By Joe Bucher, Editor Emeritus
Last December marked my 40th year of writing fishing articles for various publications. At the wet-behind-the-ears age of 19 I had a bass article published in Fishing Facts Magazine. A month later, I wrote my first musky article for Hook & Shell. The year was 1973. As you can well imagine, I’ve seen a lot and written about a lot through the next four decades. A lot has changed for sure, and certainly the improvements and refinements in tackle are right there at the top of the list. The gear we used in the early 1970s is prehistoric compared to what the young guns get to start with today.
It comes as no surprise that technology has changed the world in nearly every aspect of our lives, and that includes musky fishing. Technological advancements have come from so many avenues. From the improved performance of our boats and motors, to the sophisticated electronics that enable every angler to know exactly where he or she is at anytime, as well as being able to find “needle-in-the-haystack” spots with precise accuracy. Admittedly, I sometimes feel a tad overwhelmed by it all and daydream about the good old days, yet I am glad to have been a witness to the whole process and welcome most of the changes.
Perhaps nowhere is this magna-growth in technology and manufacturing more evident than in the rod, reel and line we use. Outside of GPS and the Internet’s influence on the musky world, nothing else has advanced recently at the rate of the actual gear we use to fish muskies. Simply put, rods, reels and fishing line are light years better than they were when I typed out my first fishing article in the early 1970s. The difference is mind-boggling.
The greatest advancements have occurred in the last 10 to 15 years. Just about the time you think the industry has hit a plateau, it resets the bar. Space age materials and newly-developed manufacturing techniques have collectively morphed the musky angler’s rod & reel outfit from something that was often made fun of by others outside the musky arena to a finely-tuned, high tech tool that everyone wants to use.
The sheer weight of an old musky club compared to today’s outfits is startling. A typical musky rod and reel of the 21st Century actually weighs less than most of the bass baitcasting outfits of the 1970s. Musky outfits weigh a fraction of they did years ago, while the strength has increased immeasurably along with the durability and overall performance. Not to mention a ton of new features and actions suited for unique situations and specific techniques. A few decades ago, most musky hunters had one single rod that was used for any and all casting and trolling situations. Not anymore. Look in any serious musky angler’s boat today and you’ll likely see at least a half dozen different rods of different lengths and actions, all rigged with a variety of lures. In many ways, the musky angler today mirrors the tournament bass angler in this respect, right down to the boat he or she uses. Musky boats are now essentially modified bass rigs.
Baitcasting reels for muskies have certainly followed this same technological advancement path with refinements in nearly every aspect. A 21st Century musky baitcaster is much lighter and far more ergonomic. There is no doubt that musky anglers have benefited greatly from the demands of bass tournament anglers and the tackle industry’s focus on reels that feature hand-conforming, ergonomic designs plus ultra-light overall weight. The highly-competitive bass tournament scene pushed reel manufacturers to the limit from all angles. The end result was a high performance product that was far better in every way. Luckily, reel manufacturers made a few upsized versions of their best reel models for musky anglers. There is no question that these new reels are superior in every way to what was available in the past.
I used to go through sets of gears, level wind pawls, and anti-reverse cogs on a monthly basis with old-style baitcasters. Rarely would a musky reel get me through an entire season without some kind of failure. In fact, I chuckle today when I think about the box I use to keep in my boat with replacement parts for my musky reels — it was vital to have these items available to fix constant breakdowns. But, that rarely happens anymore. In fact, I have been using the same Abu Garcia Revo HS60 now for four seasons, and it is ready for a fifth.
Ultra-comfortable, palm-fitting, ergonomically-designed baitcasters are such a welcomed improvement for the big gamefish angler. My daily intake of ibuprofen has certainly gone way down as my hands don’t experience the pain and deadness in the palm and fingers that was commonplace just a few years back when I was still gripping a classic “round” reel. Today’s reels form-fit to your hand grip, making casts more of a routine than a chore. The difference is startling to say the least.
As I shift to the subject of musky rods, the advancements have been just as astounding. Companies such as St. Croix from Park Falls, Wisconsin, have lead the way with a vast array of improvements including a drop in weight, while at the same time drastically increasing power and performance. For example, ten years ago I wouldn’t consider using a rod for muskies over eight feet long, yet now I prefer them. In fact, I have graduated to an 8-foot-6 medium-heavy power for the majority of my musky casting needs. Nearly every aspect of the musky rod has been scrutinized by today’s rod companies with an articulate engineering perspective utilizing the very latest in space age components and manufacturing techniques. They are constantly striving to improve strength, power and response while taking away weight. The results have been astounding.
But it doesn’t seem to end. I recently tested a top secret prototype for St. Croix in an 8’ 6” heavy power that was truly the finest rod I’ve ever casted. Honestly, I’ve never held a musky rod in my hands that ever felt like this one. It was noticeably lighter in weight than anything else I’ve ever held yet more powerful. It was so good, in fact, that I simply couldn’t put it down after a couple of casts. As impressed as I have been with all the top end rods St. Croix currently markets for muskies, this new rod made them all obsolete. It is not yet available, but I am certain it will be soon enough. It convinced me beyond a doubt that there is simply no end to what these guys can do. The bar just keeps getting reset higher and higher.
Braided musky lines have experienced this same meteoric rise. It wasn’t that long ago that a 36-pound test Dacron was standard fair. Some, like myself, moved on to saltwater-grade 40- to 50-pound test monofilament for better abrasion resistance and overall knot strength, but the stretch was a big negative as was overall castability. The older Dacron-style braided lines featured low stretch, but really lacked abrasion resistance and overall durability. Most of all, they really had poor knot strength, which made them untrustworthy. I remember being obsessed during this era with rechecking the line for frays and constantly retying on an hourly basis. I also remember backing off on hooksets purposely so I wouldn’t break the line — I was that worried.
But not anymore! The new technology super braids, many of which are some formula of microdynema or Spectra fibers, are superior in every respect to the lines of yesteryear. Low-stretch, excellent knot strength, incredible abrasion resistance and overall durability unmatched by anything built in the past. Plus, 21st Century superbraids are double to triple strength per the same diameter of lines we used beforehand. The diameter of yesterday’s 36-pound test Dacron or 50-pound test saltwater grade monofilament is approximately the same as today’s 80-pound superbraid. So, essentially we get to fish with a line now that is nearly unbreakable, has no stretch, and wears like iron. What else can be said? I can’t imagine how line manufacturers could improve this product any further, yet I fully expect they will. It is just a matter of time.
Yes indeed. I have been very fortunate to have witnessed this entire rod, reel and line revolution and its overall impact on the musky fishing experience. In all honest, anglers who have gotten musky fishing as of late have no idea how lucky they are nor how far this sport has come in 40 years. Arguably, the resource is better than ever, and the tackle available today is fantastic. Perhaps this is why musky fishing is growing incrementally. It has been a great ride. I sure hope I’m around for a few more decades to see what happens. The sky is the limit!
Editor Emeritus Joe Bucher is the host of the “Fishing With Joe Bucher” TV show. He lives near Eagle River, Wisconsin.