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Using real bait or live bait for muskie can produce some fantastic results. Muskie, like most other sport fish, can be opportunistic feeders. Their primary food source is other fish, in particular, struggling or injured fish or any fish that appears to be easier to catch then most. You'll find that a properly rigged sucker dropped at the right depth, at the right time can land you a big ol' monster. However, when taking on this new live bait muskie technique - there are a number of points to cover.

The first point is to use the right bait

While I am sure that there are muskie fishermen who use other live bait such as frogs or panfish, by far the most common live bait used is the sucker. If you've read other information on this website referencing the muskies food source you'll remember that the primary feeding source for muskie are other fish - but specifically the soft flesh, soft fin variety. The sucker fits this description perfectly and muskie find them irresistible. Another added benefit of using suckers is their toughness. While trying not to sound too barbaric, the simple truth is there aren't many varieties of feeder fish that can stand up to the jabs, barbs, and hooks us muskie fishermen put into these suckers. Not to mention the 2 or 3Gs these suckers endure when being cast or the total lack of oxygen in a white bait bucket. The sucker is the perfect muskie live bait.

When selecting your suckers from the store - its best to try and spot a few ideal candidates. The ideal muskie suckers will have the following:

  • Larger then most:
    Muskies like their bait big. This doesn't mean you need a 20 incher on your line - but if you can find them between 10" and 16" you'll be doing good. Additionally, this makes the sucker easier to handle when setting your rig up. While most live bait muskie fishing is done later in the year, their are the spring time muskie fishermen who use live bait. They claim that if there is a time to use smaller suckers this would be it. Muskie aren't as aggressive at this time as they are coming of the spawn. They aren't always looking for the largest meal, they are just looking for an easy meal, or so the theory goes. However, if you're like most muskie fishermen, and you're tackling this technique in the fall, bigger is better.

  • Healthy muskie suckers:
    It just makes sense. As we mentioned previously, we're putting this bait through some rough times and the healthier the fish is - the better it will hold up. There's nothing worse then soaking a sucker for an hour only to realize it had died 10 mins after we dropped it and has been floating belly up the rest of the time. There aren't too many muskie who are going to find that appetizing. Try to find suckers with good activity, swimming correctly, and with clean eyes. The more that sucker tries to flee from your hand, the more its going to try to flee from that muskie - and that just makes it all the more convincing.

The second point to live bait muskie fishing is the location.

Now that we've got these great big, healthy suckers, where should we drop them? Obviously, if you're trolling the waters you're covering a number of fishing areas and this isn't your section, but the piece of advice I will give you is to maintain a speed of less then 1.5 mph. You'll still want that sucker to "appear" as though it's swimming by itself and not being pulled by a line. For those of you looking to drop or jig the sucker, there are a few options. Much of this is covered in other areas of the website related to finding the muskie, using live or articifical bait, the same theory here holds true. Depending on the season, the weather, and the time of day you'll more then likely be in shallower 8-12 ft of water off structure or weediness, or you'll be out deeper.

For those of you closer in, fishing the structure or weeds, you'll want to use a float or bobber. Make sure you've got the right one on and that the depth is set correctly. Then drop it in the right spot. The right spot in this case is right there on the edge. You may have luck trying to drop into the middle of thick stuff - but good luck if you've got a muskie on the line. The best bet is to find the edge and keep it close. Hunting muskie like to bury themselves right inside the edge of structure and weed beds. They'll see your sucker if you keep it floating near that line. Remember, muskie in this situation are ambush predators, they keep themselves hidden away, but within sight and striking distance of anything swimming by.

For those of you targeting the deeper, open water muskie. The best advice we can give is to find the schools of feeder fish and drop it right in the middle or right on the edge. If you can find this - you're sucker will be the best looking meal in sight to those muskie. You're best friend here is the fish finder. It will help to locate the feeder schools and better yet, it will tell you what depth they're at. Drop you sucker in line and make believe it's just one of the other fish - only the injured, susceptible one, and any muskie looking to eat will look at your sucker first.

The third point to live bait muskie fishing is the sucker rig itself.

muskie live bait quick strike rig

For many years live bait muskie fishermen had one strategy when sucker fishing. Once that muskie bites, sit back and drink a beer, have a cigarette, or take a little nap. The objective was to wait for that muskie to swallow the sucker. Only once the muskie had the sucker in its gut did you want to set the hook. That worked of course but perhaps too well. While it makes an incredibly sure hook, it also usually kills the fish. There aren't many muskie who can recover from being gut hooked. Many of the muskie would die while in the boat, others would swim off only to die an hour later. In today's muskie fishing atmosphere where we have more and more muskie anglers, it's mush more common, acceptable, and responsible to use the quick strike rigs. A quick strike rig allows the muskie angler to set the hook the minute a muskie starts swimming away with the sucker - as soon as the muskie "mouths" the bait.

There are generally two quick strike rigging options. The first option uses a nose or lip hook with one or two treble "stinger" hooks located further back on the sucker. This option generally works best when towing a sucker - of if you'll be keeping forward motion on the sucker. The second option is the rubber-band style rig. This gives the sucker better appearance and health. It also gives a little greater muskie hooking percentage as all hooks are exposed when the muskie bites.

Whichever option you choose, the key is the quick strike made by the angler when a muskie takes the bait. For this to work properly you'll need to make sure all the hooks, whether set inside the sucker or with a rubber-band, break free and into the mouth of the muskie when you set the line. This will give you the best chance to hook the fish. Of course, one of the final important keys to being successful is to make sure your line is of adequate strength. Use a quality, braided, low stretch option in the 80lb or higher range to give yourself the best chance. Also a strong 7 to 8' rod while give you proper leverage and strength when setting the hook.

Many muskie anglers will opt to tie their own quick strike rigs after messing long enough with the store bought options. The main thing to keep in mind here is the ability for your hooks to break free from the sucker on line set and into the muskies mouth.

Whichever way you go - protect our muskie fishing waters and do your best to catch a releasable fish at the end this gives us all a chance to catch the one you caught later on and keeps the muskie population strong. Remember, it can take 10 years to replace one trophy muskie in our waters.