Spence Petros holds a muskie caught on a crooked-running crankbait — a happy mistake.

Spence Petros holds a muskie caught on a crooked-running crankbait — a happy mistake.

Like most experienced anglers, I wanted to see how the new crankbait ran before fishing with it. A couple casts showed it had the tight wiggle I like, and the high sides would toss a lot of flash to attract sight-feeding muskies.

But the best test would be to run it behind a moving boat and slowly increase the boat's speed. The lure was flipped out about 50 feet and I began to accelerate.

I eased it to 2 1/2 mph, and the lure was running straight. The straighter the better, or so us anglers were taught to believe.

At 3 mph, the lure began tracking to the right, toward shore. At about 3 1/2 mph, it was running at about a 45-degree angle to the side of the boat, and about 4-5 feet under the surface. It should have been digging down to about 8 feet.

I was just about ready to bring it in and tune it by bending the eye tie slightly to the side, when I noticed a long stretch of rushes along the shoreline ahead of me. Normally this cover would be fished by casting, since the depth just outside the weeds was only 4- to 6-feet deep. But deeper water (12-15 feet) was just a short distance away, and it was linked to the above surface vegetation by short low-growing vegetation.

For some odd reason, I kept the out-of-tune lure on to see if it could be trolled along the shallow weedline, while the boat motored along the 10- to 12-foot edge of the drop-off.

I'd gone about 50 yards past where the weeds first started when the rod was almost ripped out of my hands. A 25-pound muskie exploded into the air with my crankbait firmly lodged in its mouth. I don't know who was more surprised the fish or me. The sideways running, out-of-tune lure actually caught a fish.

The next musky, almost a twin to the first one, really opened my eyes. Maybe this was no accident. I was really on to something new and different.

Since that first encounter, out-of-tune crankbaits and big tube jigs (see related story) have been my secret, killer presentations for catching big muskies. I've always been one not to follow the book on how to catch fish, and will always do my own thing until fish learn to read the book.

The crankbait pattern has been fine-tuned a lot since that first accidental catch. What I'm basically doing is putting the lure into spots that could only previously be fished by casting. By trolling, you can cover five to 10 times as much water as a caster in a day; you have much more control over the lure's strike-provoking speed and running depths; and it's a lot easier than slinging giant lures for long hours.

Let's examine some of the instances where a sideways running lure is preferred. Obviously, along shallow weedlines is good. But just about anytime you want to move a lure quickly through 3-10 feet of water presents a great opportunity.

  • On windy days it can be very hard to control a boat along a rocky structure battered by the wind. No problem. You can run the boat along in 8-10 feet of water and send the lure into the 4- to 7-foot depths.

  • On dark-water lakes muskies may be found holding in shallower water, often along a bottom that has a little quicker taper or a short lip. Instead of spending hours casting from deep to shallow, now lures can quickly be trolled parallel to the shore. Not only will you cover a lot more water, the lure will be in the strike zone for a much longer period.

  • Afraid of spooking clear-water muskies by trolling over them at 10- to 12-foot depths? Stay in a little deeper water and run a lure to the side.

  • If you are fishing a new lake and are unfamiliar with erratic rock formation that can whack your motor, a de-tuned lure can be run up to these edges while you hold a safe distance away until the contours are learned. This lure opens up a world of new fishing opportunities.

Flat-sided crankbaits work best. Bend the eye-tie slightly to the side you want the lure to run. The faster you go, the more off-center the lures will run. Adjust the boat's speed and line length to make the lure run deeper or shallower.

Favorite lures are Lindy's Big M — (218) 829-1714 — and Pete Mania's 8-inch Jake, (800) 477-9944. I also use white no-stretch line on my reel (80-pound-test Berkley WhipLash) so the lure's path can easily be seen. A stiff 7- to 71/2-foot muskie baitcasting rod is a must.

Whether you're an avid muskie angler or have yet to catch one, I guarantee these two techniques — out-of-tune crankbaits and tube lures — are on the cutting edge of what's happening. The secret's are out.