By David Graham (featuring Jimmy Lacerte): November 17, 2022
My pursuit of the mighty muskellunge is long overdue, and due-in-part to my habit of self imposed stipulations... in this case, I simply have to catch my first musky with Jimmy Lacerte.
Jimmy, who hails from Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu in the province of Quebec, Canada catches massive muskies... but his habit of fishing for them out of inflatable boats puts a uniquely humble spin on his pursuit of these fantastic monsters. I've followed Jimmy's multi-species exploits around Quebec for years... bowfin, longnose gar, freshwater drum, sturgeon, pike, carp, salmon/trout and more... but the dude's muskies are just on another level of awesome.
"I've been fishing for muskies for about 13 years now. I started tracking this apex predator in the fall of 2009. After seeing several videos of a fisherman catching them from the shore I contacted the guy and he was kind enough to give me some pointers. With friends, we started fishing tributaries of the St. Lawrence River (canals, rivers and small lakes). From that moment I caught the musky disease!" - Jimmy Lacerte
The musky is really North America's quintessential predator... and one of North America's largest freshwater fish. Its dorsal, pelvic, and anal fins are set at the rear of an elongated body like a torpedo. Its head is flattened with a closed mouth hiding a formidable set of jaws full of sharpened teeth. Primarily an ambush predator, muskies are just as happy in a shallow weedy bay as they are on deep rocky structures. The musky utilizes its long and lean profile to hide among seagrass beds, rock piles, and bridge pillars where they hunt. Any unassuming fish treading into these areas will be assaulted with an incredible burst of speed.
Giant muskies will cycle through different environmental patterns seasonally. This is a species of fish that will demand anglers to adapt to patterns.. understanding the fish, and understanding its forage just the same. Anglers seeking to pursue giant muskies like those found in the St. Lawrence system of Quebec should consider these seasonal factors.
Spring / Summer - In the Spring and early Summer, anglers should key in on shallow areas with dense vegetation. As Summer days become progressively longer and hotter - muskellunge will travel deeper into cooler waters and closer to current lines. During this time they like deeper water that is at the edge of the shallows, where access into and out of the shallow water is easy.
Autumn - During Autumn it is often harder to find musky, but the chances of a larger specimen may be greater. This is due, at least in part, to muskies increasing fat reserves before winter. This is Jimmy Lacerte's preferred season, due to the increased chances at a true giant.
Winter and ice fishing - Around the St. Lawrence, temperatures below 0 degrees Celsius may just freeze the muskies out. On the ice, Jimmy mostly uses tip ups with mackerel or dead suckers. Rigs designed for quick hooking are suggested to avoid a deep hooked fish. The threat of a deep hooked musky can be avoided with artificial lures such as lipless crank baits and vertical jigs.
Muskies get big... really big. They are an exceptionally large, fast, and powerful fish generally found near structure and snag hazards. Because of that - having proper equipment is key. Special consideration should be taken on rod length and weight given the environment you will be fishing.
Long Rod - In environments where longer casts may be required - and for a better 'figure 8' Jimmy Lacerte recommends heavy cast fishing rods (heavy, x heavy or xxheavy+) of the length that suits you according to your techniques used. The 'figure 8' is a technique specifically developed by musky anglers to provoke boatside strikes. The musky has a habit of following lures for a great distance, all the way up to the boat without striking. In an effort to entice a last moment strike, anglers will dip their rod tip into the water boatside and move it around in a figure 8. A turning lure will cross the face of a musky, who's eyes are on the sides of their head, and potentially trigger a bite.
Short Rod - For lures that require finesse and manually performed patterns of movement like a glidebait, Lacerte suggests a short rod. Shorter, less rigid rods will be better for creating action in certain artificial lures.
Lacerte favors heavy casting models (size 300 or 400) with a power handle for easy recovery of lures. The faster ratios with this setup allows a quicker recovery of line - especially for larger rubber lures or glide baits.
A minimum of 50lb test is suggested for these fish. Braided line is the preferred choice for Lacerte due to its much smaller diameter. Braided line also lacks the elasticity of monofilament, making it more sensitive to any delicate touches. The taughtness of braid also ensures that hooksets anchor in deep to the solid mouth of the muskies.
" I prefer a line of 65 to 80 lbs braided to have less chance of breaking by keeping a relatively small line diameter and to shorten fights as much as possible. I always put a fluorocarbon leader of 130 lbs resistance and a length of about 18 inches for subtlety and resistance to abrasion (rock and tooth). For trolling I recommend a leader of at least 30 inches to avoid cutting the braid on the rocks or to anticipate the movements of alligators of the muskellunge." - Lacerte
In Quebec, live bait is prohibited and dead bait is only permitted in the winter season. As a result, Lacerte spends countless hours on the water each year studying the way muskies react to various artificial lures.
Lacerte insists on casting and animating lures himself rather than trolling. He broke down his preferred lures and presentations..
Jigging with big rubbers - (bulldawg, suzy sucker, swimming dawg) in deep pits near the slopes of underwater islands and other structures. Sometimes I use them as a swimbait or I jerk them in suspension.
Spinnerbait and inline spinnerbait (bucktail and double 10) in shallow bays near seagrass beds. I especially like this method at night! Use linear recovery
Glidebaits - Probably one of the most effective lures! It can be maneuvered almost anywhere. Its 'walk the dog' action provokes attacks even on the most difficult days. It can be adapted in shallow and deep water with slower, faster or even no breaks!
In addition to rods & reel, lines and lures... it is especially important to come equipped with gear for the careful handling of this fish. A good net is a must so as not to exhaust this fragile species. A set of pliers and cutters to properly unhook or cut the hooks if necessary!
"I fish for muskellunge on the structures where there are the most big baitfish (walleye, bass, sucker and river redhorse) by imitating them as much as possible. I follow the prevailing winds and currents while working on all the structures available. With a recipe like this it is very difficult to skunk even if it sometimes happens. In the most difficult conditions I fish smaller spots with a large number of fish to have more luck. An average day of muskellunge hunting ends for me with 1 or 2 fish. On good days you can take more than 5 muskies. Due to the short period of muskie fishing in Quebec, a season of around fifty fish is a good season. My annual catch record is 79 muskellunge including 21 specimens 50 inches over and 3 exceeding the legendary 55 inches. If you fish in waters with a lot of fishing pressure, don't hesitate to fish at night!" - Jimmy Lacerte
Lacerte fishes around Montreal in the famed St. Lawrence River and its tributaries. Perhaps most interestingly - he stalks this ultimate predator out of an inflatable boat he can pack away in his Jeep.
You have to appreciate an angler that makes the most out of the resources available to them. Inflatable boats 'balance' economic efficiency and practicality perfectly.
"I can't afford a big fully equipped fishing boat. Regardless, I haven't needed one to land several big fish every year. My 16ft inflatable boat fits into my 2 door Jeep. Due to its lightness (105 lbs), I can load and unload the entire rig myself." - Lacerte
The use of this kind of watercraft is genius. Like a kayak or canoe, it is easy to transport and can be launched from virtually anywhere... dropped into waters that may otherwise be inaccessible to trailered boats. The advantage here is that the inflatable boats have the capacity to mount a larger outboard motor to them. These boats can be very customizable as well. Jimmy has built a casting platform with an iPilot trolling motor on the bow of his.
Jimmy Lacerte can be found and contacted via Instagram at @jimmylacerte