Joe Bucher: Provoking Muskie Strikes On the Figure-8
Joe Bucher, Evinrude Pro Team
The figure-8 technique is certainly nothing new in the muskie world, yet few anglers have truly mastered this incredible technique. When done correctly, it can be super deadly. In fact, at times it seems like every muskie in a lake wants to follow the lure and strike at boat-side. However, some muskie anglers are far better at this technique than others, and they are able to take full advantage of this weird behavioral trait that muskies have for following lures to the boat. Let’s take a closer look at what it takes to score on the figure-8.
First off, the long rod is far superior for the actual figure-8 technique. I was a real big fan off a 7½-footer for a number of years. While this is still considered a “long rod,” most experienced muskie hunters today are going with an eight-footer. I too am one of those converts. In fact, my favorite rod is now a medium-heavy 8 ½-footer made by St. Croix called “The Long Ranger.” In the simplest of terms, a longer rod allows you to execute a bigger and deeper overall figure-8 pattern.
Basic geometry comes into play here. Obviously, lunker muskies are long. Therefore, they need more room to turn. Short rods, in the 5½- to 6½-foot range, naturally create a shorter overall figure-8 pattern. This results in a tighter radius, which is often difficult for larger muskies to follow. The longer rod increases the entire size of the figure-8 substantially, including widening the turns. Collectively, it becomes far easier for a large muskie to follow the lure throughout the entire process. The end result is a presentation that allows the muskie a better overall chance to strike the bait.
The long rod is also far superior after the fish hits. Short rods are generally stiffer and less forgiving. You are much more likely to over-pressure a big fish on a short line with a 6- to 6½-foot traditional heavy-power muskie stick than you are with a longer rod. This additional length helps to keep a very even pressure on the fish at all times so it can’t break the line or shake the hook loose. This even pressure also prevents tearing in the fish’s mouth which results from excessive pressure during battle.
Finally, the long rod keeps better overall control of the fish throughout the fight. You can steer a big one away from the motor or away from anything else that might create a potential problem. The long rod also enables you to keep a thrashing muskie down in the water better. Anytime you can force a big fish to thrash under water – as opposed to above the surface – you are more likely to land that lunker. Keep ‘em down and you’ll land a much higher percentage of ‘em.
The actual technique of figure-8ing starts with a good transition from retrieve into the actual figure-8. An aggressive following muskie is usually locked-on to your lure and the movement. If that lure movement is suddenly interrupted or stopped, the fish is likely to lose that intensity and bolt off. However, a steady, uninterrupted movement transitioning into a big figure-8 is more likely to keep the fish locked-on as it continues to follow the lure through the figure-8 pattern.
If you’ve successfully kept the fish’s interest into the actual figure-8, the next step of the process begins. Put all your effort into making it as easy as possible for the fish to follow, overtake, and eat your lure. Use every bit of the rod length to create a large figure-8 with wide, round turns. Don’t do anything abrupt. Make it easy for the fish to take the lure. However, keep a close eye on lure speed. A big drop in speed might decrease the fish’s desire to chase. If anything, speed it up a bit. Especially when pulling the lure into the turn of “the 8.” I’ve often referred to this on my TV show as “Power Up – Back Off.” I power up the speed in the turn and back off slightly on the straight-away.
Also, try to actually read the mood of the individual fish as you go through the figure-8 process. If you are observant, you will see what the fish likes the most. It might be a sudden burst of speed. Sometimes plunging your rod tip deeper in the water creates more desire from the fish.
By the way – speaking of rod tips in the water – generally a rod tip in the water with a deeper “8” is more effective than a shallow “8.” Novice anglers are often shy about dipping that rod tip into the water on “the 8,” but I can assure you this does not spook a muskie. In fact, I think it might even excite them more. My theory here is the fish simply looks at the rod tip as a stick, a weed or something else that is non-threatening. When a muskie is hot on your bait, it doesn’t seem to even be aware of the rod tip in front of the lure. It is so locked-in on the bait that nothing else matters.
A final trick I’ve employed recently is to pull extra hard and deep on the figure-8 turns, and then lift the lure up shallower as it goes into the “straight away” while looking for the following muskie. If I see the fish closing on the lure, I immediately back off on the speed just a tad so the muskie literally overtakes it. More often than not, the big fish will suddenly open its mouth and engulf the lure when you do this.
The figure-8 is one of the most unique techniques in all of sport angling. Once you master it, you will catch a lot more muskies and enjoy a level of success in the sport of muskie fishing that few experience.
Take the time to master the art of the figure-8, and you’ll soon discover it is one deadly way to trigger strikes from big toothy fish.
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