#1. The Frabill lure retriever. A great tool to rescue a lure that’s cast a little too far. Also useful for keeping a fiberglass boat off the rocks. Even works to free trolling lures. Really, it’s a lure manufacturer’s worse nightmare.
#2. Frabill nets. I use a Power Catch, which many folks might like for muskies, lake trout, and stripers. The Big Kahuna is my choice for muskies. It seems large at first, but fish can be handled safely at boatside and kept in great shape.
#3. Muskie Mania Tackle’s Squirrely Jake. The tail adds that little extra something to this standard bait. Confidence inspiring and it works–at least sometimes.
#4. Okuma Magna Pro DX20 line-counter reels. Inexpensive and, so far, working well. Just the right size for muskie tackle. Smooth drag. It worked well even in extremely cold weather late last fall.
Pete Maina, tackle manufacturer; General Manager, Esox Angler
#1. The Muskie Mania Tackle Squirrely Ernie. One of my main projects late last year was testing this bait. Basically, it’s the standard large Ernie diver, a proven performer with a soft plastic tail. It’s a deep diver (gets to 13 feet on a cast) and is super tough, the round lip design handling rock contact well.
#2. Frabill’s ProTech Release Cradle. For those who like the standard cradle design, this is the most fish-friendly one I’ve used (has a built-in ruler). The mesh reduces tangling, slime removal, fin-splitting, and eye damage.
#3. Bass Pro Shop’s Pete Maina Signature Series 8-foot 6-inch Muskie Rod. This new rod has the backbone to cast big cranks yet fishes smaller spinners well, too. Provides extra casting distance, but I also like this length at boatside when fishing in deep-V boats. Does double-duty as a trolling rod.
Dick Pearson, guide and longtime In-Fisherman contributor
#1. The Frabil Lure Retriever. I’m with Johnson on this one. Don’t know what I did without it. I have several thousand muskie lures, but only take the best of the best of them in the boat with me. Don’t want to lose any of the time-tested ones.
#2. The Esox Research Pearson Grinder. Esox Research is a new muskie company. They asked me to design a bent-wire spinnerbait. The new design is the best thing I’ve ever fished in the weeds. Has a shorter arm than most of the designs on the market, along with a single willowleaf blade. Hooks well and holds on. Available in three sizes, including a large trolling model.
#3. The Esox Research Triple D. Another one I helped design and test last year. The Triple D is a solid one-piece crankbait that looks similar to the old Bagley diver. Fishes without much effort, in part because it’s a suspending bait. Almost indestructible and has a tremendous action.
Doug Stange, In-Fisherman Editor In Chief
#1. The Salmo Slider. One of those baits that you just know’s going to be a killer. This jerkbait walks the dog wider than most baits like it, wobbling and swimming at the same time. Casts a mile.
#2. Shakespeare Line Counter Reels. These are the reels we use for trolling when we shoot In-Fisherman Television. They work great. I consider them one of the biggest bargains in muskie fishing.
#3. Pflueger 6600 Casting Reels. Same deal as the Shakespeare Line Counters. An outstanding medium-duty muskie reel for the money.
#4. Spiderwire Stealth. Several outstanding superlines are on the market for muskies, with this one right up there with the best. Smooth casting. Quiet on the retrieve. Absolutely durable. I used 80-pound test for the muskie footage we shot on TV last season.
#5. Frabill Big Kahuna. As Johnson says, you net a fish and it kind of lounges around in this big net, waiting to be released. It’s sort of a big boatside swimming pool for muskies. The best thing I’ve found to handle fish safely at boatside.
Dan Craven, Leech Lake, Minnesota, guide and In-Fisherman contributor
#1. Abu Garcia C3 Line Counter conversion kit. Adjusts to various line weights and styles used in conjunction with 6500 C3 reels. LCD readout. Accurate and a nice option for anglers who don’t want to buy new reels just for trolling.
#2. The Loomis MNR861C rod. This 7-foot 2-inch rod handles 3/8- to 1-ounce lures. I like it as a light yet powerful “light bucktail” rod. Would do double duty as a heavy-cover rod for bass and pike.
#3. Musky Mania Tackle Lilly Tail Bucktail. A super straight-shaft spinner design by Rusty Lilyquist that’s finally in wider distribution. The bait has a rubber skirt and a large single hook, which I often change to a treble. Has produced more fish for me than any other bucktail.
#4. Northland Bionic Bucktail Spinner. A new straight-shaft bait designed by Leech Lake area guide Al Maas. Weighs an ounce and has a #5 willowleaf blade with a holographic finish.
Rob Kimm, In-Fisherman contributor and Associate Editor, Esox Angler
#1. Marcum LX-3 flasher. This is a re-engineered redesign of the three-color flasher technology offered by the old Zercom Color Point. Haven’t used it in open water, but it reads superbly on ice. This LCD offers superb thin-line readings that can be precisely tuned. Readable in direct sunlight.
#2. Berkley Iron Silk. For those of you who like to fish mono in some situations for muskies, this is the most abrasion-resistant line I’ve seen. It isn’t technically a monofilament, but it fishes like it in most senses.
#3. Frabill Big Kahuna Net. Ditto and then some to what Johnson and Stange have said about this net. The hoop on the Kahuna is 44 inches by 40 inches and the bag’s 60 inches deep. The most practical place to store it is drooped over the outboard.
#4. Ty Sennett’s Pacemaker. One of the best tail-spinning topwaters I’ve fished. The rear hook is set back so the hook shank gets ticked by the tail blade with each revolution, creating a steady clacking, in addition to the plopping tail. This one’s capable of a range of speeds; so a slow-moving bait can gradually be sped up to trigger following fish, without the bait rolling over or blowing out. Built to last.