Trolling for Muskies
|Homer LeBlanc was known as Mr. Muskie.|
Couple of things you have to know to understand where this is going. Gordy is not much on trolling. First time we ever fished together, he wanted to catch a pike on his fly rod. I did not know how well Gordy handled a fly rod and I did not want a 2/0 hook in the back of my head, so we started to troll. A few minutes after he asked, “Have you ever caught a fish doing this (trolling with a fly rod)?” I caught one about seven pounds.
The second thing you have to know is Homer LeBlanc was one of my boyhood heroes. He appeared often on Mort Neff’s TV show, “Michigan Outdoors” during the 1950s displaying monster muskies he caught at Lake St. Clair, only a couple hundred miles from home. And Homer LeBlanc trolled.
Skip forward half a century. I was fishing for muskies on the Ottawa River, north of Montreal, Quebec with Marc Thorpe. Marc has a well-deserved reputation as a guide who puts monster muskies in the boat. Marc trolls.
After a day or so watching Marc set up his rigs, I said, “Trolling the way you do, with a couple of lures off the corners of the boat and others in the prop wash reminds me of the way Homer LeBlanc used to fish Lake St. Clair.”
Marc looked at me with mild astonishment and answered, “Oh, I’m a follower of Homer LeBlanc. I’ve got his book and it’s all marked up. That’s where I learned to fish the way I do.”
After an article appeared in the late, lamented Esox Angler about my trip with Marc, I got an e-mail message from Captain Kevin Backus. Kevin introduced himself as Homer LeBlanc’s grandson and he invited me to join him on a trip to Lake St. Clair. This would be a youthful dream come true. In half a day, I caught seven muskies. None were 50 inch fish, but there were a couple of pretty nice muskies and a good day all around.
From LeBlanc’s book and trips with two of his devotees, what did I learn about trolling for muskies?
For one thing, trolling is not simply dragging a lure through the water. An example from pike fishing. My sister wanted to ride around the small lake in Michigan near our cabin. Trolling once around the lake, I caught three pike. A few days later, my sister and her daughter duplicated the trip but not the pike. She asked how I did it. I knew how deep my lure ran and knew how far from the bank to keep the boat to cause the lure to run a couple of feet off the bottom. From my sister’s perspective, we make a loop around the lake and I caught fish.
LeBlanc marked his spots by tossing out a bouy. Then he memorized landmarks and bearings so he could return. He noted, “I have never found it to do any good by marking an ‘X’ on the side of the boat.” Marc and Captain Kevin also mark productive spots. They do so, however, using modern GPS units. When I trolled with Captain Kevin, he had trolling passes saved on his GPS/depth finder and he or the mate maneuvered along the course he had stored earlier.
For another, a key to muskie trolling success is keeping a lure in the prop wash. When fishing with Marc, a number of fish came to the lures within feet of the whirling prop and we could see than (as well as catch them). LeBlanc wrote, “The trolling fisherman with a propeller driven boat has a great advantage over the fisherman who casts for Muskies. Trolling by rowing isn’t much better than casting for them. The propeller and wash is the answer.” A lure running roughly 15 feet behind the boat, just to the side of the prop wash, and two feet deep – plus or minus – will attract muskies in a very positive way.
LeBlanc and his disciples run multiple lures at different depths. A key to trolling success is keeping the lines between rod tip and lure relatively short. LeBlanc used a 10 foot fiberglass rod to extend lines farthest from the boat. Captain Kevin used planer boards to extend the width of the trolling run. Though neither Marc nor Captain Kevin trolled over weed beds when I fished with them, a planer board can also be used to troll a lure over a weed bed too dense to run a powered boat through. LeBlanc increased the depth of lures by attaching in-line keel sinkers. Marc had weights which he screwed into the body of lures to regulate depths.
Short lines permit precision turns without tangling the lines. As the boat turns, the lines do not swing in an arc maintaining their distance from one another. The line inside the turn slows and cuts the turn short. The line outside the turn speeds and cuts the turn short. With long lines, the shortened arc brings the lures in close proximity and leads to tangles. LeBlanc noted his competitors trolling with 75 or 100 feet of line between rod and lure were often tangled. He wrote, “The method I use today I can easily set eight rods in rod holders and this the lines and lures at various depths and distances and seldom ever get the lines fouled up.”
Rods with lures running closer to the boat are pointed down toward the water, perhaps with the tip actually in the water. With the rod tip in the water, surface tension between the line and water is not a factor in controlling the depth the lure runs. And the rod tip often catches weeds that might foul the lure. Marc only used four rods at one time. When I fished with Captain Kevin we used six lines. Different states and provinces regulate the number of lines individual anglers might use. Be sure you are on the right side of the law.
Both Marc and Captain Kevin vary the speed to find which rate attracts muskies. With a modern depth finder, boat speed is displayed. Slow speeds might be as little as two and a half miles per hour and fast speeds as much as five miles per hour. The muskies will tell you which one works.
Trolling is a great way to put multiple lures in front of wandering muskies. Fortunately for me, I’ve had an opportunity to fish with Marc Thorpe and Captain Kevin Backus, two of the best muskie guides and followers of Homer LeBlanc, one of my early heroes. When I fished with Captain Kevin we repeated his grandfather’s “musky prayer.” It goes: “Dear Lord, may we catch a musky so big that when telling about it, we will have no need to lie.” As the prayer ended Captain Kevin asked, “Do you believe?” A simple, “Yes,” was not adequate. I had to say, “I believe,” and I do. Trolling works.
Now, if I can only get Gordy rigged up to troll.
Last updated on March 4, 2018