I have long preferred fishing with single-hook lures for pike and muskies when it’s possible to do so. Fish hooked on single-hook lures are easier to handle—and often there’s less hook damage, making successful fish release even easier.
Beyond a softbait rigged on a standard leadhead jig, my favorite single-hook systems employ weighted swimbait hooks from the Eagle Claw TroKar lineup. The best California-style swimbait bodies that I’ve used are the Sebile Magic Swimmers. They’re sold in packages of three (6.25 inches) and two (8 inches), respectively, with one of the smaller lures prerigged with a 7/0 weighted hook, the larger lure rigged with a 10/0 hook. I replace the packaged hook with a weighted TroKar, the TK170, in 7/0 or 9/0. They have a cylindrical keeper that screws into the nose of the swimbait to hold it securely. The 7/0 hook weighs 3/8 ounce and the 9/0 weighs 1/2 ounce.
Rigged in traditional fashion, with the hook texposed through the top of the softbait body so the hook point lays in the groove made for the hook, this rigging runs perfectly through vegetation or open water. Most of the time one need do no more than slow-grind the lure along, although stop-and-go retrieves also work well at times.
For early-season fishing or fishing in far-northern waters when the water remains cold and fish remain shallow into late June and July, the 6.25-inch bait works well. Later in the season, the 8-incher usually works best.
The smaller Magic Swimmer also works well rigged flat, especially for pike, when the water’s cold or fish are in a funk. Just run the hook up through the middle of the side of the bait. The lure no longer slow-grinds as well this way on a straight retrieve, but then the idea is to use more of a snapping retrieve with your rod tip high, to make the body jump, dart, and fall so it looks direly injured.
Another single-hook rig that can be deadly requires deconstruction of in-line spinners, removing the treble hook in favor of a weighted swimbait hook like the TK170. One good smaller option is to deconstruct a Mepps Musky Killer, adding a 5/0 TK170. This couples well with a 5-inch paddletail swimbait body like the 5-inch Berkley PowerBait Ripple Shad. Rig the Ripple Shad so it runs flat, which provides much more hook gap for better hookups. These rigs run just as well on a slow steady grind through open water as they do through vegetation.
To make a bigger rig, I often remove the treble hook from a Blue Fox Musky Buck with a #6 blade, adding a 7/0 TroKar TK170 to the split ring. A favorite trailer is the 6-inch Berkley Slim Shad, again rigged flat on the weighted hook.