Muskies often are referred to as enigmatic, elusive, quirky, legendary. Perhaps, considering the countless hours Dick Pearson has spent in the company of his beloved green monsters, it’s not surprising that he’s often portrayed in much the same light. The man is indeed a bit of an enigma. He’s elusive in that he possesses that certain “it” quality no one can exactly put their finger on; he’s quirky in the brilliantly non-conformist sense of the word; and clearly, he’s a legend.
All of which can come off sounding a little over-the-top until you consider that the man has caught an amazing number of mammoth muskies from prime North Country waters. Of course, most of them we’ll never know about, for Pearson tells very few people about his esocid exploits, which is as it should be, and which nearly always describes the world’s great anglers. But if you catch him at the right moment, he might let you into his world.
“Used to have the lure disease bad,” he confesses. “Last several years, though, I’ve been selling off hundreds at a time. Only need so many of each of my favorites anymore. But I do like to sample some of the new baits—there’s some great stuff happening in lureland these days. Still, I’m down to only about 1,500 baits in the shed. Then I suppose I’ve got a boatful (hundreds more), as well as a cabin-full (several hundred) at my place on the Woods.”
Understand that if we’re talking crappie jigs, 2,000 baits is pretty trivial. But you begin to ponder that number of muskie lures and it’s not difficult to understand why there’s but one angler qualified to name an ultimate Top 10 list. Behold, in no particular order, Pearson’s Top 10.
(1) SUICK—First carved from a hunk of white cedar by Wisconsin tavern owner Frank Suick in the early 1930s, the subtle wobble-dive slow-rise action of this jerkbait retains an almost magical power over muskies. Part of the key to the Suick is its adjustable metal tail. Tweaking tail angle alters running depth (bend it down for deeper dives and more pronounced action.) The tail’s shiny metallic surface also radiates flash, which perhaps focuses attention and provokes strikes. In the hands of a confident practitioner, the Suick is always dangerous.
Pearson’s particulars: “This is one of the most effective muskie catchers of all time. One evening on Leech Lake in the early 1970s, a Suick wacked two 48-inchers for me—two of my first biggies ever. In those days, 48s were really rare, and two in one evening was almost unheard of. I’ve been a Suick guy ever since. Even now, it’s a rare year that I don’t get multiple biggies on these exceptional jerkbaits.
“I work a Suick in one of three ways. In clear waters where you might find lake trout, I give it fairly long pulls, then pause. It’s sort of a mini sweep of the rod. Pauses can be one of the keys to provoking strikes with this bait.
“In shallow water, I think shorter pulls and pumps—especially in weeds—get fish more jazzed up. Pump-pause. Pump-pause. My friend Mark Windels cranks it up a notch—and he’s a master with a Suick. Whap-whap-whap. Make short, fast pulls with a brief pause between each sequence. Do this right, and muskies eat you up.
“The third retrieve works best in the evening. Pump the Suick 12 to 14 inches. Pause ‘til it breaks the surface then pump it again. Fish sometimes like to eat it right on top.
The Goods: Suicks are available in 4-, 7-, 9-, 10-, and 12-inch sizes, including weighted models. There’s a pallet of colors, including original Sucker, Jailbird, and Perch, and various holographic and “Red Hot” patterns. Pearson’s picks are plain black, walleye (brown and yellow), or firetiger—suick.com.
(2) ESOX RESEARCH HELL HOUND—This 8-inch solid plastic glider is one of the most forgiving jerkbaits available. The streamlined design allows the Hound to be fished at varying speeds and actions without losing control. Soft, quick rod moves make the Hell Hound do a nice wide walk-the-dog. It’s one of the only jerks that belly wobbles on the pause-slow sink. The bait’s tough as nails, too.
Pearson’s particulars: “A classic jerkbait in waiting. I do a lot of erratic twitching with it. Makes the bait do some weird stuff, and muskies often respond. Early in the season, I fish it high and fast. Fish miss the bait a lot when I do this, but they often come back for a kill shot. Later in summer and into fall, as muskies drop to deep edges, I use erratic, slower moves—sweep-sweep and a longer pause. It’s a terrific bait that more anglers are discovering each year.”
The Goods: At 8 inches and 3.5 ounces this is a little rocket of a glidebait. Esox Research finishes them with 13 standard colors, including Glitter Shiner and Tullibee Holoform. Seven additional Hell Hound Chrome Series baits deliver wicked flash. Pearson’s picks are Chartreuse Herring Bone and Hot Red Herring Bone—esoxresearch.com.
