Many people would like to compete in muskie tournaments or even join one of the trails, and would do very well, even win large sums of cash. What about you? The first thing you have to ask yourself is, “Do I have what it takes?” Over the past 15 years I have had a great deal of experience with both fishing independent tournaments as well as competing for as many years in a tournament trail. I’d like to think I have done pretty well but most importantly still learning and having fun every time out, although at times have also taken my beatings in many events yet still having many great experiences. Let me try to outline some of the roadblocks, requirements and how to get started while answering some of the questions you might have on competitive muskie fishing.
As most all musky tournaments are partner events selecting someone compatible to fish with is a very significant decision you have to make, maybe your most important. This selection process may not only determine your success but just how much you will enjoy the outing, this is especially true when signing on for a full trail season. Just ask most any tournament angler and they will agree that it’s absolutely NO fun when you and your partner just aren’t a match. In my observations there are a few keys in helping make these decisions. From the very beginning, the partner selection process is one of the primary issues to concern yourself with when fishing a buddy tournament so take it very seriously. You have to ask yourself “Who do I fish with?” I have many friends in the sport to which I could turn, but would we be able to work together with each other for 8 plus hours a day in the confines of a boat? Will we be compatible not only during those hours of fishing but during traveling and non fishing times? Can they devote as much time as I am willing or vice versa? Will they keep up on their 50 percent of the monetary issues? Do I have to own a boat? Searching for a partner that have a boat opens a great opportunity for non boat owners, more and more tournament anglers are taking advantage in this way. These and many many more questions should be thoroughly thought out prior to even perusing a partner. Another real big decision in partner selection is will your fishing techniques work in one boat. What I mean here is that from what I have seen in the teams that more often make the boards have somewhat different styles and favorite presentation, one angler likes blades and tops while the other like jerks and cranks. In other words try to find a partner that is both different as well as alike. A positive musky attitude is fundamental for both competitors, spending time in a boat with a possible partner is crucial in your selection process.
The dilemma of choosing a muskie tournament and how to compete in one can be confusing for many anglers new to this activity. Now finally we as muskie anglers have many chooses, IMT, Ironman, WMT, MAC, PMTT trails and dozens of other great independent events like the “Spring Classic” and “Best of the Best” and quit a few others to choose from put on by Muskies Inc. Most all of which have different rules like transport or judge boats and one day or two plus many others. Travel and vacation time play an important role in your decision to consider competing in a trail or out of state events. You will need some additional vacation time for pre fishing cause “there is no substitute for time on the water”. Or may be you just want to compete on a lake that you often fish. Lately while talking to fellow competitors it seems that a great number of anglers are signing up for tournaments just to gather more information about their favorite lake. Let me tell you from experience this is a great way to learn more about a lake you fish frequently. Cave Run Lake in Kentucky and Mountain Muskie Lodge are my home base for nearly twenty years and the PMTT and Trinity Trail have events there every year. It is a great opportunity for me to see visiting anglers doing well in spots that I rarely or have never fished. Some
of the information I have gathered from tournaments has shown to be priceless, clients and I have reaped the benefits from this info time and time again. Joining over 100 other musky anglers on a body of water can realistically broaden your horizon and a great way to shorten the learning curve on any body of water. Understanding more of the lakes make up, high percentage areas, lure selection and trolling verse casting decisions can be worth the price of admission. After deciding which competition you and your partner want to enter, complete the entry forms, pay the entry fees and get your gear in order. Remember entering early often gets you a better starting position. Then get set to have the time of your life while competing against the fish as well as other respectable musky anglers.
Priority number one is accommodations and food with the second really being first for me! Both are as vital as clothing on a cold day, as you need your rest and to eat wholesome food, ensuring your body can cope with the demands of the tournament days ahead. Early in the planning stages, decisions have to be made as to who is bringing their boat (distance and home location may play a role here) also who will control the boat once you’re on the water. Personally, I have done it both ways but I like to bring mine with me; I guess it is a confidence thing or maybe I’m just stubborn. That boat’s my office. With these matters settled, we can concentrate on map work and locations selections. My partners and I are always talking on the phone, e-mailing and now texting each others ideas, information, rumors and gossip! Never believing all we hear, but we put everything we have into the mix, stir it up and see what falls out! Hopefully you and your partner have decided who or in which order both of you will control the boat, this can get tricky here and when splitting duties plans of what spots etc should be thought out. When you begin fishing without control of the foot pedal, you must have the basic skills to catch fish from various locations regardless of who is in control of the boat. The “back seat” angler who does his or her homework can be the difference in a successful tournament team.
