fish but really what made it so memorable was that the conditions were just so nasty and gnarly.  

 

 

Drop a shrimp off the edge of a dock and wait — eventually a snapper, sheepshead, or at the very least, a pinfish will grab it. Soak a worm on the bottom of a lake and at some point, a catfish will likely give you a pull. Fish a nymph rig with a San Juan worm and a rubber leg long enough and you’ll probably hook a trout. Obviously, there’s no guarantee to the catching aspect of fishing but there are some fish/fisheries where catching is pretty damn predictable.

On the other hand, plenty of skilled anglers spend days, weeks, and in some cases, even months targeting fish such as permit and steelhead without getting a single follow or grab. For fish like these — not catching is all but expected. If there’s an undisputed king of fish that fall into this category — it would have to be musky. Musky are big, toothy, and aggressive but they’re equally elusive and mysterious — this is a big reason why there are so many anglers that are more than willing to fight the elements and beat their heads against the wall for a sliver of a chance of hooking one. When the net sinks around a musky, it’s a huge deal — and not just for the angler with the rod in his/her hand — it’s a huge deal for all parties that witness the rare spectacle.

Keep in mind however, just because musky are increasingly difficult to catch doesn’t mean they aren’t catchable. When it comes to success in musky fishing, the biggest keys are maintaining your expectations, keeping your head in the game, and doing anything and everything you can to give yourself an edge, no matter how slight it might be.

Check out the Q&A below with Simms Pro/seasoned musky guide, Doug Wegner and give yourself a leg up the next time you find yourself in musky water.

 

Doug Wegner Prepping for a Musky Session

 Simms Pro, Doug Wegner gets rigged and ready for a session of chasing down a 50 incher.

 

Simms: When did you initially start musky fishing?
Wegner: Well, I guess to start, I’d say I come from a family of musky anglers. Both my grandfather and my dad were really into it. I don’t really know exactly how old I was when I started but I can comfortably say, I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember. My Dad would take us out on the Wisconsin River a lot and he’d have us throwing musky size spoons and catching everything that would eat them. I remember getting out of school in 3rd Grade for the summer and my Dad picked me up and we went right to the river with all our camping gear. We caught tons of pike, smallies, and largemouth. We would camp out on the river all summer and fish hard, not necessarily for musky but we’d seem them from time to time and those are the encounters I can still remember themost.

 

Simms: Do you remember the first musky you ever caught?
Wegner: I do.  I was 11 years old. I remember it like it was yesterday. I had all these encounters on the rivers, all these follows, but I had yet to connect with one. I was at my grandfathers cabin fishing off the dock. I always woke up before anyone got up in the morning and I would get out there and just fish hard for whatever, bluegill, bass — anything. One morning, I was throwing a white JawBreaker Spoon that was black-and-white with a little rubber skirt off the back. All the sudden I heard these fish blow up on my left. They were up shallow on this sand flat so I burned my bait in and I pitched my spoon over there and all the sudden I feel this tick and I jacked the hook and totally missed the set. Then this quote came through my mind “don’t set until you feel the weight of the fish” so I threw it back over, waited this time until I felt the weight of the fish and I juiced this thing. It started shaking and jumped and I just started screaming. My uncle started running down to the dock. I’m sure he probably thought I fell in or something. He runs down and lands this thing for me and it turned out to be a tiger muskie which is a subspecies, a cross between a Northern pike and a musky which are super rare. We didn’t have phones or a camera or anything, nothing to measure it, I estimate it was a 38” to 40” fish and we let it go. I didn’t catch another musky for another three years, despite the fact that I was fishing super hard and as often as I possibly could. However, it’s worth noting, I caught four or five that year. And a year after that, I finally caught my first big one.

