Well here's a fun discussion topic.
Dirt Nap Giver, how has the learning curve been so far? I saw the mention of recommendable rod/reel combos - here are some thoughts...
Nothing is inexpensive in muskie fishing. Unless you can afford $500 - $800 for stick and string, start with an all around setup that can be applied towards anything you're looking to throw and can be fished in multiple ways comfortably. If you find yourself getting hooked on the sport and decide to elevate your game, then spend some dollars to refine your equipment towards specific applications. Just starting out, spend $120 on an 8' Okuma EVX (XH) and pair it up with a $120 Abu Garcia C3 round baitcast reel. For a $240 you'll have starting point to try just about anything you want to throw in the beginning stages. You don't need a Revo BEAST series reel ($400) or a Shimano Tranx reel ($500) if you're just starting out - reels like these are designed to hold up to the kind of beating it will take you a couple years of learning (at the very least) to develop a habit of doing. For $20 you can pick up a Power Handle for your Ambassador reel (the C3 I recommended) and it will put a little ease on your forearm if you get caught up throwing bigger bladed bucktails all day long.
As you develop your technique for working various lures, only then will you recognize what kind of upgrades are needed to perform at your level. That's when you pull out your wallet and get more heavily invested - financially. For example, I started with the reel I recommended to you nearly 20-years ago, and have since upgraded substantially to hold up to the rigors of how I work certain lures I'm fond of. I do a lot of ripping and although I grip the front end of the rod and tuck the back of the cork under my armpit, I still tend to subconsciously pull on the reel handle as evident by the issues that come of it - it's a bad habit and it's blown up some expensive reels (Abu Garcia REVO NACL's @ $300 per) over the years. So, being as invested into muskie fishing as I am, I've upgraded for the who knows how many times
to a more durable construction that handles the stress I put on them and I can trust.
Books and articles are a great starting point, it's years of experience at your finger tips. Even better, short clips on YouTube.com or MuskieFIRST.com can demonstrate different techniques for working certain lures, different postures while casting and retrieving, as well as figure-eight techniques and hook setting rod angles for different situations. Even so, while reading and watching can give you insight and raise questions in your mind, the only way to prove theories out and get answers back is to spend time on the water. It sounds like a generic answer, but I'm sure you get it. I think for me it wasn't until I had some serious time spent on the water with trials and LOTS of errors that the articles I was reading and the tips that were being offered began making more sense to me.
One of the greatest lessons I could ever offer you would be to start learning the bottom of the freshwater food chain and work your way up to the top - muskies. This means more than the simple food pyramid where plankton is eaten by small fish, slightly bigger more aggressive fish eat the smaller fish, big fish eat the medium size fish, and so on... There is much, much more to understand. The rule of thumb is simple - find the forage and you will find the muskies nearby - but to find the bait you must learn the relationship between seasonal and weather conditions and how they affect forage fish migrations to the shallows, to the deep, and everywhere in between. Eventually you get to a point where you're picking up on conditional patterns, albeit short lived, that can make a regular day into a memory for a lifetime.Here's one example and take from it what you will...
It was early June and the cold had been lingering all spring. An overdue warm-up finally arrived and after a few days of rising water temperatures and warmth lasting through the nights, the first mayfly hatch of the year showed up. It wasn't the kind of hatch so think it's picked up like clouds on weather radars, but substantial enough to leave a lasting impression one windy day when I was on the water.
I've always been a proponent of fishing current seams in lakes where you can find them on windy days, usually off the tip of a point or an island. After a few hours of lasting wind pushing past a distinct point, foam will be evident on the surface and usually a "chum line", as I like to call it, will show up on good electronics beneath the surface of these current seams traced by the foam. The underwater current from the waves tends to separate plankton from the weeds, which are carried beneath the surface in the direction of the wind-driven lake current. It's kind of like a toilet bowl effect when you flush, just not nearly to that extreme. As the current is directed around a large obstacle, like a sharp point or an island, a current seam will form with a trail of edibles and debris, such as silt, broken weed stalks, and plankton along for the ride - so goes my interpretation of a "chum line".
The smaller forage fish, like bluegills and perch, will feed on the plankton and typically hang on the lee side of the points or islands near the current seam to digest in the calmer warmer water. The metabolism of a fish increases in warmer water, so fish can feed more due to their ability to digest faster.
On this particular afternoon, with the wind reaching the high-teens and blowing steady out of the west, I nosed the boat into the wind along one such current seem off a sharp point with the waves crashing into the west shore. The mayfly hatch from the day before must have lasted into the morning of this particular day because the skins of these bugs were floating by on the surface and beneath. I cross-crossed with my boat slowly and watching my electronics for water temperatures and the chum line I could visibly see by the naked eye. There, below the evident cloud of debris caught up in this current seam, were pods of baitfish stacked up and clearly feeding on the mayfly skins and plankton available in the chum line. And there, below those pods of baitfish, was a big hook, and then another. Muskies!
I put my trolling motor to the test that day, but it lasted for hours. I spent my time that day bouncing between this particular spot and a couple others casting larger crankbaits and big rubber baits, like the Pounder Bulldawg and Monster Medussa, and by the end of the day I had landed four muskies between 40 - 48" that were no doubt feeding on the panfish that were undoubtedly feeding on the chum line.
Fish innately will face into the current and I from my experience, I know that muskies prefer to chase down or reactively snap at baits that are retrieved horizontally past their face or from in front of them, but rarely have I seen a muskie chase down a lure that's brought past them from behind, and there's very little opportunity for one to reactively snap at one that comes from behind, as well. With this notion in the back of my mind, I casted perpendicular across the current seems and into the wind. A combination of having an easier time controlling my casts into the strong wind with the heavier baits, along with the idea a bigger bait pulled through a school of tightly schooled baitfish would separate them and create a focal point upon itself to elicit the attention of a lurking muskie was behind my motivation to cast the baits I did.
Notice the foam on the water?
Fish school for a reason - safety from predation. It's more daunting to pick out a single baitfish to chase down in a tight school than it would be to chase down a solo baitfish. Sometimes when you see baitfish scatter and jumping in multiple directions on the surface it's because a predator fish swam into the center of the school to break them up and disorient them with the intention of picking out a loner to feed on. With this reasoning in mind, I elected to use my lure as the solo activist breaking up the schools of baitfish. My hope was the presence of my lure being larger than the perch and bluegills that were feeding on the chum line would elicit more appeal because it's not only slower than living baitfish, but it's bigger size means more food in the belly with less effort of chasing down multiples, and it creates the "loner" appeal.
If it weren't for all the logic that went into this particular approach I took on this windy day just after a mayfly hatch, I may have just been another boat on the water seeking the shelter of calm bays to avoid the discomfort and very likely ending up with far less action than I did.
This is just one experience. The next day was a totally different day. Bluebird skies and little to no wind. The fish that were there that day surely weren't there the next - they had no reason to be. To be effective on the water you need to stay on your toes. Game plan a couple of ideas to put to the test on that calm high-pressure following day. What would you target? Cover? Structure? Varying depths?
A hint... Deeper water means less affect due to weather. Guess where I'd have spent the next day looking for active fish...