March 05, 2016
By Steve Ryan
Muskie anglers can give thanks for the -plethora of reel options available today. From high-line-capacity reels, to classic round options, to low-profile and line-counter offerings, there have never been more quality reels from which to choose. Since there's no way to cover all of them in a few pages, we call on a few top muskie anglers to share thoughts on their favorites.
Extra Heavy Duty
Jim Saric, one of the all-time great muskie anglers, says the ultimate game-changer reel in muskie fishing is the Shimano Tranx. "There's no reel with a more solid gear system for handling the strain from pulling double-10 bucktails," he says. "With two Tranx models available, anglers routinely ask me whether they should get the PG (power) model with a gear ratio of 4.6:1 and line retrieval of 30 inches per crank or the HG (high speed) model with a gear ratio of 6.6:1 and line retrieval of 43 inches per crank.
"The inclination is to consider the HG for retrieving large bucktails at high speed, but that's not the case. With its large spool and power handle, the lower gear ratio of the PG makes it a better choice for effortlessly retrieving large bucktails fast. The game-changing ability of this reel happens when a muskie follows the lure. With most reels that have a 4.6:1 gear ratio, no matter how quickly you crank, the reel isn't capable of accelerating the lure's speed enough to provoke the muskie. That's not the case with the Tranx PG.
"When a muskie follows and you crank the reel handle faster, you can pull a bait away from it," Saric says. "By forcing it to swim faster to chase the lure, you change its mood and make it more aggressive. I can't count the number of muskies that have followed my lure, and that I've changed the attitude of by making them swim faster. The Tranx catches more muskies for me each year and that's why I call it a game changer.
"I also have specific uses for the Tranx HG. During late summer, after muskies have been exposed to a heavy dose of mega-size bucktails, I switch to smaller #8- or #9-blade bucktails retrieved at high speeds. Point the rod tip at the water line toward the lure and crank as fast as you can. This is where the HG shines. It's like speed-trolling with a reel. The lure cruises at high speed 6 to 12 inches below the surface and muskies crush it rather than follow it to the boat.
"I use the Tranx PG for 85 percent of my bucktail fishing, but the HG gets the call when I need extreme speed," he says. "I spool with 80- to 100-pound-test Power Pro braid. It has the sensitivity to feel when blades aren't working and the strength for a solid impact when muskies strike."
Another extra-heavy-duty, high-capacity option is the Daiwa Lexa 400 series, with models in gear ratios of 5.1:1, 6.3:1, and 7.1:1, and in both right and left-handed versions. Among many muskie enthusiasts partial to the Lexa 400 is Bob Daly, one of the most prolific traveling anglers targeting not just muskies, but beastly exotic freshwater fish from around the globe.
Daly says the Lexa has the perfect amount of power, speed, and comfort to make it his "go to" reel for all muskie applications. "With 25 pounds of drag pressure and incredibly precise gearing, the Lexa 400 is as suited for catching trophy muskies, as it is at taming world-class golden dorado in Argentina or extracting 200-pound Nile perch from Uganda's Murchison Falls. It can hold 200 yards of 80-pound braid so it has the line capacity to double as a trolling reel if necessary. Plus, its Magforce cast-control makes casting any size bait a breeze, and at less than 16 ounces in weight, you can cast all day without becoming fatigued.
Daiwa Lexa 400
Abu Garcia C4 5600
Abu Garcia Alphamar 20LC
Abu Garcia Record 5600
Abu Garcia 6500LC
Matt Pelletier guides on New Mexico's Blue Water Lake for tiger muskies. He relies on heavy-duty Abu Garcia Ambassadeur reels to perform under pressure. His top two choices for comfort and reliability are the Ambassadeur C4 5600 and Record 5600.
He says these round reels are the standard by which he judges all other reels. Their round profile allows them to be palmed in the hand for added leverage when working jerkbaits and glidebaits. Pelletier provides a hardy endorsement to each of these reels. "The Ambassadeur C4 5600 boasts 15 pounds of drag and a 30-inch-per-turn line retrieval that enables me to quickly gain on muskies and get them to the net without exhausting them," he says. "Paired with a heavy rod and spooled with 80-pound TUF-Line Guide's Choice, the C4 has the power to instantly drive hooks home when a tiger clamps down on a jerkbait, and its precision cut brass gears handle the insanity that ensues.
