The attached story was written by Spencer Berman for the 2015 August/September Issue of Musky Hunter Magazine. We at Musky Ontario Lure Co. thank Spencer for giving us permission to reprint this article on our website. Please check out Spencer’s website and charter business information at spencersanglingadv.com
We also thank Musky Hunter Magazine for helping us to arrange this article reprint which was originally writen for them. Check out Musky Hunter Magazine at muskyhunter.com A truly great read for both Musky anglers and fishing enthusiasts in general.
Spencer Berman began muskie fishing at the age of 11 and was competing as a tournament fisherman by age 17. Currently he is operating a guide service called Spencer’s Angling Adventures. Spencer charters the waters of Michigan including Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River. He spends his springs chasing the legendary bass and walleye located on these amazing bodies of water. However come musky opener in June its all about the muskies until the season close in mid December.
Following his young start fishing professional musky tournaments, Spencer went on to become the youngest boat captain to place in the money on almost every musky series out there including the Professional Musky Tournament Trail. In the past couple of years he has continued to fish the PMTT as well as several other tournaments with numerous top finishes. In 2013 Spencer and his tournament partner took Team of the Year on the Professional Musky Tournament Trail setting a new points record with three top five finishes in four events. In addition to guiding and fishing tournaments, Spencer does a number of media appearances each year including TV shows such as Catch Ya in the Bluegrass, Badfish Outdoors, Top Predator Outdoors, Marsh Outdoors, Keyes Outdoors and Musky Hunter. Spencer is also a regular seminar speaker performing more then twenty seminars a year for various musky clubs and at fishing shows and expos. Lastly, Spencer is also a very active contributing writer for several high profile magazines including, Musky Hunter, Keyes Outdoors, Esox Hunt, Muskies Inc. and In-Fisherman.
In 2017, Spencer and his clients managed to land over 500 muskies with thirty eight fish measuring at or above the 50-inch mark.
It is often talked about in fishing just how important it is to make sure that your crankbaits are properly tuned when you troll. In fact, there are even devices made to adjust the eye of the bait left or right to make sure that it is always running in tune. One thing that we don’t ever talk about is how to properly tune our casting baits. Casting baits, specifically soft rubber baits, frequently get out of tune and need constant attention to make sure that the bait is running the way it is designed. By understanding how these baits are supposed to run and knowing how to properly tune them you will ensure that they put as many fish in the boat as possible.
Currently there is no doubt that the demand for rubber musky lures is as high as it has ever been with baits like Bulldawgs and Medusas leading the charge and finding their way into nearly every fisherman’s boat. Although it is true that these baits can catch not only numbers of fish but monsters as well, it is also true that they are probably some of the highest maintenance baits on the market. These rubber baits are designed to run straight through the water just like a crankbait. What this means is that you fish these lures with the typical pull and pause retrieve, pulling the bait with the rod tip and then reeling up the slack line while the lure falls in the water column. Every time you pull the bait you want it to go straight through the water and not hook left or right or roll. Due to the flexible wire harness inside of these baits the bait can be bent back and forth and can get out of tune. If the baits harness is straight inside the bait, (see pics), then the bait should pull straight in the water as long as the baits body is perfectly straight. If the baits harness is a little crooked then you will probably have to have the bait bent slightly the opposite way to offset the flaw in the harness. The best way to tune these baits is to pitch them out parallel to the boat, maybe 15 feet, then use your pull and pause retrieve like you would on your cast. While you watch the bait, make sure that it is pulling straight through the water and not going off to either side. DO NOT simply pitch the bait out and then straight reel it in to see if it comes through the water straight. When you do that you are not truly testing the bait at all and often times a bait that is extremely out of tune will come through the water straight when reeled in slowly on a straight retrieve rather then being jerked through the water. Think of that as checking a trolling crankbait to see if it’s running true at 3 mph when you actually plan on trolling it at 5mph. It is the speed and snap of the jerks, just like on your retrieve that will truly tell you if the bait is in tune.
If the bait is not in tune then you will need to bend the harness of the bait to get it running correctly. This is just like tuning a crankbait but rather then tweaking the eye of the lure you are bending the bait’s body. You will want to bend the lure opposite of the way it’s running out of tune. So, if the bait is hooking to the left in the water then bend the harness to the right and vise versa, see diagram. Often time’s only small adjustments are needed to make the correction. In addition to tuning the bait right and left you often need to twist the bait to prevent it from rolling in the water. Normally this will be most obvious at the end of your pull when the bait is falling in the water. If at that point the lure is not falling right side up and is rather rolling over you will need to twist the bait back to get it straight. Just like all tuning, you want to bend the bait opposite from the way it is running, so if it is rolling counter clockwise then you want to bend the bait clockwise and vice versa, see diagram.
In addition to tuning your bait to make sure it is running straight you can also control the running depth by tuning the bait. If you want your bait to run high in the water column simply bend the end of the bait upward, see diagram. If you want it to run deeper then bend the head of the bait downward, see diagram. Since you are normally fishing rubber in deeper water applications you will have the bait bent down to increase running depth.
