The Mystery of Musky Shows, A Beginners Dilemma

By: Pete Stoltman
Pictured are Ted Phelps and Matt Karis seeking the magical Muskie lure

While working at the various musky shows that have sprung up around the country I enjoy the opportunity to field questions from new musky fishermen. These shows are a great way to view new products, learn from the pros, and just soak up the vibes of the exciting world of musky fishing. Without a doubt the most common reaction I see from newcomers is a sense of being overwhelmed at the quantity and variety of products available to us. Veteran anglers are delighted to see new baits in multitudes of colors but this can create great confusion to a novice. Many ask “how do I know which one to buy?” We all look for that magic bait that is going to bring the next fish to the boat and maybe the fish of our dreams. At a recent expo, I was presented with just such a challenge from a young man. His questions made me carefully consider just what is necessary for a new angler to successfully catch muskies.


This young man is a friend of my son and came to me with a bewildered look on his face. He told me he was just getting into musky fishing and had already purchased a good quality rod, reel, and line. He had been walking around the musky show and said that with so many baits available he didn’t know what to buy and asked for my help. I readily agreed and asked what his budget was. He told me that he could afford to spend about $100.00 that day. He had not purchased any baits yet and put me in charge of picking out some things that he could use during the upcoming year


Given the dollar figure he had in mind I decided to keep things simple and get him started with baits that are proven producers and would work in a variety of conditions. We managed to get him outfitted and even kept within the budget. Here are some of the choices we made and the factors that determined the decisions.


The first thing we looked for was a good shallow running crankbait. I explained that a crankbait in the 6”-8” size can be used with a variety of techniques. Shallow runners can be straight cranked, twitched over weed tops, trolled, and may be one of the more versatile lures available. After looking at a number of products we settled on a 7” plastic shallow runner in a perch pattern. Baits such as Grandmas, Jakes, and Shallow Raiders all fit this bill and his choice was a 7” Jake.


Since we had a choice for a shallow runner made, I suggested we take a look at some baits that would run deeper. I want him to have something that will get down to those fish that hang near edges of structures wether fishing rocks or weed edges. He would also be able to use a deep runner in open water situations to locate suspended fish. To mix things up a bit, firetiger seemed like a good choice for color and he planned to fish a good amount of stained water lakes so that sealed the deal. Again I looked for durability and since he had no prior experience I wanted a product that I could be reasonably certain would run true right out of the box. We looked through displays of Ernies, Depth Raiders, Cisco Kids, Bagleys, and others. A straight model, firetiger, Depthraider went into the shopping bag.


There’s no question that the thrill of a musky hitting a topwater bait is one of the most exciting experiences in the world of freshwater fishing but surface baits can be a real source of confusion. There are so many different styles of lures with propellers, spinners, tails, and all manner of other gizmos. I find that the success an angler has with surface baits is directly related to his ability to work the bait effectively and stay focused on the location and progress of the bait as it moves back to the boat. We decided that since he was already an accomplished bass fisherman and really enjoys topwater fishing that we would think about buying two baits of this style. One of our choices would be prop style bait and after looking at racks of Tally-Wackers, Pacemakers, Lac Seul Turbos, and others we settled in on a Top Raider in the blackbird color pattern. Black and the many combinations of black with other colors has long been a proven winner. For his second choice we wanted to explore a bait that would offer some different action. This left a lot of options open and we discussed the merits of things like creeper style baits, walk the dog baits, flap-tails, and the endless variations of globe and front spinner styles. He liked the idea of the walk the dog baits and had some experience with this style from bass fishing. Our choice was a perch colored Giant Jackpot.



Pete’s Musky Mauler

I have to admit that I am an avid bucktail fisherman so limiting my choices on these was a tough decision. After giving some thought to the situation I decided that I would direct him to two bucktails knowing that in the future he could easily add to his collection as his budget permitted. Fortunately bucktails are relatively inexpensive. There are multitudes of good bucktail makers available but again I wanted to make sure he would get one that would work well out of the box and allow some versatility. Among the tails I directed him to look at were Ghosttails, Mepps, Buchertails, Cat-Tails, and Voo-Doo Tails. We discussed the differences in blade styles and color combinations as well as different material choices and construction. For starters he bought a Mepps Musky Marabou with a black tail and orange blade. The marabou feathers create an enticing pulse as the bait is retrieved. His second choice was a Voo-Doo Tail with a black tail and bright nickel blade. This is another time tested combination that works well under many conditions.


We still had a few dollars left to spend and a jerkbait of one type or another seemed to be the only major hole in our plan so far. Now we had to decide if he should go with a side to side glider bait or a chop bait. Gliders do exactly what the name implies and will stay relatively stable in the water column while gliding back and forth from one side to another. The chop baits on the other hand will surge downward into the water as they are pulled and then back up as slack line is created mimicking a chopping motion as they come back to the caster. As we browsed the seemingly endless supplies of Reef Hawgs, Mantas, Smittys, Bobbies, and Suicks the discussion turned to the technique used to operate the lures. My young friend had heard stories of the legendary Suick Musky Thriller and had a great interest in the bait. Every musky fisherman seems to have at least one of these baits in their box so why not start out with a classic and learn how to use it? We both got excited by some of the custom colors available from different painters and ended up choosing a 9” weighted Suick with a wild, custom perch pattern.


With a little careful shopping and taking advantage of show specials we managed to purchase this selection of baits at just under his intended target of one hundred dollars. I think we were able to cover some very good basics and put him in a position to be able to go to a lake anywhere and have a reasonable shot at catching fish with one or more of these baits. We could have easily substituted other brands of baits than our final purchase decisions but all of the lures chosen were well made, sturdy producers that should provide him with years of service. I also took care to choose products that are known for consistent quality and other than the one custom painted bait stuck to fairly standard color patterns. The process of explaining the various lure styles and the range of water that they cover helped to de-mystify the abundance of baits at the show. In the subsequent months he has added spinnerbaits and plastics as well as a glider style bait to his collection. He has also been able to spend enough time with each of his initial choices to feel reasonably comfortable with the characteristics and operation of each of those baits. Putting a couple fish in the boat bolstered his confidence level and he now feels ready to expand his selection of musky baits.


Shopping at sport shows is a lot of fun and it will wet your appetite for the upcoming season. Asking for help from the knowledgeable staff members of a vendor will reward you by focusing your needs. Sales people at the musky shows are fishermen too and will be happy to work with you to help take the frustration out of lure selection. You will most likely pick up some valuable tips and information to make your introduction to musky fishing successful. 

Pete Stoltman is a lifelong avid fisherman residing in St Germain Wisconsin. Pete guides the waters of Vilas and Oneida Counties for Muskies,Bass providing the very best professional and courteous service. Pete welcomes beginners, youth, family, and disabled anglers for a on the water educational fishing experience. To learn more about Pete or to book a fishing adventure please visit LastCastGuide Service.Com




Pete Stoltman

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