(3) PEARSON’S GRINDER—Pearson spends a lot of time throwing these things. He loves spinnerbaits, and the Grinder is his baby—the bait that bears his name as well as the technique he created. The Grinder has a large willowleaf blade, which offers maximum flash and snag resistance. Crafted with a short arm, it excels at moving through vegetation.
Pearson’s particulars: “If I had to fish with just one bait, this would be it. I can fish a Grinder anywhere in the water column—gurgle it on top, slow-roll it over rock, burn it, slither it through weeds. That’s what grinding is all about—moving the spinnerbait deep through the middle of the best muskie-holding cover, rather than just tickling the cabbage tops.
“Fire a short cast and let the bait flutter into the vegetation. Retrieve at a medium-steady pace. Plow through the weeds as you go. If the bait grabs a stalk, pause the retrieve and shake your rodtip until it pulls free. If it still won’t come, pull straight back on your rod until it breaks free. Never violently snap your rod tip—this turns the bait sideways, and makes the snag worse. Grind and bump the stalks continuously. Same with rocks. Grinding is a tremendous trigger for non-aggressive fish.
“I’m kind of a blade freak—I use a willowleaf blade on a spinnerbait 90 percent of the time. Still, I like to change blades. Someone needs to make a good spinnerbait that lets you change blades easily. The other thing that makes a difference is to add a twister tail—something like a 6-inch Kalin’s Mogambo Grub.
“My late friend Jack Burns and I kind of shared the same thoughts on the power of spinnerbaits. In his last years, they were pretty much all Jack threw, his favorite a Ruff Tackle Rad Dog. He caught a whole bunch of biggies on it, and taught me a thing or two along the way.”
The Goods: The Pearson Grinder uses heavy-gauge .062-inch diameter wire, which doesn’t fold, but rather arrows through vegetation. Four sizes are available, from 1 to 5 ounces, as well as a plethora of blade-skirt combinations, including the Big Flash series, which have chameleon flash skirts and holographic blades. Pearson’s picks are a customized white skirt with red blades, and black with flame blade—esoxresearch.com.
(4) NORTHLAND TACKLE BOOBIE TRAP—One of the newest additions to the double mega-blade category, the Boobie Trap sets itself apart by using blades that are just slightly smaller and thicker than the #10 Colorados on similar lures. These blades provide a distinct compromise—less drag during fast retrieves with a higher-pitch vibration.
Pearson’s particulars: “A lot of things about this bait are right on. It pulls straight and easy. The Boobie Trap is one of the easiest double-Colorado baits to burn. The blades just feel right. The skirt swirls and comes alive. Just started fishing this lure last season, but it’s already produced some biggies for me. It’s another winner that could become a classic.”
The Goods: Northland’s new macro in-lines are built on heavy-duty .051-inch stainless-steel frames and feature magnum split rings and 7/0 VMC trebles. Resplendent “baitfish-image” Flashabou skirts pulse fluidly on the retrieve, while twin offset Colorado blades mix heavy vibration and flash. Two sizes include a 1.5-ounce version with double #8 Colorados and a “Big Mama” 3.5-ounce size with double #10s. Nine colors with three Live-Forage patterns are available. Pearson’s picks are Black Sucker and Redhorse with silver blades—northlandtackle.com.
(5) GERRY’S GIRL—A sweet custom double-Colorado in-line, Gerry’s Girl comes from the vise of Gerry Carroll, a lure maker from Pewaukee, Wisconsin, who specializes in in-lines, special “reverse” bucktails, and husky spinnerbaits.
Pearson’s particulars: “I caught a 54-incher on the Woods with this bait last summer. Was kind of slow rolling it through dark water on a 10-foot saddle, when she decided to eat. I had the bait down deep at the time. That was a really memorable fish, and capped one of my best years ever on the Woods.”
The Goods: As a custom bait maker, Carrol can cook up about any combination you want. Pearson’s pick is a red skirt with brass blades—262/691-1317, firstname.lastname@example.org.
(6) BUCHERTAIL TOP RAIDER—This ever-popular surface lure might also be one of the top muskie catchers of all time. Balanced to ride in an upright position, the Top Raider has a pre-tuned tail prop that spins and gurgles, producing an alluring plop-plop-plop sound that’s music to muskies.
