There are numerous activities involving a fishing rod, reel, and assortment of lures that can be described as fishing. For example, people who don hip waders to cast flies designed to lure trout to the surfaces of rivers in Idaho and Montana are said to be fishing, while the same term applies to those who go for marlin, dorado, and bonito off the coast of Baja. But people who motor out into the middle of an upper-Midwest lake in search of muskies? They are called hunters.
That’s because the musky, or muskie (it’s full name is the muskellunge), can grow to be 5 feet in length, weighing in at a healthy 70 pounds. Even at their typical weight, which is about half that, muskies are beasts, whose mouths are filled with sharp teeth that are used to rip and rend pretty much anything that has the misfortune of swimming in its path. In addition to other fish, the musky diet includes frogs, ducklings, and even water snakes.
Lures designed to attract the musky resemble all of these creatures. Heddon made a Musky Mouse and Paw Paw had a two-legged Musky Wotta-Frog as well as a gunmetal-gray Musky Minnie Mouse, complete with a tail. Paw Paw also made a number of musky lures shaped like pike, which is a relative of the musky that the predator apparently enjoys having over for dinner. In the 1940s, Pflueger produced Musky Mustang lures, one of which was jointed, that were more than 7 inches long.
Perhaps because they could be made so large, musky lures were favorites of amateur tackle makers. Today, some of these pieces are considered works of folk art, in the same way as handmade duck decoys. In fact, simple wooden lures designed to attract muskies were sometimes carved in the shapes of ducks, while fancier decoys were flocked with real duck down or muskrat fur.
Some lures were long and nasty-looking, resembling live electrical wires, with hooks at their ends that appear as charged as cartoon-like sparks. Others were downright artistic, like the handmade musky lure outfitted with a painted propeller and decorated with an eye-catching glass bead. There were seven-inch long, multi-barbed lures made from pieces of carved driftwood, as well as spring-loaded brass lures that released their hidden hook when the lure was clamped down on by the fish.
Even longer lures, at 10 inches or more, resembled full fish (suckers, usually), with thumbtack eyes, painted gills, and silvery, hook-tipped tails. Giant, jointed 12-inch musky lures might feature white marbles for eyes and a trio of triple-barbed hooks. But sometimes less was more, as in the case of a fat frog lure designed to attract a musky that might not notice the single-barb hooks strapped to each of the wooden amphibian’s legs.