Musky are a territorial fish, are rare compared to fish densities of other species, and are more likely to investigate and follow your lure to the boat instead of eating it.
When you get this few shots at feeding fish, your choice of lure is vital. In this article our resident musky expert and former fishing guide Shawn Chapin – the winner of more than a few musky fishing tournaments over the years – takes us through his picks as the best musky lures.
Best musky lures in each key category:
Best Soft Plastic Musky Lures
Soft plastics are a great way to target musky. Their subtle and realistic movement can often tempt a musky that would refuse a different lure type. Here are some proven soft baits that we know work really well for musky.
First designed in 1993 the Bull Dawg is arguably one of the biggest game changers in musky fishing history, and has literally ushered in a new style of musky fishing that was a fringe at best before its arrival. The Bull Dawg is extremely versatile and can be fished in multiple ways and used in tons of situations. Straight retrieve it, pump it, jig it, rip it. It’s almost impossible to use it wrong. The Bull Dawg has multiple variants such as the Shallow Dawg with a hole in its dorsal fin to differentiate from standard dawgs. The Bull Dawg also comes in multiple sizes from the 6” Spring Dawg to the massive super magnum size nicknamed “The Pounder” by muskie anglers – it comes in at 16 inches long and weighs in at almost a pound. Along with a multitude of sizes and weights, the Bull Dawgs come in tons of different color patterns from bright and gaudy to natural fish patterns with different colors coming out on a regular basis.
The Medussa by Chaos Tackle is arguably right alongside the Bull dawg in popularity. With three tails the Medussa has tons of action and if a tail gets bit off from a toothy muskie, or gets fouled on the rear hook, you still have multiple tails working. The Medussa works best when used in a pull-pause manner, or by jigging and hopping the bait down drop offs or over deep water. The musky lure has more of a gliding/falling action and doesn’t have as sharp of a descent as other soft plastic musky lures on the market. This is due to the flat and wide belly and the 3 tails providing more drag to slow its fall. The Medussa comes in 6 sizes from the 7” Micro to the 17” Monster version and a very large variety of colors to choose from.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! The Red October Monster Tubes are customized tube jig baits similar to the ones that are very popular for bass angling or crappie angling, but on steroids! Coming in at 10” for the monster variant but available in smaller sizes as well. The Tube has a harness rigging system that is inserted inside of the hollow tube body. And has weight in the nose, a far forward belly treble, a large single hook coming up through the back, and a treble hook leading out of the back of the tube to the skirt. The hook arrangement allows for very high hooking percentages. The monster tubes are great for getting deep quickly, and work great at fishing deep weeds, working tight down drop offs and for fishing around heavy cover. The monster tubes also have multiple internal harness options including the standard or mid depth harness, shallow, and deep harnesses. Available in 15 different color patterns.
Best Bucktails for Musky
Bucktails are larger spinners with a treble hook that can be tied with Marabou, Flashabou, Bucktail, rubber skirt material or a combination of these materials for added attraction. They are one of the most effective and favourite ways to catch big musky and for many anglers, they are the only lure they use. We’ve listed our top bucktails here – each of these musky lures is guaranteed to work with big musky.
The Muskie Mayhem double cowgirl, like the Bull Dawg, is a musky lure that revolutionized the musky fishing world. It was the first mainstream musky lure to feature two large #10 Size blades instead of the traditional one blade style that was typical of bucktails. The double cowgirl is probably responsible for more 50 plus inch fish caught since its widespread use than any other musky lure on the market. Coming with a flashabou skirt and high quality components. The Cowgirl can be found in a wide array of color patterns and needs to be in every musky angler’s arsenal.
The Mepps Musky Killer has been around for decades and has to be on this list. It’s a staple of musky fishing. It is to musky anglers a household name that most fished with since they were children. That being said it’s a versatile tool mimicking the silhouette of a baitfish with a Colorado blade pumping out vibration and flash screams eat me to a prowling musky. Burn it, slow roll it, bulge it right below the surface, and catch fish. In addition to flat out catching fish, one very cool feature of Mepps bucktails is having a split ring linking the body and the skirt. Allowing anglers to mix colors and blade types, giving unlimited color options.
Best Topwater Musky Lures
The brainchild of World fishing hall of fame inductee Larry Dahlberg, the Whopper Plopper is a topwater musky lure that will surely be around for a long time. The fish catching power of this musky lure is a testament to its popularity. With a flexible and cupped tail, the lure creates a sputter and plop on the surface that drives musky crazy. Larry put in countless hours of research and development into the tail to create that perfect plopping sound and has been responsible for countless numbers of trophy musky. Available in eight eye-catching colors and three different sizes.
The Phantom Lures Viper is a walk the dog style topwater bait with a curly tail that seduces the wariest of musky by mimicking a fish swimming on the surface of the water. Each lure is hand painted, tuned and tested. With a high impact plastic resin body that has a very similar feel to the way a maple lure would function. Along with a plethora of color options, there are also holographic color patterns which produce massive amounts of flash and the lure also comes in two sizes a 6.5 inch and an 8 inch version. Tails are also replaceable in case it gets bitten off and Phantom lures offer replacement packs.
Best Jerkbaits for musky fishing
The thriller was first designed by Frank Suick 80 years ago. One day Frank was out fishing and observed a dying trout on the surface of the water, kicking down into the water and rising back to the surface. After observing this, Frank went home crafting a wood lure design to replicate this dying trout, and proceeded to go musky fishing on Pelican lake in northern Wisconsin. Catching a legal fish on the lure design every day for a whopping 30 days straight, the rest is history. To work the lure simply pull and pause, this causes the lure to dive and rise. Add in some snaps and rips and hang on! The Muskie Thriller comes in 7” 9” 10” and 12” versions along with a variety of patterns, and are available in wood or hi impact plastic versions.
