It was a warm evening for late September. A waxing crescent moon cast it’s reflection on the water as the intermittent plop of Jakes broke the silence. Entranced by the rhythmic cadence of the minnowbait, I suddenly felt the subtle “tick” of a muskie hitting the bait.
After a hard hook set, the big fish rocketed out of the lake, violently shaking it’s head. Immediately upon reentry, it bulldogged deep off the edge of the reef; a surefire sign of a big muskie. An intense head shaking battle ensued but soon the fish tired and slid headlong into the big net, all 50 inches of her. A pic and a couple high fives later, she swam off into the ebony cloak of darkness to bring a smile to another’s face on a later day.
The Musky Mania Jake is a staple in my arsenal of muskie baits, having accounted for more muskies than most any bait in my box. From 6 inchers to 14 inchers, Straight to Squirelly, they’re simply a dynamite bait. In the coming paragraphs, I’ll discuss casting and trolling these versatle minnow baits in daylight and at night.
Here in Northern Minnesota,casting reefs and sunken islands at night is most effective from the summer peak through freeze up. That usually coincides with the first week in July until late November. One time frame that has really shined for night casting is the pre-turnover and turnover period, as big muskies exhibit even more of a propensity to slide up onto shallow rock structure at this time.
The relatively shallow running depth of 8 and 10 inch Jakes paired with their neutral buoyancy perfectly tailors them to casting these shallow rock outcroppings. I prefer the 8 and 10 inch sizes in both standard Jake and Squirrely models. I’ve caught more fish on the 8 inch models, but both are very effective. I also cast 14 inchers but I will cover that later under twitching. The ball inside the Jake is a sound attractant that muskies use to home in on with their lateral lines. These pores under the lip coupled with their excellent vision help make the muskie an ultra efficient night predator.
Under the cover of darkness, I’m partial to a steady slow to medium retrieve speed. At least once during each cast, crank it hard a few cranks, then stop it. The Jake will back up in it’s tracks. This is a great trigger for following muskies otherwise ensconced in the rhythm of the bait, as the change can sometimes illicit a reaction strike.
Look for structure that tops off in 2 to 3 feet of water. Use long casts to work the Jake over the apex structure and back out over the drop off. The best night casting time time has been the late summer through early fall period as the water temperature drops from the low 60’s through the 50’s. Muskies will start out holding very shallow and gradually slide deeper into the 8-12 foot range as the lake cools, flips, then stabilizes. Jakes are THE ideal minnowbait for probing these depths in these water temps.
Firetiger, Night Shiner, Perch, and Superman color patterns have all turned the trick. The key is to experiment as the muskies’ preference will vary depending on wter clarity and moon phase. Overall I’ve done better on the bright colors with the moon up and dark colors with the moon down.
The two major differences in casting in daylight versus night are the type of retrieve and color preference. Twitching is especially effective on pressured muskies. Conditioned muskies will tune out certain style baits unless totally in “go mode”. An erratically worked Jake can be a just what the doctor ordered to trigger a strike. Hard upward jerks and twitches and short downward sweeps will make the bait dart, flutter, and belly roll.
Don’t be afraid to speed up the retrieve a bit. Mix up the rips. twitches, and sweeps to avoid a predicable cadence. Though I still prefer 8 and 10 inch Jakes for twitching, the 14’s have scored on some big muskies the last few years. During the pre-turnover/turnover to late fall periods, I’ll have 2 or sometimes 3 people casting Jakes at the same time. During warmer water periods, I prefer to use the Jake as the second or third bait through in the casting sequence, with a faster moving blade or topwater as the first bait. They’re great as a throw-back bait or as the primary bait on fish you go back to after an earlier follow.
I like rods of 7’9″ or longer in medium heavy and heavy power with a moderate fast action. The longer rod allows for precision casts in addition to acting as a shock absorber during the fight. They’re also more user friendly when figure 8ing and circling big Jakes all day. The moderate fast action is the important part of the equation here. The slower “load up” enables the bait to better work it’s way through obstructions in comparison to a fast action which loads up immediately and snags easier.
A quality reel spooled with 80 pound superbraid and a 12 inch fluoro leader is essential. For twitching tactics, a reel with fast line pick up is of the utmost importance. Muskies will often strike on the pause, so the faster the reel picks up the slack line, the better.
Cloudy, cold days typify late October on Lake Vermilion and this one was no exception. Slate gray skies and intermittent snow flurries were the harbinger of a classic late fall trolling day. Two flat line rods rigged with big Jakes thumped rhythmically in their holders while the planer board line cut a wake through the chilly water.
