No matter if you’re a Muskie or Pike angler, you’ve probably heard about the name ”Keyes Outdoors”. For the past 18 years, Keyes Outdoors, LLC has grown to one of most watched, most viewed and respected musky fishing TV Series in the world. And for a good reason. Mike and his team put out an extremely high level of Musky fishing video’s, and the way they have brought the water to the public eye of online media is just something truly special. Mike’s video’s show you every technique of Muskie fishing you can possibly think of, and will certainly help getting the most out of your time on the water!
Q: Mike, first of all, welcome to the site! It’s a big honor for me to have you do an interview on here. I’ve been a longtime fan of your show Keyes Outdoors, and it has been a massive inspiration for me over the years. If you look back at it from the very beginning, how did it all start for you when you decided to start filming your adventures?
A: I was a hunting equipment manufacturer when I started filming TV shows. At that time, we did 26 episodes a year multi-species fishing and hunting. In my third year on a local TV station, I shot a show with two brothers from Hayward, Wisconsin, Eric and Steve Genson. That first Muskie hunt I was on I didn’t even fish, I just ran the camera. The first Muskie I had ever filmed came on my first outing and it was then that I knew we needed to change the format of my outdoors TV series to all Muskies, I was hooked… bad.
Q: What was your main goal with your fishing show Keyes Outdoors? Did you expect it to be that popular as it is these days?
A: At that time there were only a couple of fishing shows that filmed only Muskies. The problem that I saw from watching their shows was the fact that they couldn’t and weren’t capturing the actual hook-sets on the Muskies on film. Most of them shown on film at that point were being fixed or faked. I wanted to be the first ever to capture the actual hook-set. The only way that this could be achieved was to have the cameraman film every catch and retrieve, and if you have two people fishing at the same time who decides who runs the camera and who fishes? So, I started to think out of the box and wondered if we mounted a tower – two HD cameras and ran them continuously? I had to design and manufacture that tower with a 12Volt car battery for power, it was a major pain in the ass, but it set us apart from everybody else (which was what we strive to be – original/different) nothing was reenacted, we were and still are the real deal because we were the first to capture that money shot on camera. So, that’s how SKY CAM was invented and is being used by many anglers to capture the moment, that’s super cool. We never expected to be as popular as we are today, but we are very grateful to our fans who support our show, who come to the trade shows, who stop us in the gas station or the side of the road to say hello.
Q: What is your most favorite technique for catching Muskies?
A: Rubber and Blades, deep weed lines mid-summer.
Q: What do you think is more effective overall, regardless of the time of year or season. Live bait sucker rigs, jerkbaits, softbaits, crankbaits, or even fly-fishing?
A: After the past 18 years of hunting the beast, I’ve come to the conclusion that ALL lures have their time and place. Live bait is always very high on my list, but, I have seen so many times there are days when one lure presentation will outshine all the rest. The more important question is how will that lure perform in regards to where the Muskies are staging? If they are shallow, then shallow running lure is what I need to get to them. If the Muskies are deep on a weed edge, then rubber and deep diving crankbaits would be needed and when you are in shallow water and the Muskies are very neutral then I have seen a fly kill the competition. Again, to be a complete Muskie hunter you need all the tools to get the job done and like I said ALL lures have their time and place!
Q: Whenever I watch your show, I always see you casting almost 90% of the time. I assume you do this to cover water and find fish. If you had to choose between casting or trolling, which of the two would come first, and why? I noticed a lot of people in the global hunt for Esox come across this dilemma. What’s your preference to this?
A: I personally love trolling, it is an art on to its self. The reason why you only see us trolling 10% of the time is simply made for boring TV just like night time fishing, a great tactic but really bad TV. Our concept at Keyes Outdoors is to first entertain of viewers, then try to teach something we have learned and share it with our viewers. I’m a very realistic man I understand that if I don’t entertain my viewer first, then he or she will stop watching and never hear our message.
Q: I have a huge amount of respect for you how you keep going and going no matter how good or bad the fishing might be. Over the years of watching your show, I watched your approached to Muskie fishing and telling people to never give up. Have you ever been to a point where you thought you’d gave it all and actually wanted to quit, but then the magic happened? And what is the best advice you would give someone to keep on grinding?
A: Bro… about two years ago I HAD TO FISH, we were having a bad season and I needed to be on the water at all time. As I pulled up onto the first spot I didn’t and couldn’t get up I just sat there in a haze, I was physically and mentally drained. It was the first time in 16 years of my career that I learned that this was and is a real job and all of the pressures that come with any job. That funk lasted about, well come to think about it until I caught my next Muskie and then I got better. But giving up just isn’t my/our way of life. We use that feeling of hopelessness as encouragement to keep moving forward, keep grinding. We will all have days where that feeling is overpowering, but it’s how you use that feeling to better your situation to move forward that matters.
