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Ontario Fishing Network
Volume 6,  Issue 12
January 2006


Interview with Muskie Master
Marc Thorpe

(If you would like to listen to this interview online CLICK HERE)

T.J. Quesnel: So, welcome to the first edition of Today's Catch. We've got Marc Thorpe, a renowned muskie fisherman on the phone and we're gonna ask Marc some really good questions about muskie fishing. How are you doing today, Marc?

Marc Thorpe: Not too bad. Yourself, T.J.?

T.J. Quesnel: I'm doing alright. I've got a lot of users that have sent in a whole bunch of questions, here, that they're looking for someone who really knows what they're doing to answer. So I figured, geez, why not call the master. Alright.

So, here's the first question and this is something that I'm interested in as well. Well, why are muskie fishermen so fanatical about fishing for muskie?

Marc Thorpe: I think muskie fishermen bear the tendencies of being obsessive compulsive people and have addicting personalities sort of. That's why I think most muskie fishermen are the way they are. Those are personality traits that seem to be in them.

T.J. Quesnel: Super. Yeah, I know that, especially on our message board, when the discussions get to muskie, things can get pretty heated sometimes.

Marc Thorpe: Obsessive compulsiveness.


T.J. Quesnel: Alright. Our next question; what are your views on drag tension when trolling?

Marc Thorpe: The drag tension really varies depending on the way the fish are really biting. If the fish have a tendency of t-boning or coming behind the bait, looser drags would be a better form of setting them up so that the fish can actually grab the bait, pull it, and swim away with it. When the fish are biting the bait head on, you're best to have your drag really locked down tight. That is the best method. The main reason is, as that fish locks down on the head of the bait, it takes off swimming at the same time. It's normally a head-on collision or a launching mode or fish coming off the side and coming right at the fish and hitting the bait right at the head so you're best to have the drag set tight so you can put the front hooks right in its lower jaw.

A lot of times anglers have the issues of hooking up with fish and losing them. Well, it seems to be that those fish are biting those baits off the head and that's when you better lock down the reels.

T.J. Quesnel: I see. Alright. Here's our next question: if you had to move your operation from the St. Lawrence, where would you go?

Marc Thorpe: If I had no other choice but to fish somewhere else other than the St. Lawrence in the Ottawa, I'd probably move up to the Nipissing given the diversity and the similarities of what I'm fishing right now where you have some clarity to it and you also have some stained waters in Nipissing. And the fact that Nipissing's really undiscovered and not really effectively fished has even greater appeal to it.

T.J. Quesnel: I know. I caught a really nice 54-incher there a couple years ago. What a fight that was. OK. Onto our next question. Where, in your opinion, do you think the next world-record muskie will come from?

Marc Thorpe: That's a pretty big loaded question. For one thing, I don't think muskies go to 70 pounds. I think that's a myth right off the bat. I honestly believe that a muskie in the 60- to 65-pound range is probably at the top of what the muskie should biologically weigh. And for a world-record muskie to be produced, to be honest with you, I think there's many more factors than just the body of water. There's time of year, stability in consecutive years, and abundance of forage.

There are several bodies of water right now, I think, that can or could produce a world-record or a 60-pound+ muskie given the right conditions, Nipissing being one mainly because still it's maybe 40-percent, 50-percent fished at the most and undiscovered. And truly, with an October 15 closure, it opens those fish to feeding quite easily in the fall without being harassed.

Georgian Bay has had a record of producing very large fish although, just like many other regions, there's mythical fish that have been involved but it has produced a lot of 40-pound fish with a few legitimate 50s and a couple of 60-pound fish.

The St. Lawrence is another area; the Ottawa. All of these areas potentially, to produce a world record, must have the right consecutive elements for that to appear. I don't think that a fish just grows like Andre the Giant. These fish gain weight and lose weight seasonally so it's vital and important that a fish have all the right weather elements and elements combined throughout several years for it to occur.

Lake of the Woods could possibly produce one, too. I think if Lac Seul would've, it should've put one out by now. So, I don't really consider Lac Seul to be one of potential but I do believe maybe Eagle or Lake of the Woods to be one of them, too. They have produced giant fish although none of them come near world-record status but we'll see, with the new regulations in place, what could happen.

T.J. Quesnel: Super. If you were stuck on one of the Thousand Islands with only three baits, which ones would they be?

