A Frabill Flicker Shad. / Submitted by Joel DeBoer
Webster’s Dictionary defines ‘jungle’ as, “A tract overgrown with thickets or masses of vegetation.” In addition, an alternate definition states, “A place of ruthless struggle for survival.” When it comes to the aquatic environment and the ‘jungle’ commonly found in lakes and reservoirs during the scorching months of summer, I couldn’t agree more – overgrown with thickets or masses of vegetation AND a place of ruthless struggle?! Sounds like musky country to me!
I first cut my teeth on slop fishing for muskies back in my early teens. I had spent my childhood wanting to grow up to become a professional bass fisherman, at least until I caught my first musky (that’s a story for another time). As a Junior High student, my friends and I would venture forth almost daily during the heat of summer break in my leaky 14’ aluminum boat to explore the local fishing grounds.
One of our favorite pastimes was fishing weedless topwater lures in the thick weeds, and it didn’t take long to realize that there was a lot more than bass roaming under the dense mats of vegetation. The massive heart-stopping explosions of water littered with duckweed, bits of lily pads, and coontail followed by a limp lure-less fishing line meant one thing – these critters had teeth and were big! Thus began my love affair for fishing summertime muskies in the thick stuff.
Slop will hold muskies wherever and whenever it is present for a variety of reasons. First, slop offers shade and subsequent cooler water temperatures. Thick dense vegetation also offers excellent hunting grounds for an ambush predator such as the musky. In addition, thick weeds typically provide a reprieve from heavy boating and angling pressure, a fact that trophy bass and muskies alike tend to take advantage of.
Fishing slop requires stout tackle as upon setting the hook the fish needs to be muscled from the vegetation as quickly as possible. While this can be difficult with a fish in the mid thirty inch range, it becomes exponentially more challenging with a thirty-pound class fish or larger. Long rods in the 8-foot 6-inch to 9-foot range with an H to XH action such as St. Croix’s Sling Blade, Big Dawg, and Big Nasty Legend Tournament musky rods are perfect for this style of fishing. The added length lends to extra power and leverage on the hookset and when fighting fish; in addition, the added distance from butt to tip aids in steering baits through pockets and lanes.
When probing the jungle for toothy monsters I prefer a heavy braided fishing line, with my personal preference being 130 lbs. Sufix Performance Braid. This line has a diameter equivalent to 40 lbs. monofilament and therefore can handle the stress and strain of slicing through reeds, weeds and even light wood without fraying and thus costing me a trophy fish all the while providing me with rock hard hook sets. Reel options for this style of fishing, such as the Abu Garcia Revo, need to offer high quality construction and have ample cranking power for winching the stoutest of muskies from the slop.
Once properly outfitted, lure selection is a relatively simple process. A general rule of thumb when fishing for muskies in heavy cover is to use as large of an offering as you can. The reasoning is simple, you want your lure to get noticed and you want to provide as big of a target as possible for fish to track and ultimately successfully strike. For starters, begin with the Renegade Bullfrog from Phantom Lures, a bait of similar style and shape to the old Heddon Moss Boss except its on steroids. Featuring a single 9/0 hook and billowing silicon skirt, the Renegade Bullfrog can be worked in a pumping motion or straight retrieve over the thickest mats of vegetation without even the slightest hang up.
In keeping with the topwater category, the Super Top Prop from Mister Twister is another viable and productive option for fishing in the thickets harboring giant summertime muskies. The key to making the Super Top Prop 100% weedless is to replace the tandem bucktail trailer, made easy by the incorporation of a split ring between the trailer and rotating head piece, and replacing the trailer with a 6/0-11/0 Mustad Swimbait hook (depending on the size of the trailer you plan on using). One of the best all around plastic trailers I have found for this application is a Mister Twister Sassy Shad in either the 6-inch or 9-inch size. As with fishing the Sassy Shad as a swimbait, I rig the lure so it rides on its side and thus provides maximum silhouette for predators lurking below.
Topwater lures are not the only option when fishing slop. One of my all-time favorite slop baits for muskies is actually a jerkbait. Musky Mania Tackle’s Squirrely Burt is an ultra buoyant 10-inch lure that can be manipulated through twitches and pulls of the rod tip to dance, snake, and crawl through just about sort of matted vegetation imaginable; the best part, the muskies absolutely can’t resist the wiggle and throb of the rubber tail! The fact that the bait has rattles provides muskies additional help with locating the lure as they prepare to strike.
In situations where lanes and alleys present themselves or there is enough water to actually fish over the tops of the weeds, large profile and heavy vibration producing baits such as double-ten bucktails truly come into their own. At 9-inch long and sporting twin double-ten Indiana blades along with two 7/0 VMC cone cut hooks, the Mepps H210 bucktail is the perfect choice. Not only does the split ring assembly allow anglers to mix and match blades and tails, but adds extra swing to the lure with pumps of the reel handle.
No article about musky opener would be complete without the mention of tools necessary for the safe unhooking and release of these magnificent specimens. A quality hook cutters, long needle-nosed pliers, and jaw spreaders are all “must haves” in the boat. Fish release gloves such as those produced by Musky Armor protect not only anglers’ hands from teeth and gill rakers, but also help alleviate removal of the slime coat on the fish.
Lastly, anglers looking to fish for muskies must have a large landing net, ideally with a coated bag; while my Frabill Big Kahuna is indeed a whopper of a net, as I have mentioned many times before, it is a tool that I wouldn’t be caught without on the water. The treated bag is gentle on fins and slime coats, while its over-sized hoop can easily and comfortably accommodate fish in the 50 inch class. A calm musky means less thrashing in the net, resulting in fewer injuries to both you and the fish.
In the words of Gun’s and Roses, “Welcome to the Jungle, we’ve got fun and games!” This summer, don’t fear the thick stuff and you just might catch the biggest musky of your life.
I’ll see you on the water…
Joel DeBoer is owner of Wisconsin Angling Adventures Guide Service. He can be contacted through his website at www.wisconsinangling adventures.com.