After an hour or so of idyllic calm, the silence was broken by sweet music to the muskie trollers ear-a succession of hard rips on the reel clicker. In short order, the long rod emerged from it’s holder with a deep bend as the battle commenced. Emblematic of a big muskie, she head shaked and ‘dogged it deep trying to gain bottom. After a see saw battle, the big ‘skie finally tired and slid into the net. She measured out at 51 inches, a true trophy for my excited friend Judy!
Though trolling Jakes is often thought of as a fall tactic, truth be told, it’s also deadly during the spring and summer peak. One of the major advantages of trolling is that the Jake is constantly in the water at the desired depth. The 10 and 14 inch models swim with a wobble that is just plain enticing. The bearing inside the bait provides an added allure for the muskie’s lateral lines. Muskies rely heavily on their lateral lines to sense vibration and home in on their prey.
In early season and through the summer peak, I’ll troll them high in the water column to target suspended muskies, whereas in late fall I’ll run them both high and low in the column. 35 to 120 feet of 80 pound braid gets the bait in the strike zone while 4 to 6 foot fluoro and wire leaders guard against abrasion resulting from contact with rocks.
Several online resources offer running depth charts for various baits. Try them out and make your own charts. I learned through trial and error and diligent record keeping. It’s all in my head now, but it helps to plot a chart for starters. Incorporate 10’s and 14’s into your trolling spread and use inline planers to spread em’ out. Vary the running depth. Some ‘skies want it in their face while some will shoot up to hit a higher running Jake. Vary your trolling speeds from 3 to 5 mph and integrate turns and neutral stop and go’s into your troliing passes to change the speed and direction of the Jake.
In early season and summer, look for muskies that are crossing open water basins en route to their summer ranges. Some muskies are more lake trout or salmon-like in their behavior in that they chase pelagic baitfish over open water basins instead of spending their time in the weeds, rocks, or other structure. Keep in mind though that the surface IS structure. These are typically the biggest muskies in the system and Jakes are just what the doctor ordered-big profile, flash, and thump!
Late fall muskies in my neck of the woods are interested in one thing and one thing only-Staging and spawning tullibees and whitefish. These denizens of open water move onto reefs, and rock/gravel/sand shoreline to spawn in the cold water of late October and November. Prior to this, they stage in open water basins close to where they will later spawn.Troll 14 and 10 inch Jakes over these locations, ancillary structure and adjacent open water basins. I generally favor trolling 14 inch Jakes over 10 inchers simply because they offer more profile and thump. That being said, clients, friends and I have boated a lot of big muskies over the years on 10 inchers.
An 8 foot plus heavy power glass or glass/graphite rod with a moderate action allows the Jake perform flawlessly. The slow load up enables the bait to better work it’s way through rocks while avoiding snags. Also, the soft nature of the rod is much more forgiving on bone jarring hits and snags while trolling at 3 to 5 mph.
A quality line counter reel with a good drag system is a must. Never skimp on the reel. I like a fairly snug drag setting to avoid missing fish but it still must be forgiving enough to spool out in the event of a snag. Again, 80 pound braid with a 4 to 6 foot fluoro or wire leader of at least 120 plus pound test.
The “hot” color will vary by body of water, season, and one year to the next. These are some of my perennial favorites: Red Horse Sucker, Orange Tiger, Night Shiner, Superman, Cisco, Finlander, Blue Mackerel, Silver/Black, Chartreuse Coachdog, and Jailbird. Some are offered in holoform patterns etc. The important thing is contrast and visibility. It’s common sense. The easier it is for muskie to see it, the easier it is to hit it. I discussed the role lateral lines play in this earlier. Contrast can be in the form of vertical or horizontal lines and or color combinations. Musky Mania Jakes come in a huge array of colors which perform well in any water, clear or stained.
On some water, the muskies are “match the hatch” all the way- Troll a bait that looks like what they’re eating. On other waters, they seem to favor the brightest, gaudiest colors imaginable. Know one knows why they’ll destroy a jailbird or Chartreuse Coachdog pattern…All that matters is that they work!
If I could have only 2 or 3 baits in my box, the Jake would be one of them. They’re a staple in my casting and trolling arsenal. From the 6 to the 14 inch, Squirrely Jake to Jake, they’re a lethal weapon on the end of any serious muskie fisherman’s rod.