Marc Thorpe: Wow, man, that's a hard one. Well, definitely a jig bait; ten-inch jig. I'd probably take a Chubby. And I guess a Wishmaster.

T.J. Quesnel: Super. Yeah, those sound like good ones to me. Alright. I got a user that asked, "I fish Scugog, mostly for muskie, and all year the fish seem to be in the same areas whereas in the end of October and the beginning of November they moved and I couldn't find them. Do they always move around at this time of year and where do you think they'd go?"

Marc Thorpe: Generally, muskies, their home ranges break down come the fall in certain water temperatures depending on one body to another. The idiosyncrasies of the breakdown could vary from one place to any other. But generally, they'll be roaming a lot at that time. When the water gets below 47 they start really settling into their winter ranges which would be sharp drop-offs closest to the weed splats and near the deepest water. If you have sharp drop-offs near deep water, that could be one place to start looking for fall muskies.

But during that October/November period, you're looking at fish that are roaming around. They could be anywhere between two feet of water and 30 feet of water. Generally, you have a better chance of catching them in the deeper water where most of the forage is heading out to. That's what I'd concentrate on. And the deepest breaks would be the key element to look at. Sharp breaks like walls breaking off - a 15- to 30-foot break - those fish'll be right there.

T.J. Quesnel: Super. Our next question is when do you start throwing top-water baits and when do you stop throwing them, temperature wise?

Marc Thorpe: I've never really noticed a temperature thing as far as throwing top-waters. Myself, I'll throw them from the opener all the way down to mid-September. I do know that a lot of guys catch muskies all the way into October and beginning of November throwing top-waters but I've never really thrown much top-water late in the fall. Fish do tend to roam shallow and deep in the fall. Contrary to belief, everybody thinks that all the fish vacate the shallows and they head deep. Well, that's not so true. They do do it but they still come up shallow and roam the shallow; decaying weed beds and stuff like that. But myself, from June to September. It's not a water-temperature thing. It's more of a stillness to the water that kinda triggers me to throw top-waters.

T.J. Quesnel: OK. Cool. When fishing muskies in a river during hot summer days, where will the muskie more likely be; weed beds or deep structure?

Marc Thorpe: Muskies use both structures. Not all muskies will be in the weeds neither be in deep structure. Basically, both structures are good to be using whether you be in deep or weed beds. Understanding how those fish are using those structures - whether it be a deep hump or a weed bed or a weed line or a weed bowl or just a weed pocket, it's how those fish are using it. Is that weed clump next to deep water? Is it next to a hump? Is it on top of the structure? Sometimes you'll have structure in 20 feet of water and a hump that'll rise maybe ten foot off the bottom and the fish'll be three feet under the surface in mid-summer and most people are gonna wanna run their baits close to the bottom in trying to hit that hump. Well, no, the fish is sitting just below the surface over the hump.

So, yeah, they'll suspend over that in the mid-summer and use the weed beds. Both of them are good at the same time.

T.J. Quesnel: So very unpredictable, then.

Marc Thorpe: It is unpredictable. There is no set rules. How do you continuously produce is using all the structures. If they ain't biting in the weeds then they gotta be out in the deeper structure. Yes, there is a migrational move from weeds to fall structures over deep water in the fall but in the summer they're using both. It depends on the forage. There's bait fish in shallow water and there's bait fish in open water. It's how those fish relate to those bait fish and how they're using those structures to particularly hunt is what makes the difference. Either/or is good.

T.J. Quesnel: OK. Here's another question: I'd simply like to know if bigger is really better when muskie fishing. One of the more common bodies of water, most of the locals and guides all suggested going with seven- to nine-inch baits, mostly jointed, right up to the ice. This goes against the common theory that bigger muskie baits work better. I'd just like to know when bigger is better if ever.

Marc Thorpe: There is no set rule for that. I've caught big muskies until the end of November on six-inch baits. Really, it depends on depth of water you're fishing. You're gonna have a much easier time running seven- to nine-inch baits in, let's say, three to 15 feet of water than you'll have running 15-inch baits that dive 30 feet in 15 feet of water although you can run a tight one. Generally, no, there is no set rules.

But as far as using larger baits, I tend, myself, to start using them come mid-August, just past the summer dog days as you start getting the cool nights. That's when I find that the bigger baits start moving for myself but I'll still use 6-, 9-, and 10-inch baits all the way down to November, myself. It just depends on the structure and what I'm fishing. If I'm fishing shallow in the fall, I'll use smaller baits and I'll run one big bait close to the boat. If I'm fishing deep, most of the times I'll run two big plugs and one small plug.

