Excellent forum topic and question, B Fish.
Here are some things I learned more about this year, key word being MORE. I knew about these things from reading and listening to other people talk, but actually executing them out there on your own, multiple times, is another journey. We got to learn more this year due to more opportunities to fish and more experimentation. Fishing conditions were rough on our first two trips with cold, crappy weather. This gave me more of an incentive to try different things. I think this is due to the fact that since we know we can catch fish now on a consistent basis, we feel more comfortable taking risks, such as trying new water.
(1) Slow down the retrieve. A very simple piece of advice that we all know, but much more difficult to mentally execute on a consistent basis due to habitual behavior. Super effective slow retrieves work better with certain lures, and some guys won't use such lures. This is part of the problem, too.
(2) Use Bulldawgs and other rubber. We've heard this a million times. Rubber paid off BIG for me this year. I became very infatuated with certain lures the previous two years, but this year I learned to embrace rubber more. It initially began with deep water probing, but I continued to use it over shallower water less than 15 feet deep. I learned more about fine-tuning each cast to prevent hogtying the leader. I don't use pounders, but this might be the next step of experimentation.
(3) Search for old river and creek channels. Even a slight depth difference of 1-2 feet paid off for me.
(4) Experiment over large, featureless flats. Don't fish these areas fast, either. This goes counter to what lots of guys say about using search baits only.
(5) Years of observation reveal true patterns. We all have our spots that we revisit over and over due to their success. We also keep visiting spots that never pay off, too. Something I learned this year was that some spots truly are legitimate producers. Just because a spot looks bad doesn't mean it's actually bad. I personally needed to see this after multiple years of observation, not just a couple trips to the same area. Some guys pull the trigger early and label spots in certain ways. I think this is foolish as more observations are needed. The same can be said for so many things in musky fishing.
(6) Some rules are meant to be broken. A lot of money is made by people in the musky industry by pushing product and ideas. That's great, but I confirmed my belief that I can make great decisions that don't mesh with traditional advice.
I could keep going on and on since there are so many things I learn each year while musky fishing. Time on the water matters. There are a LOT of outstanding musky fishermen out there who simply don't have the time to put more fish in the boat, and ultimately bigger fish, since it's a numbers game. Maximize your time usage on the water and fish hard while you can!