Fall Musky Trolling: Three Tiny Rigging Tips for Big Fish

Fall Musky Trolling: Three Tiny Rigging Tips for Big Fish

Fall Musky Trolling: Three Tiny Rigging Tips for Big Fish

by November 20, 2013

Fall rolling Rigging Tips-header

There’s still some season left for dragging both structure and open water for muskie. Like with any other type of fishing, the difference always seems to be in the details. Here are, in my opinion, five important realities fall trollers face every time they launch:


  1. Shorter days to fish; muskie are well-fed, and operating in ‘low gear,’ metabolically
  2. Fishing methods and weather conditions tax your rigging and gear
  3. Winds and freezing temperatures don’t make ‘running and gunning’ safe or practical
  4. Condensed periods of fish activity
  5. Potential to release fish at their maximum mass of the season


Considering all this, burying your chances becomes so, so important. You’re  typically covering less water overall, beating specific spots over and over and waiting for a window to pop open. The fish are big, opportunities are fewer and further between, and pulling large lures around tough structures in cold temperatures strains every nut, bolt, knot, crimp or hook in your set-up. Here are three little wrinkles that’ll hopefully help you put a good one in the net this fall.


1 – “T” Your Hooks Properly:

Large-bodied lures carry lots of mass and surface area. Giving your hook points extra separation from the lure’s body helps them ‘reach out’ and nab fish. I typically only T the first two hooks, as they’re closest to the widest parts of the lure. The tail hook doesn’t need to be modified. Hang your lure straight down, from the nose or lip, and watch how the hooks lie against the belly. Spread each side prong down and away from the lure’s body. I like to take things a bit further and actually bend the points downward and open up the hook gap a few degrees. Use heavy Vice Grips to tightly clamp the treble’s main shaft and lineman’s pliers for the bending. I’ll also stagger my hooks, from the nose of the lure towards the tail. On most 13″ to 15″ lures, I’ll put a 10/0 under the chin, a 9/0 in the middle, and a 7/0 or 8/0 off the tail. Muskie will hit prey head-first, and that front half of the bait is where you want maximum hooking power. A smaller hook off the tail can sometimes add better ‘tail whip’ to a trolled lure, being that it’s lighter.


hooks 2nd version

Notice that even with a 10/0 treble, two-thirds of the available hook points lay tightly against the lure’s body. After the “T” procedure, those prongs are bent down and away, and in much better position to find their mark. This also helps save wear on tear on your lures from hook rub.

2 – Run a Long Leader:

For large fish on expensive lures around sunken chunks of the Canadian Shield, I like solid wire leaders from 175 to 200lb test. Other fishermen prefer fluorocarbon. Whichever you troll with, make your leaders sturdy, and at least five feet in length. The last several feet of line and leader ahead of your bait is constantly rubbing and smashing off rocks. Half an hour of trolling will easily wear through 80 to 150-lb braided line. Best case scenario? You lose your $40-$200 trolling bait to a snag. Worst case? You lose that same lure attached to a fish. The extended leader acts as a buffer, keeping your mainline strong. It also helps keep your mainline away from teeth, hooks, steel lips and other objects that can damage braid during a fight. The more bottom contact you make (and this time of year, expect to make lots) the longer and tougher your leader needs to be. Learn how to crimp correctly (probably 50% of fishermen crimp their braided wire or fluorocarbon wrong) and use high-end parts across the board. For me, twisted loops in solid wire are the strongest connections possible. I have leaders with years of trolling on them. There’s no reason at all to think that they’ll fail anywhere, or anytime soon.


Solid wire leader-520

Five to six-foot, solid wire leaders are basically fail-proof. Use good snaps and swivels, and you’ll not only land big fish fast, but recover snagged trolling baits, too.”


3 – Add a Tail Gunner:

The first time I saw this used was more than fifteen years ago, on the famous Wishmaster trolling baits. Rolf would carve these gorgeous, cedar monsters, and add a pair of tiny, no1 or no2 spinner blades to the rear hook’s splitring. Those lures hammered and rumbled, sending out all kinds of thump and vibration all on their own. The tiny blades are probably like blowing a harmonica beside a jet engine. But they do add a touch of extra, metallic flash and clinking sound. I add one or two to the tails on most of my trolling baits for the same reasons. Nothing reflects light like smooth metal, and they do add extra sound, particularly with wood or solid plastic baits that don’t contain rattles. It’s a little detail that won’t hurt your lure’s action and costs basically nothing to try. Next time you’re untangling a wad of big baits in the boat, you’ll probably notice the extra pinging and clanging a few baby blades actually make. I’d think that hanging off the lure’s tail, they might make it look a bit bigger, too.


Musky blade accents-520

Get creative with blade accents on your trolling baits. Experiment with blade shape, size and colour. Adding two blades with their convex sides facing each other adds more sound. A willow-style rigged on a tiny swivel can add extra flash. Both painted and metallic blades have worked for me.”


This time of year, the nights are long. There’s lots of time off the water to check, prep and modify your gear before or after a day of trolling. Across the board, whether it’s hooks, split rings or leader parts, set yourself up with hard fishing and heavy muskie in mind. Always err on the heavier/more durable side, and put yourself in the best possible position to get fish attracted, hooked and safely into the net and released. Let’s hope the ice stays out of the ramps for a few more weeks and the highways stay snow-free. There’s a monster out there with your name on it!


JPBushey-ProfilePicAbout JP Bushey

JP Bushey is a multi-species, multi-season fisherman living in Barrie, Ontario. North-Central Ontario’s ‘big water’ is where he spends most of his time, from his home waters of Georgian Bay to The Great Lakes, Lake Nipissing and The French River. JP’s been a freelance fishing contributor for over fifteen years, and enjoys helping people to improve their fishing through his articles, speaking engagements and on-the-water instruction.

Check out JP’s Facebook pageYouTube channel




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