T.J. Quesnel: Alright. Marc, here's a bit of a more personal question: how long you been chasing muskies and how did you get hooked on muskie fishing and then how did you start, eventually, guiding?

Marc Thorpe: Well, I started muskie fishing when I was 16 years old living on the south shore of Montreal just off of Lake St. Louis. When I first started, we'd spend eight to ten days just to catch one eight- or ten- or 12-pounder and then brought them home and ate them. Now, I mean since then, we got into reading the Doug Johnsons and the Pearsons and the Mark Windells who kinda exploited the education of muskie fishing in a release movie and do casting for them and I just got more and more.

Around the age of 19 to 21 years old I more or less got my act together and kinda understood them a little bit more and started moving around more; fishing the Ottawa more, the St. Lawrence, and various places. How long? I guess close to some 20 years if you really look at when I started but really knowing what I'm doing, maybe some 14, 15 years; 13 years or so.

What got me into them? It's a big, scary fish when they come close to the boat. There's nothing much more impressive than watching a muskie coming in. And I guess the myth and the lore of the sport itself is really what is the greatest appeal of it all.

And the guiding? I guess I stumbled back into it when I was 19, 21 years old. Fishing was pretty good and I was doing probably better than most would commonly think was possible to get done as far as catching numbers and numbers of quality fish. Well, I guess some 13, 14 years later something special's being done and I've become obsessed by these fish. No two days are the same and no two fish are the same and that's what keeps me going back at it.

T.J. Quesnel: Well, don't get all teary-eyed on me, there, buddy. (Laughter) Anyway, hey, listen. I know you're a great guy but there must be tough days on the water. You probably don't get skunked very often but when it happens, do your guests get discouraged or do they get charged up to give it another try?

Marc Thorpe: We only get skunked maybe eight to ten days a year. I'd say after October 15 is a lot more difficult time of catching the fish as the water temperatures cool down. Sure, I've been two, three, four days in a row not catching one. Humiliation is the face of victory and what makes you keep on going back to it.

Do the clients get discouraged? No, not really but they'll start ripping on me and having fun with me and knowing that it is bothering me. But overall, you have to face humiliation and skunk days and that's just part of the fishing part of it.

T.J. Quesnel: Super. Yeah, I know. I get days when I don't catch anything. You can ask anybody I know. Alright. Here we go. When trolling for muskies, what is your preferred speed and how much line do you let out? Is it dependent on the lure you're running? If so, can you give us a couple examples?

Marc Thorpe: Speed and distance behind the boat is relative to the structure and time of year that you're running and baits. There's so many variables that come into it. During the summer I would say the four to five and a half miles an hour is probably the general range you wanna be fishing for muskies. It seems to be an optimum speed for triggering them. As the fall progresses and the water temperatures cool, you're better to go slower.

As far as distance behind the boat, it's all relative to the structure. You gotta always remember that fish normally feed in an upward motion. So, if you're fishing in ten feet of water then you know from zero to five feet is probably one of the best, optimum ranges for your baits to be placed in. What you need to figure out is do you need to put your baits closer to the bottom or closer to the top. At times, the fish wanna come up; they're actually not in the weeds but they're riding above the weeds. So, if you're in ten feet of water and the weed bed comes up let's say four feet off the bottom, that gives you a distance from the surface to the top of the weeds of six feet. If those fish are on top of the weeds and not laying on the bottom of the weeds, you're probably better to be running your baits two to three feet down than closer to the weeds as the fish kinda like some distance to be able to react and lunge at the baits.

T.J. Quesnel: Super. Alright. I got somebody who wants to know whether you target structure and depth or do you just try to find bait fish.

Marc Thorpe: I normally kinda target structure and depth. Some bait presence is always good but sometimes too much bait is not a good thing.

T.J. Quesnel: Alright. If you come up to a shoal or a sharp drop-off to shallow water, what are some tricks to keep the lure from snagging the bottom?

Marc Thorpe: Understanding the distances between the back of the boat and the depth of your lures is probably the biggest thing you need to learn; is understand that every foot or every five feet or every ten feet of line out equals so many feet down on your lure. As far as hanging up on the bottom, well, there's times that knocking the bottom is the solution to triggering those fish. As that bait is knocking along the bottom and comes off the bottom, those fish knock it. So it's not really such a bad thing snagging the bottom a lot. Sometimes it's where you wanna be.