 

Simms: So when you caught that first good one, were you rigged and ready for a fish of that caliber?
Wegner: God no. It was horrible. I think I was using like a 7’ medium rod with a close faced push button reel and straight 20 lb. mono. Like the most janky equipment, with that setup, I didn’t have any business catching that fish whatsoever. All my stuff was at my dad’s house and I didn’t have it on this trip. I remember my dad got me a Pfleuger President rod and brand new baitcaster spooled up with 30 lb. braid one time — that was the coolest present of all time.

 

Simms: So that was your first baitcaster then?
Wegner:  Yeah, I mean there’s pictures of me with fish I caught on a spinning rods while I was still in diapers. My first legit musky rod was a St. Croix Premier, extra heavy. I got it from a guy at a local tackle shop. My dad wouldn’t buy it for me, that’s not how he rolled. He offered the guy my services in exchange for crimping thousands of wire leaders that he was going to sell in his shop. I remember coming home some nights after school and my Dad would say “alright we’re making leaders tonight, you owe Mike 100 leaders by the end of this week”. I still have that rod, I will never sell it. I’m never selling a rod I poured my blood sweat and tears into. I would get tired of crimping and tell my dad “I don’t want to do this anymore” and he would hit me with the classic “that’s too damn bad!”.

 

Simms: Obviously your dad was super into musky fishing. Would you say that’s where you got your passion and work ethic from?
Wegner: Yeah totally, he had an insane work ethic that was really instilled in me from a young age. Now that I’m older, I realize, that in a nutshell is musky fishing. You’re just going to work, and work, and work and you just hope the reward comes at some point — none of it comes easy.  My grandfather had a skin mount of a 49 incher he caught in the river above the bar in his garage I remember just staring at it as a kid looking at this thing with all the teeth in its big skull. All the thousands of teeth and big daggers and it just seemed like the biggest fish in the world. We used to do a ton of ice fishing as a kid. Every Saturday we fished, Sunday we worked. I grew up in Southeastern Wisconsin. My parents split when I was four and in hindsight, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. My dad lived in a super rural area and my mom lived in town so I got the best of both worlds.

 

Simms: What’s the best piece of advice you can give to someone hoping to get into musky fishing?
Wegner: Don’t expect results anytime soon and always remember, it’s a long-term payoff. Don’t get discouraged, it takes time, everyone has fishless days, months, even years. I remember having years where I didn’t catch a fish.

 

Checking out electronics for signs of fish

The majority of musky fishing is grinding through the mental aspects of the game, the weather, and staying glued to your electronics.

 

Simms: How many days did you go fishless that year?
Wegner: Keep in mind, this was before I knew what I was doing, but I would say anywhere from 15- to 20-days. I still have days where I go out and don’t catch fish, every musky angler does. To this day I get hit with hate in the comments on my videos of people asking why I fish so hard for a fish that fights for 10 seconds. My answer to them is it’s not about the fight, its about the bite. Obviously, we are fishing super heavy tackle so it’s about everything that led up to it. We develop relationships with specific fish which in it of itself is extremely unique.

 

Simms: Do you end up naming the fish you develop these relationships with?
Wegner: You can, yeah. Like you can name spots after them. I have one spot I call crazy bitch. I’ve never caught this thing but this fish would follow me on a figure 8 and go around and around and around but never eat. I swear it was blind, but this fish was absolutely crazy. It would chase but never eat, so we named the spot crazy bitch.

 

Simms: What is the most generic musky setup for someone getting into musky fishing? In other words, what should a newbie start with?
Wegner: For somebody that’s just getting into it, I’d suggest a 9’ or a 10’ rod if you’re comfortable with it. As far as action, you’re going to want an extra heavy action on your blank for power, its all fast action. Reel size is going to be a 400-size bait caster like a Daiwa Lexa, with 25-30 lbs. of drag. I’d also suggest 100 lb. braided line, and a 130 to 170 lb. leader.

