Expert Muskie Fishing Tips
New Jersey Freshwater Fishing
Did you know there are world-class muskies in waters close to home without leaving the Garden State?
Choose a medium-heavy rod such as a 7- to 9-foot with moderate-fast action outfitted with a high-quality casting reel with superior drag and a thumb bar release such as the Shimano Calcutta or Daiwa Luna with brass gears. Braided line in 65- to 100-pound test with a single-strand wire or fluorocarbon leader in 80- to 100-pound test will allow any angler to get even the biggest musky into the net quickly. This outfit will be able to throw 8-10 inch lures. Jerk-baits and bucktails that weigh well over three ounces are not uncommon and these lures can be expensive, so the right gear is not only important for the safety of the fish but will help to protect your investment in lures as well.
Much of an angler’s muskie fishing time is spent abandoning what is not working and moving on from unproductive water. Lures are far more effective at covering water and locating actively feeding fish than live bait, and are preferred if you plan to release your catch. Fast-moving, large inline spinners known as bucktails and jerk-baits are effective along weed edges or transition areas when conditions are best. Top water lures can often raise a fish when nothing else seems to be working. Mix it up with lures, but cover water until you find fish. Move fast with your approach and your lures.
Anglers know there are literally thousands of available lures; there is no single “magic” combination to guarantee success. For those just starting out who are stumped on where to begin, try either a bucktail like the black Blue Fox tandem Musky Buck (size 6 or 5), or a jerk-bait like the all black Suick, floating version. I prefer to counterweight the Suick with bell sinkers on the hooks to keep it down in the water just a bit.
It is imperative to own key tools such as high-leverage bolt or hook cutters, needle-nosed pliers, a jaw spreader (muskie-sized) with lanyard and clip, gloves (tooth-proof), bump board and/or floating ruler and a muskie-sized pen net.
Muskies are notorious for being inquisitive and will follow your lure to the bank or boat. They are the cat—you are the mouse. Most times, to get a fish on the hook, you need to do a boat side maneuver to make them strike.
The best, by far, is to employ the figure 8 as an extension of your retrieve. While reeling in the lure, as it gets close—even when you cannot see a fish following—speed up the retrieve. Don’t slow the retrieve when executing the figure 8. Put your rod tip into the water and make wide, sweeping figure 8 motions with about two feet of line out. Wide turns are key to successful figure eights. It is hard for a 48-inch muskie to follow your bait if the arc of your turns is only 30 inches.
If a muskie is following boat side and is right behind the lure, in-and-out of every turn and speed up your figure 8. Conversely, if a following muskie is lethargic and seems uninterested, slow down your figure 8 to make the lure an easier target. Every cast, no matter what lure used, ends with a proper figure 8.
When/Where to Muskie Fish
The best times to muskie fish in New Jersey are spring and fall for optimal water temperatures and peak muskie activity. Stable weather in spring can ratchet up their feeding, with June being the pinnacle. With muskie fishing, the time of day is important. During the warmer months, the best times to be on the water are low-light periods around sunrise and sunset.
Look for emerging weeds, shallow bays and bottom transition areas that offer cover for the entire food chain. Muskies are often caught around docks and rock piles use as their ambush points. Whether a weed edge, edge of dock pilings or the leading edge of a weather system, the key to success is the angler’s ability to locate and work an edge, combining as many edges as possible to increase your odds of eliciting a strike.
Early summer is okay to fish for muskies, but once the water temperature rises above 80°F, the fish seem nearly dormant and suffer from summer stress. Once evenings begin to cool, September through October can bring some consistent and productive fishing. Seek out large main lake points, rock piles and bars near deep water at this time of year. Musky activity can be at its peak during the warmest part of the day in the colder months, so be on the water in the latter half of the day. Naturally, weather is another fish activity factor. Often the lousy-looking, rainy, pre-frontal days are when muskies are shallowest and most active. Be on the water before the weather changes.
When the air cools in autumn, muskies increase activity and can provide some of the season’s best fishing. Speed can be a trigger to entice a muskie, but following the first cold days and nights when frost begins to appear, fishing tactics need to slow way down as water temperatures drop. As the fish’s metabolism slows, so will the distance they cover and speed they will move to chase your lure. Slow your lure presentation accordingly. Once the waters are in the 50-degree range, carefully assess the area you are working, concentrating on structure adjacent to deep water. Here you will encounter the biggest fish. Choose lures that hang “in the strike zone;” be sure to incorporate a pause in your retrieve.
When you catch a musky, it is best to keep the fish in the water. As with any fish, wet your hands before handling to prevent damage to the protective slime layer. Handle the fish as little, and as quickly, as possible. Large pen nets (like the Beckman Musky Pen) are helpful and cause less stress to your trophy catch. In one quick motion, lift the musky with one hand with its body supported by the other. Take your photo and return the fish to the water horizontally, holding the fish in a normal, upright position while grasping it around the base of the tail. Move the muskie forward in an “S” or figure-8 pattern so that water flows over the gills only from front to back. Use a floating ruler to measure fish that are of average size; a plastic bump board is best for muskies of trophy size. As with your hands, wet the bump board to protect the fish’s slime coating while measuring.
This collection of tips will strengthen your confidence for pursuing New Jersey muskies. Hope to see you on the water!