Rigging Your Muskie Boat by James Smith
Let’s draw some parameters and establish some facts before we get too deep into this topic. First, we need to understand that there does not exist “the Ultimate Muskie Boat”. The reasons for this are as many and as varied as those of us who own our boat. For most of us it’s the size of the water we fish. Big water usually mandates bigger boats, more power, more sophisticated electronics, most likely a fiberglass hull, etc. Next, it may be the way we fish. If we guide other fishermen we are probably going to want a different boat than if we fish alone. As a guide, we are going to need more room, more storage areas, (we need to have rods and rain suite for our clients, plus room for everything they bring along). Of course the bottom line is usually cost. If we are being paid for our services we feel we can afford a little more.
What I think we need to understand here is why muskie fishermen make the choices they do. Why does one person choose a bass type, low profile boat, and the next one has a walleye type? What are the advantages of fiberglass over aluminum? What role does boat length play in the decision process? What difference does a console vs. a tiller make? What are the important accessories, why do I need them and most of all where should they go on my boat?
Well, let’s sort some of this out and see if we can’t make some sense out of all of this. Usually, the first thing you’ll want to consider is whether you want a glass boat or an aluminum hull. Price is the important consideration here. Fiberglass boats generally cost more than a similar boat with an aluminum hull. Look at where you’re fishing. If your’re fishing the Northwest Angle on Lake of the Woods or the Turtle Flambeau Flowage you may decide upon an aluminum boat. Hull repairs from underwater logs and skaggs cost less to repair. On the other hand if you are traveling long distances across open water to where you are fishing you may choose the comfort of a fiberglass boat.
Next, choice seems to be tiller vs. console. Strangely enough this seems to be a regional “thing”. If you are from Wisconsin you’ll choose a console. The guys from Minnesota and the guides seem to prefer the tiller model boats. The guides can place their clients in the front of the boat so they can have the first water. The guide can control everything from the back of the boat with the tiller models. It appears to be about a 60%/40% split in favor of tillers over consoles and the main reason given is more room in a tiller model.
Probably the most important single item when deciding on a muskie boat is casting platforms. Since most muskie fishing is done with a partner you’ll want platforms in both the front and the back. Obviously if you are running a tiller there will be a lot of room in the back to cast but, no platform. Most of the rest of us seem to prefer the console models, generally just a single console. This way we can run across the lake to where we want to fish, shut the motor off, raise the motor out of the water and from there move your operations to the front deck. Dump the trolling motor in the water and probe all the hot spots. Most of us have some sort of electronics at the bow. Usually the transducer for your depth finder or fish finder is mounted on the bottom of the trolling motor.
The next consideration seems to be height of the gunnels. The lower profile boats similar to the bass type boats offers easier access to your fish for releasing. These boats appear to be less wind resistant so will hold their position better. On the other hand in rough weather or high waves the higher the sides the dryer you’ll be. This is also true in big water where you’re going longer distances to your favorite fishing hole. The important thing here is to size “up” your trolling motor. If you are fishing from a walleye type boat with the higher gunnels and higher profile in the water then you might consider a bigger trolling motor. This will help you hold your position and control your boat easier, especially in the wind.
Your next consideration will be length. I would say the average length will be 16’-18’ for most muskie fishing. If you are going to fish big water consider stepping up to a larger boat, from 19’-21’. For small lakes like we have in Colorado a john boat or “buster boat” are the ticket. These boats will be in the 10’-12’ range. Some of our lakes will only allow you to have an electric motor for power. A smaller aluminum boat works best here.
The bottom line is buying the most boat that you can comfortably afford. You will find that the initial cost was the easiest to afford. If you can’t afford a new boat there are a zillion good deals on used boats out there. You’re just going to have to look long and hard to find just what you want.
So now that you have decided on your boat, what about a motor? Well, first of all, all boats are rated for a certain range of horse power. So this should limit your search. You may want more power to get from one place to another sooner, but then you may have to purchase an additional “kicker” motor for trolling. I choose the 4 cylinder Mercury. The Mercury 90 H.P. and 115 H.P. will run on 4 cylinders over 2,000 rpm’s and on 2 cylinders under 2,000. This will give you the best of both worlds. You have power to run and can use the same motor to troll, something to consider.
Something else to consider is the type of prop to buy. An aluminum prop will be less expensive than stainless steel. If you were to hit an obstacle with a stainless steel prop you could bend a motor shaft causing more damage than just a bent prop. In addition some stainless steel prop manufacturers may embellish their power claims to justify the added cost. Normally your marine dealer will let you try out a couple of different props to determine which pitch works best for your boat. That way you’ll be able to buy the right one to start with.
