Summertime musky fishing is often associated with periods of intense musky activity during morning and evening, and slower activity in the afternoon. During those slower periods, you’ll often have many muskies following lures, which will let you know where they live, and you can return to catch them in lower-light conditions. However, it’s important to recognize that many of those following muskies can be caught! Summertime usually produces more musky follows than any other time of year, so converting those follows into strikes can change your entire outlook on the day.
If you watch The Musky Hunter Television show closely, you can learn how to execute a proper figure 8 with a lure at boatside. Every year I meet many musky anglers, particularly beginners, who don’t believe it really works. For more experienced anglers who don’t catch muskies on figure 8s, I am willing to bet your figure 8s need some work. Figure 8s take focus. It all starts with a smooth transition from your retrieve into the figure 8. I typically make my first turn of the figure 8 to my right. So, as the lure approaches the boat, I actually swing my rod tip to the left, which initiates the first turn. It gets the musky into the figure 8 before it even realizes it. Next, make the first turn big and fast. Then move along the straight-away and make another turn. You typically only need 12-18 inches of line between the lure and the rod tip, and certainly a longer rod such as an 8’6” Shimano Compre or longer really helps to make big turns during the figure 8. Remember to figure 8 the lure and not the rod. This keeps the lure moving in the water. You don’t want to ruin the action. Keep the muskies' interest. Also, don’t be afraid to go deep or shallower with the figure 8 if the musky maintains interest and keeps following.
I try to remain calm and watch how the fish is responding during the figure 8, if the fish follows a fast turn quickly; I move the lure along in the straight path and go into the next turn. However, I use a slight hesitation move of the lure at the end of the turn. It’s not a pause or stop, but a hesitation or split-second hang. If you are fishing a Cowgirl, you’ll see the skirt flare for a second. Then move back into the straight portion of the figure 8. Quite often the hesitation move will result in a strike or the musky might snap and miss the lure. Repeat the hesitation on the next turn slowing down slightly and the musky is yours. Make sure your boat partner communicates everything the musky is doing. Sometimes from their position they can see the musky better, and a little coaching and encouragement always helps. Plus, if they see the musky eat the bait, it’s always good to yell, “He’s got it!”
Summer is also topwater time, and the effectiveness of the summer topwater bite often depends on the musky’s activity level and the local weather conditions. Warming trends for a couple days or a few hours, along with muskies using shallow weeds or rocks mean fishing topwater in the morning and evening is a must. Warm air temperatures and light winds are cues that a topwater may be the right choice. Prop style topwaters such as Topraiders are spectacular at this time.
There is nothing more exciting in musky fishing than seeing the wake of a big musky pushing water behind your lure as it is following a topwater. When that happens there are a few things you can do to trigger that follow into a strike. The technique I employ when a musky engages my prop-style topwater is what I call “cat and mouse.” When the musky is behind my lure, my first instinct is to increase my retrieve speed slightly to pull the lure away from the musky. Make the fish accelerate and chase the bait. When the musky catches up to the bait (they almost always do) now retrieve the lure for three or four cranks at your normal pace, and then accelerate the lure away from the musky and make the fish chase it down again. This game of cat and mouse where you use your retrieve speed to make the musky catch the bait often will increase the activity level of the fish. You’ll know it is working if you see the fish start to push more water; make snaky, side-to-side motions in the water; and/or start to open and close its mouth. Overall, the musky should appear to be moving faster than when it initially engaged the lure. If this is happening, be ready because the fish is most likely to strike the lure in one of the cat and mouse cycles; or, in the figure-8. Most often it seems the fish hits the lure as it slows down slightly or accelerates away. In either case, try to increase the musky's activity level during the retrieve.
Lots of muskies follow topwater lures into the figure 8 maneuver at boatside, and some can be caught. The one thing to consider is making sure you fully submerge the topwater during the figure 8. The tail(s) rotating under the water create a great bubble trail and movement of the lure that can certainly trigger strikes. I also, make it a point to make my topwater figure 8s a little faster than normal; particularly if I have a fish that is demonstrating increased activity after a few rounds of cat and mouse. The figure 8 is often THE point where you catch many muskies that follow topwater lures. If you have been able to increase the activity level of the fish as mentioned above, it is time to finish strong and convert them into striking with a well-executed figure 8.
Think about those tough days on the water with minimal follows, where it seems like there are no muskies in the lake. Where do you usually get a strike….at boatside. You have to remain focused and committed to the figure 8 on every cast as the one bite you most likely will get on those tough days is a figure 8 strike. On the days when the muskies are biting away from the boat, great boatside moves might double your catch. That’s why I believe practicing and focusing on the figure 8 is more important than learning any specific lure technique.
There are a few TV shows out there that excel at teaching beyond the show’s subject species. The Musky Hunter is one of them. The Figure Eight isn’t just a Musky Tactic. It can be the difference between nothing and a catch of a lifetime. All anglers should learn the Figure 8, be prepared!