Q: We all know you have fished all around the US and Canada in search of Muskies. If there had to be one body of water what you would fish all the time, what would that be and why? Also, do you rather catch numbers all the time or just Big fish?
A: For me, I would have to say Green Bay, Wisconsin. It’s so massive and pretty much untapped. Numbers can be good, but it’s a body of water that I believe on any given cast you could be the next world record holder. We love catching Muskies of all sizes, but fishing on this type of water just keeps your mind focused and in the game at all times. Of course, we all want to catch the Biggest fish, but without catching the smaller ones too we can’t learn. With catching smaller Muskies all the time you get to learn how to properly hold a fish, a proper hook-set, proper release etc.. Because you now have more chances at those skills than just catching one Big Muskie.
Q: Often when we fish, we use a wide variety of different baits. Here in Europe, unfortunately, there are no Muskies, yet Pike fishing is very popular and some huge monster fish roam our waters. Mainly due to watching your show, I fish Muskie style for Pike now, and it paid off for me big time. But the question always remains, what size of bait to use. What is your approach to this? Are you a fan of medium size baits, let’s say within the 5-8” range, or do you prefer bigger? Which of the two do you think is most effective all-season round?
A: How we typically go it is if we have two guys in the boat the first guy up front will throw small and fast, search baits like blades. Then the guy in the back will throw a little larger size and maybe slower topwater, or glide baits. We will see which presentation will either catch or show us a Muskie. If neither of them produces, then we change it up trying to find that lure pattern. The thing to remember is always to give the lure a good try.
Q: If someone put you on an island where you would only be able to choose one size of bait, what would that be? Big or small? With Pike the bigger you go, the smaller your chances of catching fish, but the size goes up. When using medium sized baits, the amount of fish gets bigger, but size goes down.
A: If I had one lure for a whole season from spring until summer I would throw a Shallow Invader by Musky Innovations. You can twitch it, straight crank it, rip it or trolling it and it has produced for us in all the seasons from spring until freeze up.
Q: Do believe in colors or contrast? What is your favorite color of all time that works all the time be it stained, clear or turbid water?
A: More contrast, all black is one of my favorite patterns, works in all water clarities.
Q: If you had to choose between fishing shallow water all the time, or deeper water. Which of the two would that be? Would you fish shallow for Muskie above deep water? Where did you have the most success?
A: Depending on the time of year. But my favorite style is shallow water wild rivers. I love the river and love to sleep on her banks, I love the adventure feel of not knowing what is around the next bend. I’m at peace on those shoots.
Q: I keep track records of all my days on the water, and assume you do this too. There is something strange I have found over the years, which is that fish are one year at one spot, and the other year at another. This is especially the case with even and uneven year numbers. What are your experiences to this?
A: A lot is where the bait is, find the bait and you will find the Muskies, it’s all about food for them. I have found that river fish seem to be more nomadic than lake fish. But once again try to find the bait.
Q: With fishing for Pike, I discovered that certain baits work at certain bodies of water. Where one bait is a great producer at let’s say lake A, at lake B they totally ignore it and go for something else. Especially with fishing spinners this has been the case. I know you fish a lot of cowgirl styled baits. What is your opinion on this? Have you had the same experiences with Muskies?
A: Yes for sure, certain bodies of water prefer certain lures. Why? Not 100 percent sure, but it could be on how the Muskies use the structure and water clarity as well.
Q: When I watch your show you mostly fish at a fast phase. How important is the speed of a lure to you? And what is your most favorite speed? Do you like it slow for bigger fish, or faster in heavy pressured waters?
A: A lot of time we fish fast because we want to cover water looking for an active fish. Once we locate fish then we will fish them a little slower with a more precise cast.
Q: Your show Keyes Outdoors has been around for a long time now. Every year the video’s get better and better. My compliments for that! Is there anything exciting you could share about future works?
A: In the past, it was about just catching the Muskie on film. As we have grown and aged we now want to be seen as filmmakers producing top quality videos on the sport we love so much. It’s always been about the story for me, I’ve always been a good storyteller, so pull up a chair and crack a beer…I’ve got a story for you… I went Muskie fishing today and this is what happened. We would love to share what the next season has to bring for you, but our season just started so it’s hard to predict the future. But, we have started a multi-species fishing and hunting online tv series called Adventure Outdoors. With this show, we are able to continue our filmmaking while shooting in the outdoors. It’s on our Keyes Outdoors YouTube Channel and the response we’ve received has been very positive. Keyes Outdoors will remain, Muskie, only while Adventure Outdoors is everything else and more!
Q: You surely inspired a lot of anglers to go fishing with the great atmosphere around your show. If any new anglers to the sport are watching and wondering where to start. What is some key advice you would give them?
A: I never thought in a million years that Keyes Outdoors would have such a huge following. For that I’m am so thankful for. If someone is new getting into this sport, I’d say be patient and learn from your mistakes. This is not an easy sport it’s super hard, but if you have patience and are willing to work hard things will work out…believe in yourself and your passion!