When I think about it nowadays, I had what most musky hunters would consider an interesting childhood. I grew up on my family’s fishing resort located on northern Wisconsin’s Chippewa Flowage. Muskies and musky fishing were a part of daily life in this environment, and this likely gave me a head start to becoming a musky angler.
As a “resort kid,” I got to know several of the old-time musky guides who fished the Chip. When I look back on it, many of the guides were the gruff, rough-hewn outdoorsman type, but they generally seemed to have time to answer many of my questions. And as an curious kid, I’m sure it seemed like I had a million questions!
As I recall, I was about 12 years old when a couple of the guides, Tony Bralick and Bruce Tasker, returned from guiding a party who were staying at our resort. I happened to be hanging around the docks when they dropped their clients off and, of course, I took advantage of the opportunity to further my musky education.
The conversation worked around to bait choices. Tony and Bruce agreed that a good rule of thumb for the Chip was “one up, one down, one black.” They went on to explain that “one up” meant one angler threw a surface lure, while “one down” meant the other angler threw an subsurface lure, generally a bucktail. “One black” indicated that at least one of the lures, if not both, should be black.
For some reason, this rule of thumb stuck with me. During the last 30 plus years that I’ve guided on the Chip, I’ve always tried to be sure to have one of my clients start the day with a surface lure while the other client used a bucktail. And, of course. at least one of the lures was black.
This rule seemed to have served me well. Over the years, my clients and I have caught a lot of nice fish on the Chip. The practice of starting the day with a surface lure and a bucktail seemed to help us key in on the pattern for the day. Many times, we’d end up with both clients casting bucktails or both with surface lures, but it was the routine of starting with one of each that showed us which lure seemed most productive.
During last winter (which seemed to last about 10 months) I got to thinking about the “one up, one down, one black” rule. The rule had become a standard principle to me over the years. I began to wonder if the rule was actually that solid, or if I had skewed my perception to believe that it was. How could I prove to myself whether the rule was valid, or merely a “rural legend.”
While surfing the Internet, I found that some of the resorts on the Chip had their musky charts on-line. I decided to see if I could gather enough data from these charts to either prove or disprove the rule. The two largest and detailed charts were from Indian Trail Resort and Deerfoot Lodge. I hoped that these two charts would yield enough information to help me out.
The charts from these two resorts listed a total of 288 muskies, from 30 to 51 inches, for the months of June, July, August and September. That averages out to nearly 2 1/2 muskies per day for that period. That seemed to be more than sufficient for my purposes.
Since I was personally interested in larger muskies, I tallied up the number of fish 40 inches or longer. The total of 40-plus-inch fish from both charts was 93 for the 4-month period. Of the 93 muskies, 38 (41 percent) were caught on bucktails and 48 (52 percent) were caught on surface lures. Seven of the 40-plus-inch muskies (8 percent) were caught on “other” lures. The “other” category included fish taken on Suicks, Reef Hawgs, and even a nightcrawler.
Therefore, bucktails and surface baits accounted for a surprising 93 percent of the muskies 40 inches or longer on these two charts. This seems to validate the “one up, one down” portion of the rule.
Again, as I was interested in larger muskies, I decided to take it one step farther. I counted the number of muskies 45 inches or longer registered. The total of 45-plus-inch muskies from both charts was 40 for this period. Of these, 16 (40 percent) were caught on bucktails and 22 (55 percent) were caught on surface lures. Only 2 of the 45-plus-inch muskies were caught on lures other than bucktails and surface baits.
Bucktails and surface baits accounted for 95 percent of the muskies 45 inches and longer registered on these two charts! I was convinced that “one up, one down” rule was well-founded.
As further corroboration, I happened upon a listing of the largest fish from the Chip during the 1998 season. This list included eight muskies, from 50 to 54 1/2 inches caught during the June through September time period. Of those eight muskies, two were caught on a bucktail, 4 were caught on surface lures, and the other two fell to a Suick and a rubber worm. This was additional validation of the “one up, one down” rule.
Does this mean that all I carry in my tackle box are bucktails and surface baits when I’m fishing the Chip? No, I still find that jerkbaits can be effective when the muskies are ignoring other lure types. I would hate to head out for a day’s fishing without a few Suicks and Reef Hawgs. However, I will admit that the majority of my fishing time on the Chip is spent throwing bucktails and surface lures. It’s a system that has worked for me for a lot of years, and it has statistical documentation.
As to the “one black” portion of the rule, I’m still not sure it can be proven The charts which furnished most of the data do not include lure color. While I’d never say that black isn’t a prime color for both bucktail and surface lures, I have been using a lot of other colors the last several years.
While this data was geared to the Chippewa Flowage, I’m fairly certain that the “one up, one down” rule will apply to other reservoirs similar to the Chip. I am also certain that these results can be replicated for any water. As long as you can find catch data for that water, you should be able to put together a presentation pattern that will help you boat more muskies. You should be able to correlate certain seasonal periods with lure types that are most effective for those periods.
Then you’ll be able to originate your own rule of thumb. But I bet it won’t sound as cool as “one up, one down, one black”!
MUSKIES 40 INCHES OR LONGER
BUCKTAILS 38 41%
SURFACE 48 52%
OTHER 7 8%
MUSKIES 45 INCHES OR LONGER
BUCKTAILS 16 40%
SURFACE 22 55%
OTHER 2 5%
Field Editor Dave Dorazio guides in the Hayward, Wisconsin, region. You can reach him at (715) 462-3885