Pearson’s particulars: “Joe’s bait is an engineering marvel. It’s amazing how the tail rotates seamlessly around the inner shaft, driven by a perfectly tuned prop that produces a high-pitch, water-cupping sound. Seems like every year I catch two or three 50-inchers on this lure. Not much to fishing it. You can do it fast or slow, and it takes waves well, too. The magic’s in the sound.”
The Goods: The original 7-inch Top Raider was one of the first surface lures to use shrink tubing to position the tail treble perfectly straight back, in prime hook-set position. It’s offered in 20 colors, the newest versions have slick chromed coatings. Pearson’s picks are Black Firetail and Black Widow—joebucheroutdoors.com.
(7) MOULDY’S HAWG WOBBLER—Another legendary lure, the Hawg Wobbler offers one of the most distinctive surface actions ever devised. On a steady retrieve, the bait slowly rolls from side-to-side, joints clicking, while a tailgunner spinner creates a wake.
Pearson’s particulars: “I ignored topwaters for the first 20 years of my career, and I’ll never live it down. Every time I throw a Hawg Wobbler, I wonder again why it took me so long. The bait has a hypnotic ‘live critter’ action that breaks your heart. It’s great for throwbacks on followers, too. Bob Strand showed me how he carefully bends the lip down just slightly to give it even more of a rocking action and a little extra noise.
“I’m pretty overboard on the topwater thing these days. Even early in the season, I’m monkeying around with ‘em when I probably shouldn’t be. Still, these baits are so appealing that even on opening day, you stand a chance. The Hawg Wobbler is an all-time great that I always have handy.”
The Goods: A three-part design—wobbler lip, clacking mid-bait joint, tail prop—yields a marvelous rodentlike surface shimmy. Four sizes, including the 6-inch Original and 81⁄2-inch Magnum, and 12 colors are offered. Pearson’s pick is Loon Fire Tail—mouldys.com.
(8) MUSKY MANIA JAKE—A time-tested trolling machine, the slab-sided Jake swims with a prominent rolling action that offers flash and vibration. Jake’s high-impact lip hammers rock and walks wood—big-time triggering power. The bait’s buoyancy also floats it cleanly out of snags on a momentary pause. Beyond trolling, many anglers consign the bait for twitching duty, at which the Jake also excels.
Pearson’s particulars: “From August until the end of the season, I always have either a Jake or a Drifter Tackle Triple D tied on. Early on, I’m twitching both baits. I can crank the Triple D down to nearly any depth, then just twitch-and-pause it back to the boat. It’s a nice deep trolling bait, too. Once trolling season begins (October-November) I find it hard to get away from a 10- or 14-inch Jake.”
The Goods: Jakes range from 6 inches to a giant 14-incher that might account for more trolled-up muskies than any other lure, with apologies to Believers and Grandmas, which also tally their share. Drifter Tackle has a major lineup of colors, including Electric Glitter and Big Flash series. Pearson’s pick is Superman White—muskymania.com.
(9) BULL DAWG—Rubber ducky baits, as Pearson calls them, have generated their own presentation niche. Musky Innovations’ Bull Dawg was perhaps the first in this lineup of soft-elastic creature-style swimbaits that’s become a new classic.
Pearson’s particulars: “Though they’re a totally different animal from hard jerkbaits, you can work them much the same. Experiment with stop-and-go retrieves, do some fast rod popping and twitching. Guys also do well in deep water, using a slow jigging sequence.”
The Goods: Many of the world’s recent giant fish—54- to 57-inchers—have fallen for the charms of these soft-flapping swimmers. They “chew” like real food, and big muskies swallow them whole. There’s an extensive selection of sizes, color patterns, and shapes—the 16-ounce Super Mag a current mega-fish favorite—muskyinnovations.com.
(10) HELLCAT— Another of Pearson’s rubber ducky favorites is the HellCat Sharkbait, a hand-poured mega-softy. Fish it with a slow rod-pump and long pause. Or speed it over shallow cover.
Pearson’s particulars: I reach for them where fishing pressure has been heavy. When you stop getting follows in mid-summer, these things shine.
The Goods: The HellCat is a hand-poured custom bait that’s made-to-order— email@example.com.
Cory Schmidt is an In-Fisherman Field Editor and an exceptional muskie angler.