"Also, you can swap out the stock handle on the C4 for a power handle for high-speed cranking, or try the Record 5600, which also comes with a power handle. It has the same 15 pounds of drag as the C4, but boasts additional 3 inches of line per turn of the handle. When I rip big baits like Ducktail Lures' Warrior jerkbaits, Suick Thrillers, and River2Sea Whopper Ploppers, I like to know that the reel I'm palming can handle the task. When tigers eat at boatside or in the prop wash at 7 mph, the Record and C4 get the job done."
Tony Grant tangles with mean river-run muskies in Kentucky and needs a reel with heavy-duty gears and a quick retrieve to work baits properly and to keep fish from tangling in standing timber in his home waters of Cave Run Lake, so he turns to Okuma's Komodo 364 low-profile casting reel. He throws plenty of bucktails, but also works large soft plastics, which have dominated the muskie world in the last 10 years. He says these heavy baits sink quickly on the pause and their only forward motion is on the pull. Accordingly, you need a fast and strong reel for this application.
"Picking up slack with big plastics is crucial to keep them out of the cover," he says. "With a 6.4:1 retrieve ratio and a 31-inch-per-crank retrieve, the Komodo has what it takes to work baits like Bull Dawgs, Medusas, and Red October Tubes. The reel's fast retrieve also is an asset when fishing glidebaits where slack line needs to be picked up quickly. Best of all, this low-profile baitcaster is comfortable in your hands, weighs only 10.6 ounces, has 25 pounds of drag pressure, and holds nearly 230 yards of line."
For another low-profile option, Captain Max Bornemann is partial to the Abu Garcia Revo NaCl for big-water muskies. Bornemann explains, "The NaCl provides an incredible platform, for bucktails to jerkbaits to heavy rubber. Its cranking power has won over muskie hunters who burn bucktails, but I feel its high-speed gear ratio of 6:4:1 is one of its greatest attributes for jerkbaits and big rubber. With a line retrieval rate of more than 30 inches per crank, my clients are able to take up slack line more quickly with less effort, and it also allows for quicker hook-sets. They also enjoy the low-profile design for less fatigue during a long day of casting. I like the synchronized level-wind system that lays line on the spool perfectly after each cast, which reduces backlashes."
"For clients who prefer a more compact (yet nearly as powerful) reel, I set them up with a Revo Beast. The Beast is remarkable in that it weighs just 9.3 ounces, yet it delivers 22 pounds of drag and retrieves 29 inches of line per crank. I spool it with 65-pound Berkley Professional Grade Braid and pair it with a lighter 8-foot rod for tossing small spinners and twitchbaits in spring."
For trolling, several high-quality line-counter reels are available, including the Daiwa Sealist, Okuma Convector, Penn Squall, and Shimano Tekota. On the waters of Green Bay, Captain Bret Alexander is partial to the Abu Garcia 7000LC for its durability and the Alphamar 20LC for its extra line capacity. Abu Garcia discontinued the 7000LC and currently offers the 6500LC, a slightly smaller version yet with high line capacity and power handle. "During fall, I almost exclusively troll for big fish," he says. "When grinding at 3.5 to 5.5 mph with heavy drag settings, you need a reel with solid gears and precise drag. That's what the 7000LC delivers. Plus, it can withstand the punishment that my clients and trophy muskies dish out on a daily basis.
"With three or four people in my Ranger 621, I run 6 to 10 rods with Rapala Super Shad Raps on planer boards and 1 to 2 rods running Double 10 Spanky bucktails in the propwash. That's a lot of lines to spread out in cramped quarters. Clients are bound to bump into and step on gear. I've been running 7000LCs for seven years and they continue to outlast all other reels I've owned.
"Last year, I started running Alphamar 20LCs with 100-pound-test Spiderwire Stealth braid for my outside board rods. They excel for this application since they have extra line capacity to run boards 150 to 250 feet away from the boat. In addition, the oversized power handle and ultra-quick retrieve means that outside boards can be retrieved in a hurry to switch lures, remove weeds, or change locations without wasting fishing time," he says.
With so many solid reel options available, it's easy for muskie anglers to have different combos available for specific techniques, like in the bass world. Keep rod-reel combos rigged with specific lures and leaders for greater efficiency on the water. The right tool for the job means no muskie is safe.