Suckers , The Cold Water Alternative
Sep 28th, 2006 by OutdoorsFIRST
Modified Sep 28th, 2006 at 12:00 AM
Fall is arriving, and many muskie anglers are starting to get excited about fishing with suckers, or ‘dragging meat’.The fall is a great time to use suckers because it is easier to keep them alive when the water is cool. They dont survive long in warm water, but if youre able to get them down quickly to deep, cool water, they’re a great option any time of year. I use suckers anytime that I think the fishing may be tough such as during cold fronts or when the fish are highly pressured. Suckers are also great at converting those pesky followers into biters!If you haven’t tried livebait fishing, or you haven’t been satisfied with your results when you did try it, hopefully this article will provide some helpful suggestions.Equipment:The good news is that if you’ve been fishing for muskies for any amount of time, you probably already have most of the equipment necessary for sucker fishing.Rods:Fiberglass rods are the way to go. They’re inexpensive, they’re durable in cold weather, and the extra weight isn’t a factor because you aren’t using them for casting all day. A good option to check out are catfishing rods, they cost a fraction of what muskie rods cost because catfishermen won’t pay as much for their gear! I like to use the Cat Maxx rods from Bass Pro Shop, these cost around $35.00 each.Reels:A reel with a bait alarm or ‘clicker’ is very helpful. To use them you leave the drag set tight, open the freespool, and turn on the alarm. The slight pressure of the alarm stops line from spooling out until a fish grabs the bait. Then when a fish is swimming away with your sucker, the alarm alerts you that it’s time to get ready. There’s nothing that gets your heart pumping with anticipation quite like the ‘zip, zipp, ziiippp’ of the bait clicker going off! If you don’t have a reel with an alarm, you can you other strike indicators, such as a float. I like to use Tidewater reels with a line counter, they are inexpensive and the line counter helps tell me how much line I have out. These reels also have a lever instead of a push button for free spool; buttons can sometimes pop out, and this can make for a real mess if the fish can’t take line when it grabs the sucker.Line:Standard muskie line is good for sucker fishing as well. I prefer to use at least 80 lb. test line, such as PowerPro or TUF Line. The no-stretch characteristics of modern superbraid lines help to create powerful hook-sets to free the rig from the bait and assist in good hook penetration.Rigs:There are many good rigs available, depending on personal preference. Whatever you use, the key to successful rigging is that the sucker is very lightly attached to the rig. You want it just secure enough to stay on in the water, but light enough to pull free from the sucker easily when you set the hook. Getting the rig free from the sucker will increase your hook-up percentages with the muskies.The Herbie Rig by Bait Rigs and the Maina Lift-Off Rig are popular and very effective. Both of these rigs use a small rubberband that is threaded through the nostril of the sucker by means of a needle. Attached to this rubberband is a leader with a snap, and a stinger hook is placed into the snap as well. The hook is attached to the sucker by means of a safety pin (Herbie Rig) or by an off-set hook (Maina Rig).One issue with the style of rigs described above is that the snap can break. I make a rig that doesnt rely on snaps, and I am more confident in its strength. My rig starts with a quality swivel, to which I attach 90 lb. 7-strand leader material, and place a treble hook at the business end. Forward of the hook I attach a quick clevis like the walleye guys use for quick-change spinners on Lindy Rigs.With this system I can pre-rig the rubber bands on all my suckers for the day; inserting the bands through the nostril and then holding them in place with a spare snap. When I’m ready to use that sucker, I simply clip the snap into the quick clevis and put the hook in place on the sucker. This saves time during the day, especially when your hands are cold and numb!As an alternative, I have also started attaching small safety pins to the quick-clevis, and lightly running the pin through the lip of sucker to attach the front of the rig. This is even simpler than the rubberband, and just as effective for me.I have come up with some tricks to help free the rig more easily.1.) If you use a rubberband system, snip it halfway through with a clipper to weaken it.2.) Lightly hook the sucker, you want to catch muskies, not save suckers.3.) Put pieces of a rubber worm on the hooks bends against the side of the sucker. Bait bumpers if you will. It allows the hooks to slide along the body, yet the exposed points will stick in the muskies mouth.Suckers:I like to use suckers in the 14 to 16 inch range. If I have to use larger ones I may use a double hook rig, with one treble on each side. Many people believe that wild suckers are more lively, and thus try to pick those from the tank by looking for ones with the darkest color.Technique:The hook-set is the most important part of livebait fishing with suckers. Always set the hook with the fish moving away from you. If the muskie won’t move, if it’s just sitting there holding the sucker, spook them to get them moving away. Hungry muskies are greedy and will rarely drop the bait. If they do drop it, they will usually come back and hit it again. Once the fish is moving away from you, it is time to set the hook! Make sure you use an explosive hookset, you are trying to tear the rig out of your sucker and into the muskies mouth. To do this, drop a bit of slack line and give it a ‘bull whip’ set; dont simply lean into it, you want the pressure to go from zero to 100% as fast as possible. ‘Give ’em the berries’ or ‘Cross their eyes’!A few years ago I set the hook so hard that I managed to ‘Bassmaster’ a muskie swinging a 38″ fish into the boat by the rod. It slid down the snow-covered floor of the boat back towards my partner. I calmly and coolly told him, ‘I catch ’em, you unhook ’em.’Along with fishing them anytime of the year, I will also fish suckers anywhere and at any depth. I have run suckers on the surface with good portion of its body out of the water. It’s pretty cool to hear, and even better to watch a muskie take a ‘topwater’ sucker. You certainly don’t need a strike indicator to know it’s happening! My son-in-law Chad and I caught 44″ and 45″ muskies this way in the middle of July two years ago. We would have caught more but we only had two suckers. A cold front had dropped the temperature into the 50s overnight, so we drifted our suckers next to the boat right over the top of the weeds. Chad thought this was the coolest thing he’d ever seen, and managed to catch his personal biggest fish as well. Don’t be afraid to experiment and break the ‘rules’ of muskie fishing with suckers.I hope this helps you with your livebait fishing. Dont get discouraged if you make mistakes just learn from them. As my old football coach used to say, “You learn more from your failures than from your successes!”STICK A HAWG!!!!Jerry Georgeson is an avid muskie fisherman from the Madison, WI area. He is an active member of the Capital City chapter of Muskies Inc. and the Madison muskie fishing league. Jerry is an expert livebait fisherman, and has taught courses on rigging and fishing suckers during the annual CCMI spring muskie fishing school. Jerry spends many days every year drifting suckers on his favorite lakes in the Manitowish Waters area.