The parade for the Super Bowl champion New York Giants was miles long. Nice. But the parade that rattles, flashes, and thumps past muskies every summer is even longer.
No hot dogs. Just car parts, Cow Girls, and Frankenthings. Pressured muskies may find the parade a bit tedious, long, noisy, and bright. Not that traditional methods and lures won't catch big muskies, but the strike- per-hour ratio seems to decline for aggressive presentations and increase for subtle options on classic spots in famous lakes.
Big tube baits, that shape-shifting chameleon of plastic baits, leads the anti-parade. Hold the trombones. Softer, easier to cast, quieter, less back pain — it's a gentler world, this. Tubes suggest changes in terminal tackle, rods, and tactics. Tubes can do some of the things traditional lures do, but better, due to an irresistible finishing touch: Unforced movement. Tentacles and soft sides move independently when no action is applied.
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Musky Innovations 10-inch Titan Tube
Musky Innovations 14-inch Jimmy
Red October 12-inch Big Sexy
Red October 10-inch Monster Tube
Red October 10-inch Twisted Tube
Tubes In Lakes
Muskies in natural lakes spend a lot of time between late spring and midsummer on deep weedlines. Tubes are naturals around weeds, fishing them as you would jigs. Cast along deep weededges, dropping and lifting. It's an erratic thing. It doesn't just rise and fall, it spirals, glides, and undulates. Try it on rockbars and wood, too.
Tubes can be fished like jerkbaits, too, retrieved with downward pulls of the rod. They combine the good characteristics of a jerkbait but with the subtle movement of soft plastic.
Longer rods give you more snap on the lift, and more control when you swim the tube. Match an 8- to 9-footer with 80-pound braid and an 80-pound fluorocarbon leader.
Editor of Musky Hunter magazine Jim Saric admits he had a limited view of tubes when they first arrived in sizes for muskie. "I considered them a throw-back bait for fish that followed other lures but wouldn't bite," he says. "But they've become one of my hottest baits.
"Hang time makes tubes easier to work than jerkbaits," he adds. "On timber flats, shallow rocks, and weedlines tubes are versatile in various situations and they're hard for muskies to refuse."
Mark Arena of Red October Baits likes to vertically jig muskies in big rivers like the St. Lawrence, Detroit, and Niagara. His company was founded on building and rigging tubes for toothy critters.
"Fish are forced toward the bottom in big rivers," he says. "That's where the current slows. You have to maintain contact with the bottom or be in close proximity to it. You can get away with 1½-ounce heads in shallow water, but sometimes you need at least 4 ounces to get down where the fish are. You have to match the jig to current speed and depth. We catch a lot of muskies in runs, necks, and pools 20 to 25 feet deep.
"Most of the time, subtle action triggers the most strikes. Some days we increase the weight to add action, so it falls and spirals faster. Make more pronounced jigging motions, jerking the tube 4 or 5 feet off bottom. Other times just drag and swim it. Let weather, water conditions, and muskies indicate what's right."
In rivers, Arena keeps the boat perpendicular to shore, while drifting. With sonar, he finds deep runs with complex bottom structure. He runs upstream and drifts with the current, using the trolling motor to keep the boat broadside to the current. Cast upstream, then give slack to allow the tube to reach bottom. Then begin a slow, lift-drop retrieve while maintaining bottom contact. It takes a while to get the tube back to the boat.
Small-river muskie anglers across the Midwest and Mid-South fish from the bank or use small boats on the many productive waters there. What could be easier to tote than soft plastics? In slower, shallower reaches, light jigs suffice, while the allure of the bait's the same. Walking-the-dog with a tube can be rabidly effective all summer.
The "walk" isn't predictable, however. A tube might go left twice, then right, and so on. A properly weighted tube, though, dances side-to-side with a short stroke-and-glide cadence. Use a 7-foot rod, hold the tip a couple feet above the water's surface and stroke downward.
In fall, the soft turn-and-glide of a lightly weighted tube attracts big fish. Versatile, effective, and easy to fish. What's not to like?
*In-Fisherman Field Editor Matt Straw lives in Brainerd, Minnesota.