 

Simms: Once you’re set up, are you more or less fishing with a locked drag?
Wegner: You’re completely locked and you want to be completely locked inorder to get the hooks into the fish. Their mouth is so big and bony, you need a lot of power to get the hooks to stick. Any time the fish wants to take line, I just freespool it and let them go. Some people like to back off it on the star drag, the problem with that is if you just spin the star drag back, you have no idea how much pressure you have on the fish. I just like to keep my thumb on the spool, sort of like palming a fly reel. This way, you’re able to manage the pressure and be in total control of that pressure.

 

Simms: So if you’re locked down like that, do you worry about breaking off?
Wegner: We don’t really break off. Our gear is all set up so heavy that we don’t lose baits. The only way fish come off is if they throw the bait, or you rip it out of their mouths by applying too much pressure, there is no breaking gear. If you hook them on the fleshy part of their mouth, that can lead to a weak hookset and the fish throwing the bait.

 

Simms: Next noob question, what’s the most generic musky bait?
Wegner: Our most generic bait is a bucktail or an inline spinner. Super basic and straightforward — you cast it out and retrieve it in. If there was a second generic bait it would be a rubber bait like a bulldog — more of a pull, pause retrieve, but everyone starts with a bucktail because they are effective and are super easy to fish.

 

Musky bait

Musky baits come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. The best baits are the ones you have the most confidence in. 

 

SImms: When is the best time to fish for musky?
Wegner: It really depends on where you’re fishing. Obviously, the Summer months are when most anglers are out fishing. It’s also when they are hanging in the shallows. Musky anglers are generally shallow water fisherman who like to beat the bank. Usually, less than 15’ of water. In the summer, fish are feeding, metabolism is rolling, you get tons of follows. However, for me personally — I like the fall the best. There’s just something to being out in the elements, plus the fish are generally packing on more egg weight, there are less people on the water, it’s more quiet — and I love throwing the big giant rubber baits and those are generally more in play during the fall.

 

Simms: Can you explain what you mean by egg weight?
Wegner: Muskies spawn in the spring, but their eggs start developing in the summer. Later in the year, the egg development is further along, more weight is then added to the fish. I always hear the term fall feedbag and it makes me cringe, there is no fall feedbag. The water is cold and they are metabolizing — they don’t pack on fat. By and large the belly that time of year, if it’s pronounced, it’s because it’s full of eggs. The fish don’t put on weight for the winter. They will generally eat one big meal in the fall as opposed to a bunch of smaller meals throughout the summer, but they don’t bulk up or put on fat.

 

Simms: Can you talk about how the moon affects their behavior?
Wegner: The moon is a big deal for us. It’s not just musky, it’s all fish, but muskies especially. The gravitational pull of the moon affects their attitudes. We have moon cycles every single day. The four main ones are moonrise, moonset, moon overhead, and moon underfoot. This is all determined on where you are in the world. You get windows where all day you don’t see a fish, then all the sudden you come into one of these moon phases and you start seeing fish. These bite windows open around these moon periods. Even now during deer season, people are starting to see the big whitetails responding to these moon phases. Watching the cycles especially coming into a full or new moon, things generally tend to be a bit better. The real sleepers are the ones that people call quarter or half moons. On a full moon, your sunrise and moonset are the exact same time and your sun set and moonrise are the exact same time. This is essentially two major events happening simultaneously. On a new moon, the cycles of the sun and the moon are synchronized, rising and setting together. On the half moons, the moon is directly below you when the sun is setting or above you when the sun is rising. This all affects the fish in a certain way. I will say that weather trumps moon and there’s no denying that, but on your worst weather days sometimes the moon activity is the only time you will see action. I track this every day. For me, I want to be on my best spot during the day on one of those 4 time periods throughout the day. I always look at these moments to the minute. For example, say moonrise is at 6:54. I want to be making my best cast in my best spot at 6:54. Moon for us is a huge piece of the success puzzle for sure.