Different than most tournaments for other species muskie tournaments have no limitations on pre-fishing. I have seen in most successful teams pre-fishing is a big part of their tournament agenda. The pre-fishing debate could go on forever. Many believe that pre fishing on lakes they have a handle on is not as important as just getting on the water and picking your spots not burning any fish. However with trails like the PMTT most event locations change yearly so there probably will be many tournaments on waters you’ve never even been on before so you are forced to get out and not just investigate but sling baits as well. From what I have experienced most guys get in 1 ½ to 2 days of pre fishing at most tournaments held away from their home waters. My biggest advice here, don’t “over pre fish”. There are many definitions as too what “over pre fishing” means, I’ll explain a few. Burning Fish: I have seen many times anglers finding a pattern catching several fish and obviously just plain over did it. Many times the guys that do boat multiple fish during the weeks practice then fall short at tournament time because they over caught on those spots. Lure Education: Over pre fishing an area even without catching any can be bad news also. Educating muskies can be as big of mistake as hooking one. Using search baits and moving from one area to another just might be your best bet, moving the instant you move a fish. Over Exposure: Spending too much time on a good spot not only can spook fish but it opens the eyes of your competitors that perhaps you’ve found “the honey hole”. This is especially true for guys pre fishing there home waters, believe me all tournament anglers keep I eye on the local guys. Personally I have mixed emotions over practice. If I have had good practice I sometimes have a bad tournament and vice-versa. Pre Fishing is on waters you have confidence in is a great time to experiment with different lures. But whatever happens, practice not always holds up for the tournament. That’s when alternant plans are crucial for changing conditions. The problem for me is trying to believe that just once, the weather will cooperate and both the practice and the tournament days will be identical and the fish will stay put. I still do practice and I still do it with conviction, without that, it would be pointless. Illuminating water is a big key to pre-fishing success, removing from your list areas with no sign of muskies.
Well the big night comes as we lay the finishing touches on what we hope is a well thought out strategy and run them through our heads. Then double checking moon charts and the next day’s major and minor feeding periods and relating them to your experiences from practice. Now the practice is over and game plan set (hopefully) and we will now look at the Weather Channel as if it were ESPN hoping to see something worthwhile before we go to sleep! This will be repeated nightly for two or three days (depending upon the tournament). Now all we have to do is pray that in the morning the weather improves or stays identical to the day/s of practice where (if we were fortunate enough) we caught or seen legal sized fish. If not there should be plan “B” or maybe “C”. Tournament Eve is a crucial period in the results of days ahead; final decisions should be made on taken very seriously. A big example on the importance of final planning happened for me just a months back at the PMTT’s Musky Hunter Magazines Fall Meltdown on the St. Croix River. In the final days of pre-fishing our fish seemed to have disappeared, the area we had great success in days prior showed not even a follow. My partner Dave Schultz and I dwelled on our starting spot for several nagging hours, could we skip a spot where we had done so well? Or should we sink or swim on our first inclinations. Their was a lot righting on this tournament for us, no fish meant no invitation to the Ranger Boats World Championship, We decided to stick wit our original game plan, that late night decision lead us to a first place finish and a trip to Madison. For years it had been a dream of mine to compete in a musky trail, in 1999 I was so excited to hear of the kick off by the Professional Musky Tournament Trail. I’ve even been told I was the first to sign up! Over the past 11 seasons my partners and I have taken home the top prizes as well as finished tied at the bottom of the list. I hold the record for qualifying for more Ranger Boat’s PMTT World Championship (13 of 14) than any other angler in the history of the trail. However one of the greatest things about muskie tournaments is anyone can win! More than once I’ve seen tourneys won by anglers with there first musky ever, that’s what makes tournament goals reachable for anyone that tries. It truly has been a dream come true story for me; experiences like the competition, visiting new waters, learning new muskies and the friends I’ve made have been truly an awesome part of my life. Comradely with the folks that dare to fish in musky tournaments is flat out unbelievable conceding the competition levels are so high. So if you’re as curious as I was about competitive fishing for muskie just Google “musky tournaments” and join these rapidly growing fishing competitions.