By: Tony Grant
Most anglers know how important visual presentation is to catching muskies. There are literally thousands of articles that are dedicated to the choice of colors, shapes and types of lures that can attract a strike. However their are other sensory elements that smart anglers add to their arsenal, “sound and vibration”. Muskies cruise slowly by a dense patch of cabbage, they linger behind large boulders and hang out in timber as ambush spots. Visual cues, like flash, color, and profile, can be blocked by intervening weeds, structure, or glare even muddy and murky water conditions. So is it the pulsing vibration? The alternating speeds? The less-than-rhythmic cadence of the rattles? The changing flash? The sound? All the above? Who cares? It’s a proven, noise produces muskies.
Muskies have a special sensory organ located in their lateral line. With this organ fish can detect underwater sounds and disturbances. This lateral line is so sensitive it can detect a fish’s prey. An injured baitfish’s struggle is readily perceived through this sensory organ. Sound and other vibrations carry better underwater; In fact because water is denser than air, sound travels five times as fast underwater as it does in the air, traveling at almost 1100 feet per second. Every angler has either heard or said, “be quiet or you will scare the fish.” It’s true that certain noises spook and scatter fish, while others can turn a normally docile swimmer into an eating machine. Fish feel movement, water pressure changes and vibrations through those lateral lines that run the length of their bodies. Depending on its size, a fish will react differently to the same sound. A small fish might flee like schools of shad or other baitfish when your cast lands near while larger predators might attack. Predator fish can be frightened when startled but for the most part very curious. If a fish senses a noise from a distance, a suspicious one might be tempted to take a closer look and even attack the bait. I’ve witnessed this time and time again in the clearer creeks on Cave Run Lake, while targeting visual muskies cast that landed extremely close the muskie would rapidly tart off, however in most cases when the cast landed twenty feet or more away from them they would charge seemly checking out the sound many times with open mouths. Let’s take a look at some sound and vibration producing lures then situations that noise can create muskie strikes.
Two of the most common vibration producing lures for muskies are spinnerbaits and bucktails. Whiter an in-line or safety pen style these noise producing baits have been a main stay in muskie fishing for decades, with an unlimited amount of sizes and styles these blade propulsion baits have caught more muskies than any other lure type in history. A breakdown in the importance of variation in sounds is the key to success is the amount of vibration given off by a blade bait, I always carry a combination of sizes and styles, some with smaller blades and some with much larger blades. Sometimes more is better than less, but the reverse is also true, depending on water color, amount of cover and light conditions. I’ve found that water clarity will make a tremendous difference in the impact of vibration from the blades, I base the scenarios on which one for my clients to use primarily on water color. If the water is dingy, then the muskies can’t see the bait as well but are amazing at homing in on vibration. That’s when I use a more cupped blade for more vibration. Water color again here is not the only factor in determining blade choice water movement from wind and light conditions can also be a big determinator. When a muskie picks up on the vibration, they will hone in on that and destroy the target. It is amazing to watch, and I’ve experienced enough fish-catching in dingy water to know that the bigger and more vibration from the blades, up to a reasonable point, will entice more bites most of the time. This differently explains the success muskie anglers have had over the past decade with industry changing Cowgirls considering the amazing number after dark. Even though plenty of nice fish have been taken by pulling fish from thick weeds, for the most part the overwhelming success came after dark when the muskie’s visual cues are at the least. Conversely, when the water is clear, I have found that the opposite is often true, when visibility is good, the muskie bite is often triggered by sight, and I’ll actually catch more fish using a blade baits with a smaller willow or Indiana blade moved quickly. I’m sure vibration still plays an important role, but the smaller blade, along with the visual impact of seeing the lure clearly and speed will trigger an aggressive bite. That’s another thing that I love about fishing spinnerbaits for muskies. Many of the bites are very aggressive, regardless of whether the water color is dingy or clear. Models I carry include Musky Mayhem and Toothy Tackle’s #10 and #8’s, Shumway Flashers, Screamers, Dreamcatchers and Rapid Squirrels as for in-lines. When choosing a spinnerbait I like those with multiple blades in various sizes on models from Grim Reaper, CJ, Nut Buster and Cattails in weights from 1-2oz.
Probably one of the most underrated and overlooked lure categories in the muskie industry is the swimbait, combining flash with sound and vibration these generally multi jointed lures have had a long history of attracting big predator fish. Over the past couple years my experiences have expanded using these baits under many different scenarios. Whither double or triple jointed the amount of vibration these lures can put out are second to none from the pre spawn period and throughout the season. Not only do these lures have a great visual resemblance there imitation of swimming or wounded prey is very lifelike. My clients and I have found that muskies holding tight to cover can be fooled by the movement of the 4Play from SAVAGEAR, their Liplure and Swimbait come in slow sinking models in various sizes that I find very effective when your goal is to get extremely close to tight cover. A pre spawn favorite of mine is the V Joint from River2Sea. Other proven lures for me and my clients have been the Revo Shad and X Rap. Many quality muskies have been taken with their sporadic movements vibration.