 

Simms: So how exactly does the moon directly affect the fish, is there science theory there?
Wegner: There isn’t any real science behind it as far as gravitational pull. It’s not like a tide. They claim lake Michigan doesn’t have a tide, though I swear it does. Where you see it is in the wind a lot of times. Generally, when you’re right on one of those periods, you’ll notice the wind changes, either it picks up or lays down a touch. We call that moon wind. It doesn’t happen every day, but you’ll often see when you’re 5-10 minutes off a peak all of the sudden the wind starts to pick up a bit. Moon wind is a thing. The wind is a change in the conditions, and sometimes a simple change like that is all it takes to turn a fish on to an eating pattern. When you’re fishing for a fish like musky, all you need is one bite a day, that’s the goal, so any variable you can stack in your favor is helps towards an upper hand. Bite windows are a thing. You can go all day without a follow or a bite, then all the sudden you hook two fish on back-to-back casts. Bite windows are very real. Even if you’re fishing around other anglers, you see it. Look at tournament results for example. Generally the bites all come around the same timeframe across the lake and in general, this is not a coincidence.

 

Simms: You mentioned that weather trumps the moon. What’s your ideal weather pattern?
Wegner: I am a fan of any stable weather pattern and when I say stable, I mean similar weather for multiple days. In a perfect world, I prefer a little pressure system coming after that stable weather. I like a little wind, a little chop (6” to 12”). It breaks up the clarity on the surface, which plays in to how much they can see. This is especially important with musky anglers because of all the boatside interactions we have with the fish. It’s a lot easier to trick a fish in cover like that. But yeah, when low pressure systems move in, the hairs on the back of my neck start standing up when we got a big storm coming. In these conditions the energy Is higher, you feel like there is a fish behind your bait every cast.

 

Musky fishing in the snow

The summer months aren't the only months to target musky. Early to the middle of fall can also be prime time. 

 

Simms: What separates a good musky guide from a great musky guide?
Wegner: It depends on the clients and what they’re looking for. If someone is just coming for a picture that’s one thing, but for me its about education. Basically, training them for one opportunity. My goal is one fish. It doesn’t matter how many people are on board, its going to be one person generally. It’s definitely important to train and educate to prepare them for that one opportunity. Also, just knowing conditions and being in the right spots. I can’t tell you how many trips I have extended because the wind started to pick up at the end of the day. Another one is making sure your guys understand how to do good figure 8’s at the boat which does take a good bit of training. Every lure you have to figure 8 in a different way, a different style. That said, you can have them figure 8’ing like a pro then when the fish comes in behind their bait, they shit the bed. It’s different when they see a 4’ fish behind their bait they have been dreaming about, that’s a different game. So many people just freeze in those moments, you got to be clutch, that’s one thing that comes with experience. These fish owe you nothing. I guide around 15 people for my season and I am super fortunate to be able to fish with the people I like to spend time with.

 

Simms: What is the best way to entice an eat on a figure 8?
Wegner: I could talk for days about figure 8’ing because there are so many nuances and concepts. But really, it all comes down to reading fish. How hot they are on the bait, are they 10’ behind it or are they 6’ behind it or are they 3’ behind it? Is their nose on the back of the lure? It’s about being able to read a fish in a split second and then make the right moves to put yourself in the best position to get that fish to strike. If you’re really good at the boat, you can convert say 5% of your follows. There’s a lot of times these fish are following, and they already know they are not going to bite. But, that’s kind of the nature of a musky. They are curious fish, but they are also super cautious. They’ll come in and check out lures. They are the biggest and baddest fish in the lake, and they chase things around like they are, but the reality is they are incredibly cautious about actually opening their mouth to eat something. Reading the fish is the biggest thing, the biggest trigger with a fish is speed. When I see that fish, I want to speed that lure up, speed is the #1 trigger. When I speed up the lure and I see that flick of the tail coming into the first corner, that’s generally a good sign. Change of direction is second, hence the figure 8. There is a speed up section of the 8 and a slow down section of the 8. When you get really good, you can control where the fish bites the lure.

