I've never tried to claim an "expert" title in my fishing career. All that I know is that I have a huge passion for the sport and I've been lucky enough to do it a lot more than the average fisherman. With that said, I've been asked many times to explain in detail a little more about what works for me. This is just my opinion, you can take it or leave it.
For more reasons than I can fit on this page, I'll start with a bucktail. It's easily the best muskie lure ever invented and accounts for a large majority of the muskies in my boat each year. I'll just go ahead and jump to the obvious bucktail of choice. It's a Cowgirl. Since it's creation this lure has boated more 50 inch muskies than probably any lure on the market. It simply catches fish, and big ones at that.
There are several versions of this lure and all are worthy of a place in your tackle box. They are the Cowgirl, Cowgirl Jr, Siligirl, Showgirl and the Super Model. How, where and when to use these lures will determine your luck with them. I tend to use just the original Cowgirl, the Showgirl and the Super Model the most and here's why.
For confidence I throw the original. It can be fished slow, fast and anywhere in between. One of the biggest factors that determine how I use it is the fact that every angler on the water has 'em and throws 'em. If I am shallow I will try to burn it in. It hurts the arms, but moves tons of water and triggers a strike. If I'm fishing an outside weed edge or deep water, I'll consider the super fast retrieve or the super slow retrieve. If you watch almost any angler on the water, they are likely reeling the same middle ground speed at all times. Fish catch on to this consistency and can shy away from another bucktail cruising 3 feet below the surface. Burn 'em or slow roll 'em. I've given up on the in-between stuff. When I say slow, I mean so slow that it is painful to reel it in. Try to catch a weed with each cast, you just might hook a ski. Also, you'll want to make sure you have this baby with at night. It's a must.
Next on my list is the showgirl. This lil' fella has boated some monster fish for me in the past. I choose to use this lure when I want to work my upper arm muscles before a hot date. Just kidding on the date part, but serious about the upper body strength. If you can't burn it, you might as well leave it at home. The best reaction strikes you will ever witness can come from this lure. There is no such thing as too fast. Depending on the lake, I'll burn it over shallow sand, rock or weeds. There is something about the speed this lure kicks out that make the fish eat. I'll be honest here, the Showgirl is just one of a few bucktails that I use this technique on. The orignal mepps muskie killer is another great choice, or something similar. Despite popular belief, I've caught muskies all year long on this technique. The speed triggers the reaction strike and it's not always about their attitude. With that said, the warmer water does tend to trigger more fish and I'll catch more in August than June. If you can withstand the pain of screaming the lure in, odds are that you will get bit. You can't outrun a muskie.
The Super Model is quickly becoming another popular choice. If there is one bait that moves water and calls muskies to the dinner table, this just might be the best yet. The large profile seems to give muskies the dinner they want. In my opinion there is no such thing as too big. Like the original cowgirl, this can be fished fast or slow. I prefer to just creep this bait in, but sometimes it calls for a high-speed retrieve. Again, I choose one or the other, but seldom the mid-range stuff that others seem to throw. The best rule is to try both and let the fish tell you what they want. Every day can change, and sometimes it will change during the day. Night time is the right time for this one too. The noise and water displacement this bait puts out will give you a great chance to score after the lights go off.
While the Musky Mayhem series of bucktails are top choices, there are others that will consistently produce. I went old school last year and was blown away by the reaction the fish gave me. It seems that they forgot about some of the old tricks. It was worth noting that I didn't need two blades on my bait. Once again my top producer was slowly creeping the bucktail along the bottom. This may or not be a method you use already, but its worth trying. The key element to this technique will be your boatside maneuvers. I'd say 75% of my fish came on the figure '8' during this slow procedure. The lure creeping along the bottom followed by the dramatic straight up to the surface directional change almost forced the fish to eat. Once they commit they are yours. You'll either see a pointed nose under your bait, or an open mouth. It's a rare sight to get a musky vertical, but if you can pull it off, they almost always eat. I have to thank my fishing partner Mike Tengwall for teaching me this method and pounding it in my brain. "If it aint absolutely vertical when you bring it up to the surface, then you are reeling it too fast. Slow down, Travis," he'd say. I'll just say that he is right.
Of all the bucktails and their presentations, the most important aspect to putting it all together becomes your figure'8'. It's more important than almost anything you do. Regardless of how you retrieve your lure, you'll want to make sure you give the fish enough room to eat. Long, wide sweeping turns are best. Long rods help make this easier. I've fallen in love with a new 9 footer. As the bait approaches the boat, I'll start to make it dive. This diverts the fish's attention downward instead of staring straight at me and the boat. Once I get a muskie to commit on the turn, then I raise the lure in the water column on the turn. I'f the fish doesn't strike on the turn, then I'll bring it back down deep and raise it back near the surface for the next turn. I've found great success by changing speeds while doing this maneuver as well. The rise, fall, speed up, slow down and directional changes are all good triggers. Work on it all the time and make sure to do it every cast when fishing dark or lowlight periods. It can increase your catch by double or triple. Not only is it good to catch a few extra, it's an exciting moment when she eats under your feet.
I've been talking to a few of my muskie buddies lately and we've all agreed on the following. Trolling is the next big thing. These pressured fish have seen it all. They've been casted over and pounded in the head so many times that they will often move out into the middle of nowhere and abandon the ideal structure. That, and the abundance of forage that roam main lake basins are reason enough to start learning how to troll. There are many great options like crankbaits, swimbaits and more, but I still like to use the bucktails if possible. The best part about this technique is you have so much flexibility with speed and variations of it. Do not overlook a Cowgirl, Super Model or even Showgirl for any of your trolling runs. It's the newest thing and it's quickly takin fish by storm.
Lastly, to dispell another myth, bucktails work all year long. Spring, summer, fall and winter. My last muskie came late November last year and it was on a Cowgirl. The critics would have said my lure choice was no good. Luckily for me, the muskies don't always follow our rules.
So, now I hope you have a few ideas for your next bucktail outing. It's possible that you've read this before or used them yourself. If not, I hope you put them into the water and strike gold on your next trip. I think we'll talk topwater or rubber next time. Any suggestions? Until then, keep on chasing your dream!