In order to complete the basics you are going to need a trailer. Here choices are limited. The trailer must fit the boat, thus easy launch/loading. Further more it must fit the boat in order for you to safely tow it. If your trailer is too long, too short or if tongue weight (balance) becomes a factor you will have some serious problems. Trailers come equipped with rollers and stationery bunks for supporting your boat. There is a place for either arrangement. I prefer the stationery bunks because of the distances I travel from Colorado to the Midwest on many of my fishing trips. I also have added surge breaks to my trailer. I would definitely recommend wheel bearings with “flow-through” hubs like the E-Z Lube®, Sure-Lube®, and Safe-T-Lube® styles. Don’t forget a spare tire, sealed lights, and a heavy duty wiring harness. Remember to cross your safety chains under your trailer tongue in the event it comes off the hitch. That way the chains will “catch” your trailer.
So there is your basic package. Now, let’s look at interior storage. Without exception every boat owner has strong opinions on the good and the bad or the amount of storage areas. If they have it, they love it. If they didn’t have enough they always need more. A large (50”+) live well in addition to a good bait well are a necessity in a muskie boat. Aerated live-well and in some cases timers on each of the live-wells to keep suckers and minnows more lively. This oxygenated water helps to revive muskys before releasing them. Very important are water tight storage lockers for rods and gear. In addition locked storage compartments for electronics.
Your next consideration should be your “work area”. Your work area is nothing more than the location within the boat that you fish from. It will have a seat or adjustable butt rest, boat control panel, trolling motor, depth finder, and some lure storage all within easy access and visible. You may have more than one work station within your boat. Normally you’ll have one in the bow and another in the stern. They will most likely not be equipped electronically the same. If you have a console, this area will be a separate work area and may be more complete electronically. My GPS is mounted at the console. I have also mounted a steel ruler on the floor for measuring fish and the landing net is close by. The landing net being in the center of my boat makes it accessible for either the bow or stern fisherman. One thing that is important about your work areas. Keep them clean. By this I mean, pick-up any items you are not using or don’t need. Keep everything stored out of the way. When you catch a fish and the action begins, you will want a “clean” work area and won’t want to be stumbling over tackle boxes, rods, etc. I keep my tackle boxes under my rear casting deck and that way my center area is clean. If all your tools, net, ruler, camera, etc. have a location where you store them then you’ll always know where they are and can find them easily.
Now for the fun part. Accessorizing your boat is fun and could get expensive if you’re not careful. Probably the first item you think about in accessories is a trolling motor. Suffice it to say get the biggest (most thrust) you can afford. Next, invest in a 24-volt (2-battery) system. Running a low-powered or single battery (12 volt) trolling motor in high winds, at high speeds will use up more battery power sooner than a higher-powered trolling motor run at low speeds. Electronically steered trolling motors are versatile, but generally not as powerful or hold up as well as their cable or hand-controlled models. Depending on the size and weight of your boat, I would not feel comfortable with a trolling motor of less than 50 lb. thrust. The closer to a 70 lb. thrust you get the happier you’ll be.
As far as electronics, fish finders, depth finders or whatever, the one thing I would suggest is that if you can, get two of the same unit (one for the console and the other for the bow). Then if you ever have trouble with one you can switch them and still stay out fishing. The other thing is that it is no longer necessary to buy a unit with an associated GPS. With the present technology you can purchase a hand held GPS for considerably less and save money on your electronics. Spend some time looking for your electronics. You’re going to have to learn how to operate the unit and become comfortable with how to use them. There are some great units available today. Even though you may have the greatest and most up to date electronics and GPS unit I would recommend installing a simple compass. It is just another back-up in the event you need to check the validity of your GPS unit.
If you are going to be out on some of those “unnamed lakes” then it may be important to have a marine radio. Most everyone has a cell phone today. Be sure to take it with you. You’ll never know when it may come in handy as a back-up to your marine band radio.
You may want to consider adding a cigarette lighter plug adapter to keep your cell phone battery charged.
One of the best accessories I added to my boat was a 3-way battery charger. This unit will allow you to charge your starter battery and trolling motor batteries all at the same time by just plugging the unit into an outlet at the dock, in your garage, or at a campground. It really makes it simple to charge batteries. I also have a pigtail that I can plug in and charge my trolling motor batteries off my big motor while I am running across the lake. It helps to add a little charge on the trolling motor batteries during the day.
Other accessories you may want to consider: keel guard for protection when you pull up on the shore where no dock is available; electric downriggers to troll for muskies, especially in the late season; Wave Waker splash guard on the back of your boat for the back trollers.
I have found it convenient to attach a couple of “D” rings to the deck to tie down my ice chest with bungee cords. I also purchased a small cargo net that hooks to these “D” rings, to cover items that may blow out of the boat when it gets windy.
Finally, if you take a boating safety course or belong to the United States Power Squadron your insurance company will normally give you a discount on your boat insurance, sometimes as much as 10%.
One final caution, when rigging your own boat be extremely careful about drilling holes in the hull for mounting transducers, trolling motor mounts, cables and wires, etc. Some fishermen feel that mounting your transducer thru-hull in front will give you depth changes more quickly. This is valid, just be sure you are drilling the hole exactly where you need it and want it. As the manufacturers say, double-check all of your measurements and then have someone check you. Better yet come back another day after you have had a chance to think about it more. I spent a lot of time looking at other people’s boats before I began drilling on my own. I still have a couple of holes I would move slightly, if I had it to do over again.
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