Musky Rods – The Ultimate Guide

11/8/23

The difference between a trophy catch and a fishing tale of “the one that got away” often comes down to one crucial piece of equipment: your fishing rod. Choosing the right musky rods for fishing can make all the difference in your fishing experience. It helps cast the bait, set the hook, and fight the fish. 

Whether you’re a seasoned angler or just getting started in the world of musky fishing, this guide is here to help you navigate through the maze of options available to anglers. In it, we’ll cover everything from the basics and types of musky rods to key features to look for and expert recommendations. In order to do that, we’ve sat down with Gavin Falk of St. Croix Rods. Gavin isn’t just an award-winning rod builder, he’s also a confessed musky addict.

 

What Makes A Good Musky Rod

Musky, or muskellunge, are big fish. They’re fairly substantial even when compared to saltwater species, but in the waters they call home, they’re the undisputed heavyweight champ. Not much about fishing for them is subtle. Anglers usually use big baits, heavy lines, wire leaders, and big “home run swing” hooksets. If all goes well, the angler will be blessed with the feel of 4ft of muscle snatching back at him.

muskellunge

All that said, a good musky rod needs to be able to cast big baits, punch hooks through boney jaws, and put the screws to a fish who’s got other plans than coming in your boat. 

According to Gavin, there are more or less 3 types of rods musky anglers need to keep on hand. A “general purpose” rod meant for fishing big inline spinners and bucktail jigs, a live bait rod, and a rod for soft plastics. While he often fishes with 8-10 rods in his boat, these three will let you utilize the most common tactics employed by musky fishermen.

 

Best Musky Rod for Bucktails, Inline Spinners, Topwater, and Jerk Baits

“An all around power and action that works great for almost all bucktails and inline spinners is a heavy power, fast action,” says Gavin. Typically, you’d run that anywhere from 8’ to 9’6” long. This is because when you’re “figure-eighting” the lure at the boat, you want a longer rod to keep that bait down in the water.”

For the uninitiated, “figure-eighting” refers to a technique used to tempt muskies that have followed a lure all the way to the boat. Keeping as much of your rod in the water as possible, you swing your lure in a figure eight pattern.

“Each fish is different,” Gavin elaborates. “I’ve had it where as soon as you turn the bait, they grab it, or sometimes you gotta go around in the figure eight multiple times to get them to eat. So, everyone’s different. Typically, when you do figure eights, you always go deep close to the boat so the fish doesn’t have its eyes close to you. A longer rod helps with that.”

For throwing topwater lures, Gavin recommends using a lighter action. 

musky rods

“For smaller top waters, I usually drop down to like a medium heavy. And the main reason for that is that the rod loads a little bit more to catch that lighter payload,” he explains.

Properly loading the rod makes it much easier to get a lure away from your boat. This is important, because a musky chasing a lure close to the surface will lose interest once he sees a boat full of anglers.

For jerk baits, Gavin keeps the heavy (or even extra heavy) fast action, but shortens the rod. “With a jerk bait, you’re actively working the lure. A shorter rod keeps you from tiring as quickly,” he explains.

What about the rod’s guides? Gavin says that St. Croix keeps it simple. “We run the guide train on all our musky rods the same. We start with a size 8mm running guide and go up to a size 16 stripping guide.

 

Best Live Bait Musky Rod

Artificial baits are well-and-good, but sometimes it’s hard to beat fresh-caught live bait from the waters you’re fishing. Catfishermen love bluegill, and bass anglers use shiners, but the default baitfish for musky is a sucker fish. According to Gavin, the best way to rig a live sucker is on a quick strike rig. This multi-hook rig involves the typical hook through the fish’s nose, but adds two treble hooks that the angler buries just under the skin of the fish. Multiple hooks, combined with a strong hookset, maximize an angler’s chance of burying at least one barb into a musky’s mouth.

“Live bait rods typically have a little bit of glass in them so that they can take a little more abuse. Because you’re setting the hook pretty hard when fishing that way,” he explains. “When you’re fishing with suckers, you’re going for a home run on the swing. You’re trying to yank those treble hooks out of the sucker and through the fish’s mouth. And if you swing and miss, you’re sending 2-3 oz whizzing back at yourself.”

 

Best Musky Rubber Rod

When you think of soft, rubber baits, chances are you picture Texas-rigged bass lizards or little, 3” curly tail grubs. To most freshwater fish, those baits look like a good meal. But they barely register to a 40lb musky. In order to draw the attention of these ravenous apex predators, musky fishermen commonly toss soft plastics that are as long and thick as a man’s forearm. Twitching a Carolina worm is one thing, but ripping a one pound musky rubber is another.

st croix musky rod

“St. Croix makes a designated rubber rod, and there’s actually a funny story behind that,” says Gavin. “A lot of guys in the industry were wrapping pool noodles around the butt of their rods to give themselves a cushion. You can do a normal pull retrieve with a rubber, but you also sometimes rip it hard. You don’t want to give a musky time to look at it sometimes. You just want to make him make a snap decision. So we made a 9ft extra heavy, fast rod, which was a lot beefier at the time than what we had made in the past. And then I added an oversize piece of EVA foam to the back of it, where it’s traditionally cork. The OD on it was like an inch-and-a-quarter, which is pretty significant. People hadn’t seen that before. We took that rod down to Chicago, and it actually won Best in Show. There was definitely a need for it. We make it now in a 10ft extra-heavy as well, but the nine is our mainstay. Once you start getting longer, you lose a bit of control. It’s almost like you start pulling on the rod instead of the lure.”

 

Best Musky Reels

Once you’ve settled on the ideal rod for your fishing style, what’s the best reel for musky fishing?

“Everybody has their own personal taste,” says Gavin. “But I think for most people, the most popular reels are going to be the Shimano Tranx and Daiwa Prorex reels for those bigger rubber baits, because they make that 400 and 500 size. Once you get into smaller baits like the bucktails and topwaters, you have more reels that can withstand that abuse, like Abus and Piscifuns. There are a lot of different brands now making good musky reels.” 

 

Final Thoughts On Musky Rods

While choosing the right rod and reel for your favored musky technique is important, Gavin stresses that you should also give some thought to what happens after you land a big musky.

“One of our top priorities, just like with any other fishery, is taking care of these fish,” he urges. “You want to have proper landing and release tools. You want good, strong, long-nosed pliers to get the hooks out, because you don’t want to be anywhere near those teeth. And I like to use a wide, strong landing net too. I prefer larger mesh on mine than I do with most other fish, and that’s to keep them from rolling and tangling hooks in the mesh. I used to have one with the really fine, rubber coated nets that are supposed to be gentler on fish, but they would snag hooks and then you’d run the risk of hurting the fish while trying to cut them out, or the fish snagging himself with a hook. Another nice thing about a big net is that you can kind of let that fish recuperate in the water for a bit if you need to, before you bump him or take pictures.”

Taking care of muskies like Gavin describes isn’t just the ethical thing to do. Good handling lets big fish turn into trophies, protects breeding stock, and lets you experience the fight another day, which is something we all want.