 

Figure 8

 The figure 8 technique is highly effective, but it does take time to master all of its nuances. 

 

Simms: And where exactly is the ideal spot for a fish to eat on the figure 8 and why? 
Wegner: Ideally, you want the fish to bite the lure in one of the corners of your 8. The reason is, it sets them up to get the hook set in the side rather than straight on. Set the fish up coming around fast on the start of the 8 and then turn it slowly then when the fish eats it. This way, you have leverage to set the hook at a better angle. If they don’t eat in that first corner, this is where it gets tough because you have to take the time to set the hookset up again. You have to be patient enough to set this following fish up for another eat then hookset. Its all about keeping the fish engaged to kick it’s tail on the first corner to set it up to eat on the next. You want to keep your 8’s wide and not cut the corners. Muskies never want to lose sight of the bait and definitely don’t want the bait coming straight over their head. This is where the long rods come into play because you are able to make these HUGE circles, or 8’s I should say.

 

Simms: It’s crazy that the fish doesn’t spook with a giant rod in the water next to leading this bait, do they just not care?
Wegner: Well, they do and they don’t right. You really have to work to position the fish and the rod in the right way. When you’re coming into the figure 8, you always come into the boat first then you turn away from the boat. Ideally as you get the fish coming in towards the boat, you want to go deep with the rod, you don’t want the fish looking up at the boat as you speed up the lure. By going deep coming into the 8 and towards the boat the fish is focused on the bait only. As they then turn on that figure 8 you then go high with the rod on that outside corner so they are looking up at the sky, up at that lure and the angler is then behind the fish — everything looks natural in their field of view. Then you start the next turn and go deep again towards the boat, then on your other outside corner you go high and away again, so they are looking up away towards the surface.

 

Simms: When do you start your figure 8? How far from the rod tip to the lure?
Wegner: It depends on the lure. There are two standard lure styles. You have your straight retrieve lures you are reeling in the entire time for them to activate their action. With those, generally you have a 6, 9, or 12 inch leader and with those you only want it like an inch or two off the tip. Your rod tip is only 14 inches max away from that bucktail. The reason being is you can make your corners a lot wider with that. You have a lot more control over the bait whereas if you leave out a bunch of line, your corners are going to be really small and you’re not going to be able to control the bait as well. When it comes to your pull/pause lures, you’re generally fishing with a 12 to 18 inch leader, and leave out 1 to 2 feet of line off the tip. But with those lures, your kind of pulling, pausing, ripping it around throughout the figure 8 so you want a little more line to have room to move the lure to get action on the bait. There is no point when you stop moving the bait. This is a hard concept to explain but as you reel your bait into the rod you kind of ease off the reel and start to move your rod. It’s easing into it — a combination of slowing down your reel and moving your rod. It is hard to teach. This is my favorite way to catch them, right at the boat, hands down.

 