Defiantly the most common rattle producing bait is the lipless crankbait, it’s has been proven by both scientists and more importantly anglers that lures that use the sound of rattles to create vibrations to get the fish’s reaction is second to none. This is attraction of sound is particularly compelling with freshwater predator fish such as bass and muskie.
In order to realize success with rattling baits, it is important to pick the right environment to use them, crystal clear, completely calm water might not be your highest percentage presentation. However, in more cloudy water, these lures can be very effective. The murkier the water, the more of an advantage the rattles will be, true also during extreme low light conditions and wind blown water. This is because predator fish will be using vibrations to key in on the baitfish.
It’s been well published that the vibrating, lipless rattling crankbaits are deadly on pre-spawn muskies, in fact at my place in Kentucky The Muskie Lodge these rattle baits account for 75-80% of our pre spawn production which has totaled well over 1,000 muskies in the last 7 years during this short six week period of pre spawn and they are personal responsible for nearly 1500 muskies in my boat alone over the past two decades. During this period the bite becomes a mostly reaction strikes to these fish with more than feeding on their minds. Here we aim our efforts at shallow spawning bays as females seek out warm water to loosen eggs in very shallow water. I believe that our success is boosted by amplify the lure’s noise-making ability in areas with shallow water, by knocking bottom creating a more obnoxious rattle to both females and super active males. However the amount of noise produced from these baits need to be varied, meaning not one sound can always be successful. What many southern rattle bait anglers have learned but little practice is the variety of sizes that can be successful at different times. some anglers have been very successful with as little as a 1/2 oz. ratllebaits in fact just this past season here on Cave Run, Muskie Lodge guide Jason Ritchie’s client took the largest muskie of the season on a 1/2 oz Rattlin’Shad while other guides and guest where struggling tossing the conventual 1oz. Many times throughout the pre spawn we find success with the much smaller 1/2 ounce, this happens time and time again on southern reservoirs pre spawn fish prefer the more subtle rattle. Popular lipless rattling crank baits include JB Rattler, Rat’L’Trap and my line the Rattlin’Shad. Some other proven producing lipped rattlebaits include crankbaits like the Believer, DepthRaider, Slammarand Jakes which can be casted or trolled. Rattling lures make for excellent trolling baits in murky or stained water attracting fish from even greater distances. Also you defiantly can’t overlook one of the most common jerk bait that has the unique rattle chamber is the Sledge which has long time been a very productive bait in both northern stained water and murky to muddy water in the south. The Sledge has trophy history when casted and hand pulled when trolling.
New Generation Rattlebaits
Over the past several years with the help of Sledgehammer Lures I have experimented with many different varieties and styles of rattle baits during all seasons both down south spring and fall as well as my summers up north initially hoping to discover patterns that would help with the fatigue factor with some of my aging clients that still love muskie fishing. Although productive the conventional 1 oz lipless rattle bait didn’t show a high enough percentage during periods past the post spawn as did other muskie lures. However with the help from anglers across the muskie range we have established several patterns where sound and vibration from different style rattle baits have become very effective with simple effortless retrieves. First came my design of the Fat Belly Rattler, a 4 inch drop belly nose pulled noise and vibration producing bait that when retrieve quickly produces a unique side to side movement. Proven where skinny water presentations are needed like in shallow water, over weeds or timber near the surface. My boats largest fish for 2012 was taken on one of these Fat Belly’s worked around docks at a marina.
Two years ago I put the finishing touches on a much larger louder set of rattle baits and with the help from anglers across the muskie range that helped me test them. Anglers unanimously reported that the lures were productive both casting and trolling, all of us agreed that they seemed best when times where tough.The 6 inch extreme noise producing Super Rattlin’Shad and Super Fat Belly have a common maybe key ingredient, their crazy obnoxious with completely different presentations. These super loud lures will probably never be my first choice but will always be in the back of my mind when standard prove patterns just aren’t working. You have to try and do many different things with your retrieve, the Fat Belly must be retrieved either super quick or as a noisy side to side glide. Vary retrieve on the Super Rattlin’Shad will prove best rapid straight retrieve, rip and reel or dropping and popping. Pausing your retrieve for a split second during your retrieve tends to draw vicious boat side attacks. Popping your rod tip up also moves that bait in an erratic motion, let it drop pop it again and reel, this gives the bait a lot of vibration and of course sound, this method counted for my largest muskie for 2013. Speed with most all rattle baits is crucial, as important as burning bucktails in the summer, you’ll have a great advantage with a higher sped reel. I’ve had tremendous success when speed is needed from Okuma’s Komodo low profile reels. A fast 6.4:1 or 7.3:1 they take up 31.5 inches of line per turn and with stainless steel main gear, pinion gear and drive shaft their guide tested tough while being very light weight which helps with the fatigue factor.
Fishing all too frequently is very unpredictable; you can establish patterns, seem to have it all figured out and you run into changes whither visible or not. Sound and vibration can either enhance or destroy one’s fishing efforts. Live baits emits a vibration that signals it is in danger. The unique distress call is viewed as a feeding opportunity by predators. Lure manufacturers try to duplicate these wounded-prey vibrations with lures that pop, rattle, vibrate and clatter. This season try adding some noise to your presentation when situations calls for something different under some of the conditions I’ve discussed and let sound and vibration attract your next catch during.