T.J. Quesnel: Except if you're using a 20-dollar lure, I guess, eh?

Marc Thorpe: Or a 200-dollar lure. That's gotta hurt.


T.J. Quesnel: Alright. No, you wouldn't catch me with that. Here you go. OK. So, our next one wants to know, being new to muskie fishing and looking to buy one trolling rod and one casting rod to get started, could you suggest some rods with length, taper, and action for a beginner? Also, explain why these choices are made and maybe some good basic baits to get a good starter kit going for newbies.

Marc Thorpe: There's a couple of rods I'd get into. One of them would be the Pete Maina combo that's sold at Bass Pro being it's relatively low cost and basic, overall good quality equipment. I'd get the eight-footer with his signature reel. It's a good combo for the beginner and even the seasoned angler as far as I'm concerned.

Why eight-foot rod? What I found over time, it seems to be easier on your back when you're casting and that rod and reel combo can be used for trolling and casting at the same time.

The other combo that I would suggest would be an eight-foot Compre with the Calcutta 400. You're gonna find durability and quality in the product. And again, that eight-foot rod relieves pressure on your lower back when you're casting.

As far as baits, well, you wanna be looking for a jerkbait, maybe a couple of jerkbaits, a couple of bucktails, and a couple of crankbaits. As far as manufacturers, that's really up to a personal issue. There is no best lure out there. They're really tools when you come down to it. But whatever you feel that appeals to your type of fishing and action that you get out of the lure normally will be the most productive lure. The one that swims the most catches the most.

T.J. Quesnel: Super. So being nice and comfortable with it all is important.

Marc Thorpe: Yep. When it comes down to lures, it's a personal choice.

T.J. Quesnel: Right on. I know I like a very loose rod sometimes and a lot of people use really stiff rods. I like the action. Alright. So here, my last question and this has been asked by a lot of different people, how do you safely land and release a muskie - by safe he means both for the fisherman and the fish - and are there any special tools you should be using?

Marc Thorpe: One thing, if you're gonna get into muskie fishing, you need 11-inch long-nose pliers, Knipex cobalt bolt cutters, a good pair of split ring pliers, you should have an emergency kit in the boat - a safety kit - and a pair of channel locks. One of the tools that you do need for landing a muskie, what I do recommend for most anglers, is a treated net with rubber coating on the mesh. There's several manufacturers out there that are making them right now. Myself, I use the Frabill one.

The nice thing about those treated nets is that, 60 percent of the time, the hooks come out of the fish as soon as you land them. Baskets and hoops are pretty deep and big. They'll vary anywhere from 44 inches around them and 48 inches deep to 44 inches deep and 40 inches around which gives you enough room and gives the fish enough room to swim in there and yourself to work to take the hooks out.

One thing that's really important when you're going to remove the hooks is to pay attention to the fish's disposition. Watch its mannerism. If you notice the fish is tightening up and curling up and winding, best you get your hand out of the net. Let the fish do its nonsense and shake and go right back in after it. One way of verifying it is, every so often, just shake the leader. Watch the fish try and thrash a bit. Once it's finished thrashing, go back in there and remove the hook. Don't try and rush in and take all the hooks out. Do one at a time. Keep your hand on the leader so you have control on the leader as that fish thrashes all the time.

T.J. Quesnel: Yeah, a first aid kit's probably good, too.

Marc Thorpe: Very important. Very important. You never know. One other thing, too, that all anglers should carry in their boat is the evaporating antibiotical soap that exists on the market now. It's always good to wash your hands with that soap after you've handled the fish and maybe got some cuts and scrapes.

T.J. Quesnel: Yeah cause I know they're pretty slimy fish.

Marc Thorpe: Yep.

T.J. Quesnel: Alright, Marc. Well, hey. Thanks very much for talking to us today. If anybody's interested in taking a look at what Marc has to offer you can check out his website at  That's Thorpe, T-H-O-R-P-E. And I'm sure he'll get back to you with any questions you have. So thanks, Marc.

Marc Thorpe: Hey, it's my pleasure T.J.

T.J. Quesnel: I appreciate talking to you.

Marc Thorpe: Be well.

T.J. Quesnel: Alright.


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