Simms: What’s the best day of musky fishing you have ever had?
Wegner: There’s a couple. Some have to do with big fish and some have to do with lots of action. If we are talking about big fish, the best day I ever had was with a customer on Green Bay. It was a new customer that had just booked for a 16 hour day, sun up to sundown. We’re on Lake Michigan, the 5th largest lake in the world, and it’s windy. We get out there and there’s like a 2-3 foot chop with the occasional 3.5-footer, its rough out. We’re fishing this big giant weed bed you know, its August and were getting to know each other going through the ropes and all. A few hours in we start talking about hunting. The dude is a pretty avid whitetail hunter and used to guide down in Kansas. I used to be a big whitetail hunter myself, so we were connecting pretty well. Both of us bow hunt and I asked him if he shot any big ones down there last year, he said “yeah I got a big one last year” he was being all modest. I asked, how big and he said 214. I was like holy shii- not a 200 incher a 214 incher! I was like man show me a picture of this thing. He pulls his phone out and shows me the photo and it was absolutely as big as he said it was — very impressive for a bow hunter like myself. Anyway, we get done with that drift and he looks up from the phone at me and his face is just green, he got seasick in the waves looking down at his phone. The dude just runs to the bow of the boat and dumps his guts, mind you it’s 8 o’clock in the morning. I’m like shoot, this guy is done, you don’t come back from that. I asked him after he got done puking if he wanted to go in and take a break and he said, “Hell no, we’re fishing!” I was like alright, let’s go. An hour later the dude gets juiced out of the cast, sets the hook and catches a 48 ½ incher — freaking awesome! It was the first one we catch together and we had a great moment high fives all that. We go back to the top of the drift and I catch a 49 ¼ incher, another awesome fish, and a great fight. It’s still blowing nasty gnarly out and about 12pm a fish comes in and my client gets bit like 10’ from the boat. He sets the hook and the fish goes into the bag — a 50 ½ incher — the biggest musky he’s ever caught. The benchmark is 50” to qualify as a fish of a lifetime with musky anglers. His personal best he broke from a fish 20 years earlier. We’re both going crazy jumping up and down — just an awesome moment. We release that fish and two hours later, here comes a fish on the figure 8, a big one, hot. Fish comes in 3rd quarter of his 8, and he gets juiced. He sets the hook, and we measured that fish at 51 ½ inches. Yes, he broke his PB twice in the same day. We were on cloud nine. Four fish in the boat, by early afternoon. The wind starts to lay down, we get into that sunset period of the day and its super calm. We’re still fishing and he gets bit yet again out on the end of a cast. A 51 ¾ inch fish. Just an absolutely epic day. Last year, I had a 13 fish day which was the best as far as numbers go, but nothing tops this day for size and quality of fish. I’ve had two other days with 3 fish over 50, but not all casting, it was a mix of casting and trolling. Fish you catch casting are always the best. There’s just some folks that seem to always be carrying a lucky horseshoe. Plain and simple, he’s just good luck. Last year I got a 55 with him and this year he got a 30 ½ inch Walleye which by the way was the first time he and I targeted walleye together.

 

Giant Musky

Catching a musky of any size is an accomplishment, but if you land a 50+ incher, you've done very well. 

 

Simms: In your opinion, what’s the very best zone to target musky? Do you have a bucket list location you haven’t fished as of yet?
Wegner: Man, there’s a lot of bucket list areas I’d love to hit. But, in my opinion, the best place to chase musky is Canada — that’s just the way it is. I do however consider Green Bay to be in the top five which is obviously why I love it there. Keep in mind, I’m there for the fish, not necessarily the scenery. Canada on the other hand has big fish, quality fish, a lot less pressure, and it’s beautiful. Anywhere is Canada is my favorite place to fish, it’s just so raw and untouched. My bucket list is long, but all of my bucket list lakes are in Canada.

 

Simms: What’s your most memorable catch?
Wegner: My favorite musky fishing is the late fall stuff, just before the lakes freeze. My favorite catch was not the biggest I’ve been involved with by any stretch. It was a 50 inch fish I caught with my buddy Curt and Ben up in Canada. We were in Northwest Ontario and it was the first week of November. It was snowing sideways and was probably in the mid-30s. We were bundled head to toe. We pulled up on this island, lob a cast and start working big bait back. I saw my bait about 15 feet out and all the sudden, I feel this super hard tick. I reel down two or three times then just juice the thing. The water was super dark, stained tannic. All of the sudden, this giant white head with a giant white lure just comes up and goes around a few times right next to the boat. My buddy scoops it and it was just high 5’s and hugs all the way around. Such an amazing fish but really what made it so memorable was that the conditions were just so nasty and gnarly.  

 

 


Three 50" Musky in a Single Day
Simms Pro, Doug Wegner shares a few clips from one of his best days ever musky fishing.