Simple answer to muskie question

Many anglers are better equipped to answer one particular question I often hear, but I do have reliable advice for those who inquire.

The question is: “How do you catch a muskie?”

My answer is simple: “Go bass fishing at West Branch.”

If that sounds flip, I’m sorry. It’s a fact. I’ve “accidentally” caught many muskies at West Branch while noodling around for largemouths.

West Branch has yielded excellent muskie fishing this summer. The pros are out there daily, casting and trolling with big bucktails and plugs, hooking up with the big toothy king of the freshwater domain on a regular basis.

With lots of great cover, including sprawling beds of aquatic vegetation, West Branch has been a muskie hot spot almost since the day it was dammed. Ohio Division of Wildlife tried stocking the muskie-northern pike cross known as tiger muskies but soon stopped the tiger program.

Pure-strain muskies, meanwhile, thrive with a little help from the Division of Wildlife’s annual stockings of fingerlings.

I have not fished very much specifically for muskies, but I have caught my more than fair share. During bass excursions at West Branch, Berlin, Milton, the upper Mahoning River, the Ohio River and Chautauqua Lake in New York, muskies pushing 40 inches — some bigger — have decided my flipping lures, spinnerbaits and crankbaits were too good to pass up.

West Branch is especially famous for muskies that devour bass baits. Dock talk among West Branch bass anglers often includes tales of spectacular muskie encounters. One of my own experiences still remains vivid in my mind even though it happened more than 10 years ago.

It was a nasty day in early May, and I’d positioned the boat to fish a small, plastic finesse bait along the dam. The location offered relief from the biting wind that swirled out of the Northeast. My thought was I might pick up a smallmouth bass lurking in the rip-rap under the gray sky.

Soon a nice tick reverberated up my 8-pound-test line, and the fish swam off with my bait, a tiny Super Do. I struck back, and the fish surged. It jumped completely out of the water, all 40 inches of muskie meanness. Somehow the thin line missed the sharp teeth and the little 1/0 hook stayed stuck.

After 10 minutes of chasing the fish on my electric motor, I had the muskie on its side next to the boat. I released it without pulling it out of the water, and it swam off.

I retied my rig and made a couple more casts. Within moments, the first muskie’s twin ate my bait and another 10 minutes ticked away before the fish lay spent off the starboard side of my boat.

That’s West Branch. Anglers continue to find wolf packs prowling the weeds and rocks. This summer has produced outstanding muskie action. Casting lures over the lush greenery has been working great, as has speed-trolling big plugs in the prop-wash.

However you like to go about your business at West Branch, muskies are out there lurking. The lake, along with nearby Pymatuning and Milton, are your best bets for multiple-muskie days close to home.

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