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Beginners Guide to Kayak Musky Fishing

Welcome to the Beginners Guide to Kayak Musky Fishing. Kayak Musky fishing can be brutal! Kayak Musky gear is hard on your wallet, there is a high probability of blood, guaranteed sweat and most likely a shed tear or two! There will be many lows, multiple skunk outings, cold fingers and runny noses. There will be heartache of lost fish and giant yak-side follows. These toothy dragons will haunt your dreams and make you question your sanity.

But If you are still interested in chasing these fish after reading this pre-amble, Right on! Catching one of these giants will lead to a second. And a second fish will lead to a third etc. If you make it this far in your Musky quest, you will be in a select group of Kayak anglers seen on social media holding up their catches like a proud parent posing with their child at the NHL draft.

The stoke after catching a Musky (known as the fish of 10,000 casts) is high. You will never forget your first musky, and any personal beasts that follow will be forever ingrained into your memory.

Let us start off with a list of the basic gear you will need to catch and handle these beauties in a way that is both safe for you and the fish.


1. Rod- There is a ton of information on the internet about musky combos. For kayak specific Musky fishing, a fast-action heavy predator rod in the 7’6” range is perfect. Too long of a rod and it would take a bigger swing to get the hookset. Big swinging hooksets are difficult on a floating platform less than three feet wide. The rod should at least be rated to throw baits in the two to the eight-ounce range as well. This rod is well-suited for multiple techniques.

2. Reel- A 6:1 ratio 300 series baitcasting reel paired with 65-80Lb braid gets the nod as a highly effective winch to get the big girls in the boat quickly and efficiently. Braid is a no-stretch rope which allows for great hooksets. The teeth on a muskellunge are like razors, so a leader is of the ultimate importance. You really cannot beat a brand name leader in the 130Lb and above rating with strong swivels and snaps. Pre-made is defiantly the way to go in my opinion. Long titanium leaders may seem like a good alternative, yet they can do real damage by cutting into a Musky that decides to roll in the net.

3. Net- An XL predator net is the way to go. A large bag allows the Musky to safely ‘chill out’ in the water while you unhook the fish and prepare your camera and bump board for a quick photo and measure.4. Fishfinder- Electronics have come a long way in recent years. With Down-image clarity, side-imaging, and 3D sonar comes increased odds at finding subtle the bait and points of interest on your body of water. GPS and dropping waypoints greatly increase your efficiency on the water.

Late fall River Musky in the ‘bag’ (@scott Barton)

5. Drysuit (cold water clothing)- The biggest Muskies of the year are typically caught when they are at their heaviest weight- late fall. Here in Ontario, that means cold water, wind, and temperatures slightly above freezing. Be prepared in case of cold-water submersion with the right gear and peace of mind.
6. First Aid Kit- Always a good idea on a kayak. Nobody wants a bobo to ruin their outing.
Having the right tools easily accessible is essential for the quick release of Musky.


@Guillaume Delair demonstrates the proper technique for lifting a Musky

1. Long Nose Pliers and jaw spreaders- Razor-sharp Teeth BAD. Proper tools to take hooks out of mouth GOOD.
2. Handling gloves- See teeth above.
3. Hook cutters (strong)- There are times when you will need to cut hooks. Hopefully, it is out of the Musky’s mouth, and not out of your hand. But hook cutters will give you options for both.
4. File- A good file is important for sharpening the hooks after a catch. Short glancing strokes on both the sides and back of the hook are the way this is done. Sharp hooks are key to putting more fish in your photo album and on your social media sites.

Musky in the ‘bag’, belly down and unhooked while angler prepares camera and measuring board @ScottBarton

5. Bump Board- When you catch that personal beast, a quick measurement on a Musky specific board will never leave you with proof rather than a fish story. These boards are typically 60” and fold for stowing. *Remember that the goal of catching these fish is a healthy release. A photo of the Musky in the net is a great back up option. No one will criticize and anglers who consider the health of the fish rather than an accurate measurement.


Musky in the 'bag', belly down and unhooked while angler prepares camera and measuring board @ScottBarton

@Gord Schweertman measuring a musky out of his JK Bite.

Check out the Bite Angler here!

There are a ton of options for lure selection when it comes to chasing the elusive Esox Masquinongy. This really boils down to the forage in your body of water. Think ‘match the hatch’. From custom lures to rubber, it all boils down to personal preference. Heavier baits can be hard on your shoulders and are brutal for trolling. Otherwise, experiment with what anglers are using in your area.

In the river’s I fish in Eastern Ontario, I start the season in early June using smaller baits and slow down the presentation as these fish are typically still recovering from the spawn and can be on the lethargic side.

I typically focus on weed lines and shallow flats. Dive and rise baits like the Suick Thriller are perfect for probing water in the five to ten-foot range and offer a slower presentation. Topwater presentations are also hot this time of year and can pull those giants out of thick cover when a noisy presentation is pulled over their green veggie lair.

I also like burning bucktail blades as the season progresses. These blades give off a ‘thump’ that the fish can sense from a great distance. The options are endless, with every blade size and colour combination imaginable. There are many great custom bucktail makers out there that can make a bucktail spinner to match your preferences.

@Scott Barton demonstrates how to support the weight of this multi-patterned Musky.

Once the water temperature reaches the mid to high 70-degree range, it is time to put down the Musky gear until fall. Warm water and long fights can be detrimental to the safe release of your catch. Where I fish, this typically coincides with the start of bass season.

In the fall, I have found success trolling deeper break-lines and casting humps and shallow reefs. My go-to lure this time of year has been the JB depth raider. It is a great all-around lure for both casting and trolling. On the cast, it can be pulled down to ten feet deep. On the troll, I can get this lure to tick bottom in the 16’-18’ range.

Raymarine Element screenshot of perch on top of stumps in the river. Bait is key to finding Musky nearby.

When trolling in late fall, I like to keep my speed consistent at 2MPH. I keep both hands on the rod and continuously ‘pump’ the bait. This tactic not only allows for greater hooksets, but it also allows me to get a sense of bottom composition. The deflection of deep chunk rock sends a ‘shock’ waver through the water column, in a sense acting as a dinner bell for a lazy ski that has her belly on the bottom. I NEVER use a rod holder when trolling for Musky (which is a breeze with the flex drive!)


Parting words

There is a wealth of knowledge on the internet when it comes to tip and tricks and techniques for Musky fishing, many of which can be adapted for the kayak angler. My best piece of advice would be to buddy up with someone who has handled a ski or two in their day. If you are venturing out solo, do your homework ahead of time on the proper way to lift, hold and manage your catch. Remember that the safety of the angler and the healthy release of the fish is the ultimate game plan.

Same fish caught twice in a season (catch and release works!)

Muskellunge are arguably the hardest fighting freshwater fish on the planet. If you do end up catching one, enjoy the moment, it is sure to be a memorable one! (oh…and welcome to the addiction that is Kayak Musky!)

Scott Barton