Although it is always important to continually check your bait to make sure it is running properly, when it comes to tuning the two main things that are going to cause these baits to get out of tune are hooking a fish and balling up the lure on the cast. Whenever you have a fish hit the bait, that fish is going to bend the lure in some way so after releasing or losing the fish always check your bait to make sure it is running correctly before getting back to fishing. Secondly, often times when you cast these rubber lures you will get the leader or line hooked on the back hook of the bait. When this happens you will pull the bait sideways in the water, which not only causes tons of added resistance in the water but also will bend the bait. This bend is often made worse when the angler sets the hook thinking that the added weight of the lure pulling sideways in the water is actually a fish. Either way every time this happens you will need to make sure that the lure is still tracking true in the water. Lastly, if your leader ever hooks the back of the bait mid retrieve that is a sign that your bait is not running correctly. As was mentioned previously, when these baits are running correctly they will pull straight through the water. When that happens the leader should not ever have a chance to get hooked up on the lure. However, if the bait is running to one side then the bait will often turn 90 degrees or even 180 degrees in the water and will then allow the leader to hook the bait. If you ever have this happen it’s a sign that the bait was not running correctly and needs work.
Along with tuning your baits periodically throughout the day there are a couple of things you can do to make sure that your rubber baits are always running correctly and that you never waste a cast with a bait that is out of tune. First, when you are ripping in your rubber bait make sure that you do those pulls and pauses all the way up to the boat as opposed to just straight reeling the last 10-15 feet. What this will do is allow you to see the last two or three pulls when the bait is close to the boat and make sure that the bait is tracking true. This more or less allows you to check how the bait is running every single cast. Next I would recommend hopping your bait around on your figure eight or oval at the side of the boat rather then just moving it straight like you would a bucktail. From my experience this definitely increases your bite rate at the boat and it also allows you to watch the bait at the boat and detect any flaws in the way it is running. Additionally, when you are casting any rubber lures make sure that at the end of your backswing you let the bait hang for a half a second extra and then really power through the cast. By doing this, as well as thumbing the spool a bit while the bait is in the air, you will ensure that you get as few bait tangles on the cast as possible. This technique does not allow the bait to tumble end over end in the air but rather allows it to fly straight with the tail pointing away from you and the head of the lure pointing at the angler. Although it is easy to get angry with the bait when the bait does ball up mid air and you have to not only waste a cast but also reel in a lure that now pulls like a five gallon bucket, these baits getting tangled in the air are one hundred percent the anglers fault. By really loading up the rod and putting a lot of power into your cast you will dramatically reduce the frequency of this problem. Also keep in mind that often times as your body fatigues you will start seeing a breakdown in your casting form. When this happens make sure to pay specific attention to what you are doing to make up for the fatigue in your shoulders and back from a day of casting rubber. By doing this you will offset the fatigue and ensure that your casts are done correctly. The next thing you can do to really make sure that your baits are tuned properly is always try to fix any cut or slice in the bait that will make it less symmetrical. Anytime the lure has a large cut on it, normally from a fish, that slice will open on the pull and catch water thus throwing off the flow of water over the bait, see diagram. For that reason I would recommend always having a blow torch and butter knife or bottle of mend-it to fix all slices in the bait and ensure that they are running correctly. The last thing that I would recommend to ensure that you have the best success with your rubber baits is to throw them away and get new ones after they have seen several fish. I know that these baits are expensive however you will notice that every time these plastic baits get eaten or just bent from casting, it will be harder to get them running properly. There are several reasons for this but the main one is that the bait has been bent so many times left and right that the harness has tons of small bends in it. Although it might look fine, all of these tiny bends in the bait make it very hard to get the lure running straight. While it is tempting to spend a lot of time getting these lures to run correctly, and often times you can succeed, you will only do so by wasting tons of precious fishing time. Additionally, every time the bait gets out of tune it will be harder to get it back running again making the lure an extreme waste of time by forcing you to spend too much time tuning and not enough time fishing. As a general rule of thumb, as soon as a lure has spent more then 30-50 hours in the water or 3-6 fish bites I start to keep track of how much time I spend tuning it. When I think I am spending more then twice as much time tuning the old lure then I would a new lure, I retire the lure and move on to another one. Keep in mind that this is simply my breaking point and therefore my general rule of thumb. You are going to have some baits that run perfectly after ten fish and others which are a nightmare from the moment you pull them out. Simply keep track of the time you spend trying to tune the lures and you will ensure that you waste as little time as possible.
Throughout the season we all spend hundreds of hours making sure that our boat, rods, reels, hooks and line are up to par. However, at the end of the day if your baits are not running correctly all of that other preparedness will be in vain. By constantly paying attention to the way that your rubber baits are running and making sure they are working properly you will ensure that the muskies will pay attention to them as well!
The top bait is bent to the left and will tug and swim to the left and the opposite will happen to the bottom bait, It will travel to the right.
These baits are twisted, one to the left and one to the right. They will initially start to pull in the direction of the twist but then will tumble over and start to corkscrew creating a bait that may have the hooks on the wrong side of the bite but of greater concern is your line will start to twist and before you know it you will have a mess on your hands.
The upper bait has the head lower than its centre. This will cause the bait to dive. The opposite holds true on the lower bait with a lure that wants to rise and break the surface.