Sebile is a well known name in fishing around the world and makes some of the best musky lures for salt and freshwater, and a lot of Sebile’s offerings cross over to making excellent musky lures, like the Stick Shadd. The Stick Shadd is a great musky lure for spring musky fishing in particular. Featuring a streamlined shape allowing for long casting, an erratic fish triggering action, and realistic color patterns. This lure will catch fish. The Sebile Stick Shadd comes in at 6½ “ and is built with highly durable plastic.
Swimbaits always look realistic in the water and the Savage Gear 4D Perch Shad resembles one of the musky’s favourite targets.
Where to find and catch musky
Musky are found predominantly in the northern Great lakes states region and can be found in their highest density in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota and Canada. Other states as far south as Tennessee and east to New York and as far west as Nebraska feature lakes with musky. Be sure to do your research. Not all lakes in the musky range have musky, so before departing on any trip be sure the bodies of water you want to fish have a population of musky! You can find this information on your state’s DNR websites or Canadian natural resources sources or on specialist muskie sites.
Lure fishing for musky: FAQs
What’s musky fishing like?
Musky fishing is definitely a one of a kind style of fishing. Known for chasing lures to the boat and eating the lures using the infamous “Figure 8” technique, and also known as the “fish of 10,000 casts” as that is the average amount of casts required for an average angler to catch one of these big fish.
These reasons are why musky anglers over the years have always been known as an “elite few” by the hardcore of the fishing world. Braving days of sun up to sun down grinding on the water, through sweltering heat and frigid freezing temperatures where ice freezes on beards and fishing lines alike, hurling massive musky lures weighing up to a pound, all the while judging their successes on the amount of fish sighted in the pursuit of catching a quality fish, over how many fish have been caught.
Musky fishing is not for the faint of heart, and this is why hardcore musky anglers have this image associated with them, and have been referred to as “Musky Hunters” over the years.
Along with the best musky lures, you need a fair dose of dedication, skill and good fortune.
What is the best time of day and best season to fish for musky?
Musky can be very active immediately after spawning in spring to recover energy lost from spawning, and can usually be found in shallow weedy bays or just adjacent to them in deeper water. At this time of the year smaller musky lures are usually the ticket. During the summer months you can usually find musky in a variety of places from weed edges, weedy drop offs, timber, or suspended deep in the middle of a lakes basin feeding off schools of suspended baitfish. Bucktails and soft plastic work great in the summer along with topwater.
In the fall months the general rule of thumb is the colder the water temperatures get, the slower you fish. And the later you progress in the fall the bigger your musky lures can get. Pull-pause baits like crankbaits, jerkbaits and giant soft plastic baits are the winners come fall.
Musky primarily feed early mornings and early evenings. But watch the times of majors and minors throughout the day as they can make a huge difference. Moonrise and moonset are just as powerful in terms of feeding activity as sunrise and sunset and can happen mid day. During any of these key periods be on your best spots, or spots that you saw fish and stay there for 30 minutes before and after. In addition to a great fish finder, having a great pair of polarized fishing sunglasses is a huge asset for musky fishing.
Night fishing on certain bodies of water can be amazing. Some lakes have a night bite, some don’t but if you’re fishing a deep clear lake, chances are the muskies may bite just fine after dark.
What is the best gear for musky fishing?
Due to the variation in the size of the musky lures, musky fishing gear is highly specialized to work best with a specific lure presentation. But we can still recommend a rod and reel setup that will help cover the widest range of musky lure types and be able to work them effectively. We would recommend a rod that’s 8’ long and has a fast action and a medium heavy to heavy power. To go with the rod we recommend a high capacity baitcaster like a Diawa Lexa 400 and a gear ratio of 5.1.1 or 6.3.1 if you want a slightly faster retrieve. Tie up your rod and reel with 80 to 100 pound high quality super braid like Sufix 832 and a leader like a stealth tackle 100 pound fluorocarbon leader.
Musky handling tips
With a fish as big as musky and armed with a mouthful of razor sharp teeth, you need to pay careful attention to handling them. For starters, please use a Boga Grip or equivalent fish gripper to spare your fingers and hands.
Secondly, try to hold the fish horizontally – holding a fish by the mouth can injure the fish and survival rates for large fish released are much higher when the angler has taken care to support the belly of the fish and hold them horizontally.
And finally, we’d recommend using a pair of protective gloves as sometimes you need two hands in there to free the lure – one with pliers or grips and the other protected by the gloves.
Where do musky hunt?
Musky, as an ambush predator, love some structure such as logs and trees, as well as underwater obstructions, to help conceal themselves and lie in waiting as their prey – or your lure – approaches. To have good success musky fishing you have to punch your lure in close to the structure and that takes good casting, particularly with the large musky lures you need for this species.
Does lure size matter for musky?
Yep! These are big fish and to sustain that size they need to eat large prey. Don’t bother chasing musky with small lures as you just won’t get the bites. On the contrary, it is often a case of the larger the lure the larger the fish.
Final thoughts on lure fishing for musky
Musky seem like a daunting fish to catch, and they are, but that’s the ethos the musky anglers take pride in. If it was easy everyone would be out doing it. To a hardcore musky angler it’s not all about the catch, it’s about the chase. Musky fishing is a rollercoaster of highs and lows. It can go from days of pounding the water to a froth without even seeing one, and leave you questioning why you’re even out on the water, to seeing 6 fish in a matter of an hour and catching a giant 4 footer. Persistence will always pay off – as well as using the best musky lures you can get.
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