When it comes to fishing here in Pennsylvania, you probably won’t find many fishermen who are strongly dedicated to pursuing muskies. There are probably some good reasons for that lack of pursuit; for one, they are not exactly abundant, at least not like trout and bass. They can also be difficult to catch; you can easily spend a lot more hours trying to hook a muskie than most other fish species. Also, if you plan to pursue muskies, you better have the proper gear on hand; your average bass gear is not the best choice but more on that later.
Muskies tend to be much longer than our other fish species, and they have a pretty good-sized jaw equipped with plenty of very sharp teeth. Muskies are sometimes confused with northern pike, but the pike has a dark background with light spots, while the muskie has a light background with dark spots on the sides. There are actually a couple of other color phases in muskies, including the barred phase featuring dark vertical bars and the clear phase with no spots or bars on a light brownish or greenish background.
I’ve done some muskie fishing over the years with some occasional success, and I’ve even managed an occasional full day dedicated to the pursuit of muskies, but it isn’t long until the bass grabs my attention again. I even remember bass fishing with a fly rod on the river one evening using a large streamer when I got a sudden jolt on the retrieve. I soon realized it wasn’t a bass but a large muskie. I finally got the fish close to the canoe, but as it cruised by, it took off in a sudden jolt and snapped the line.
Losing that muskie on a fly outfit, of course, is a good reminder that if you are going to get serious about muskie or even pike fishing, gear up for the species. Some heavy-duty bass gear may work, but most serious muskie fishermen utilize bait casting gear and usually larger lures made for muskie fishing. A heavy action bait caster spooled with 30lb test and higher line, and a steel leader would be a good start; remember you are after big, heavy fish with a mouth full of sharp teeth, and they are often found around heavy weed cover. I would also highly recommend a good-sized net in the boat for landing your catch.
As always, when it comes to lure choices, there is a lot to pick from, but there are some favorites. I recently had the opportunity to meet and talk with Alex Fry, a local guy who happens to have a love of muskie fishing; I’m not talking about an occasional outing, but rather this guy is a serious muskie fisherman. I asked him what some of his favorite lures were. He and his fishing buddies use soft plastics, minnow-type lures and crankbaits, and inline spinners.
Many of these lures are designed to imitate some type of bait fish, which is probably why they are so effective since muskies feed mostly on other fish. Muskie fishermen will usually upgrade the size of these lures as well. I’m not saying your average bass size minnow lure won’t catch a muskie, but larger lures seem to produce better.
Alex and his buddies hit the river a lot; the Susquehanna’s west branch and the North Branch of the Susquehanna are good choices. Several area lakes also produce muskies. Several years ago, my buddy and I were in a bass tournament at Cowanesque Lake in northern Pennsylvania, and we moved into a small bay; in minutes, we both hooked muskies. Don’t expect that to happen very often, though, since muskie fishing takes a lot of patience, but when you finally hook up, it’s well worth the effort.
By the way, the legal limit of muskies is one per day, and they are open year around. I highly recommend catch and release, and I’m sure most muskie fishermen practice the same strategy. Don’t be surprised if you put in a whole day and get one or two follows, and if you’re lucky, maybe even a hookup or two, but that’s muskie fishing.