MUSKIE BY THE SEASON
By Ken Poor
Spring is finally here after a long cold winter and everything gets a new start including muskie hunters. Reels have been stripped cleaned and oiled and refilled. A few new lures have been added, and muskie hunters are ready to get out on their preferred lake and catch their favorite fish, the fresh water legend, the muskie.
In the early spring of the year, muskie will not use a lot of energy chasing bait fish. The stress of winter and the strain of the recent spawn have taken a toll on muskie, they are not very active, but they are out there and they can be caught, if you use the right presentation and are very patient.
Small artificial lures, typically more suited for largemouth bass are an excellent choice in the early spring. Additionally, it is very important to work these smaller lures very slow and close to some type of cover such as stumps, logs and any other cover that is present such as last years weed beds. Any shadows on the water should also be considered a type of cover and never passed by without making a cast to them.
Typically, I like to use heavy bass gear and a lighter line, usually 30-pound test braid. Normally this lighter tackle will work fine until the water temperature reaches about sixty degrees and at that time you should start using larger muskie lures along with heavier tackle.
Small, shallow lakes warm up much faster than large deep lakes. Muskie will be in the warmer shallow water both for comfort and because bait fish will also move into these areas at this time of year to spawn. Shorelines, shallow water on top of submerged lake points, saddles between islands and entrances to creeks on the north shore of the lake are all good areas to fish.
Pay attention to the wind direction for the lake you are fishing. Wind will push warm surface water into a section of the lake and this can make the area a little more active than other sections especially early in the spring. Late mornings and throughout the afternoon, after the sun warms the water, is the best time of the day to fish these shallow lakes, but always start in the area that has been receiving the wind.
In the late spring and early summer, the water temperature should be approaching the mid-sixties on most lakes. When this occurs the muskies metabolism is in high gear and they will be on a strong bite. It is time to break out the heavy duty muskie gear including rods reels, line and lures.
Weed beds have started to grow and turn green which attracts a variety of forage and the muskie will be there to feed. Concentrate on deep weed edges close to deep water Muskie that typically live in deep water will routinely move to the deep weed edges to feed and ambush their prey. Work the big weed beds first. Start with the deeper outside edge first, but don’t overlook the open pockets and turns in the weed bed.
As the water temperature continues to rise speed up your presentation. Large, muskie size lures such as bucktails, spinner baits, buzz baits and jerk baits worked on or close to the surface will get most of the action from the aggressive fish. Big crankbaits or spoons are a good choice for working the deeper water along the outside edge of big weed beds.
Large jigs and muskie types of plastic creatures worked along the deep weed edges can be very productive at times. Jigs and plastic creatures are much more weedless than lures with multiple sets of hooks and are a logical choice when muskie are holding tight to the weed beds or in sparse weed cover.
As summer progresses and the water temperature climbs into the upper seventies and continues higher the muskies start to move towards deeper cooler water. In the summer when the muskie start to suspend in deeper water, mornings and evenings are a productive time to hunt them. Surface baits worked over the top of submerged weed beds at night, during hot weather, can be, not only productive, but amazingly exciting.
When warmer water temperatures drive the muskie to suspended locating them can be a little bit of a challenge because they will be scattered throughout the deep water and over a large area. On lakes where the laws and regulations allow it, trolling large deep running crankbaits and plugs is an excellent way to cover a lot of water effectively and quickly.
Trolling for muskie typically involves long flat lines and a relatively fast trolling speed of 5-mph. Start your trolling techniques parralell to and close to the deep weed edge and then work your way further out towards deeper water. Also watch for humps, bars and shoal areas adjacent to deep water. Again, before you start to troll on any lake, make sure the laws and regulations allow trolling on the lake you are fishing.
Fall is beyond a doubt trophy muskie season. Specifically, September and October are considered the prime time for big muskie. At this time of year, the water temperature drops to the mid-sixties, and the muskie instinctively go into a feeding frenzy to put on fat before the winter weather moves in. When muskie are in a feeding frenzy just about any lure will work, but for big muskie think big jerk baits over the tops of weedbeds and along shorelines around any type of cover. Look for combinations of cover such as weeds and wood as a good starting point.
During the early start of fall water temperatures are still good for fishing in the mornings, and evenings. As the fall season progresses and water temperatures start to drop afternoons and evenings will be a better choice. By late fall water temperatures drop off substantially, weed beds start to die off and the muskie again start to move towards deep water. But they will frequently return to the old weed beds for short periods of time to feed on bait fish exposed by the collapsing weed beds. Work these areas with big jerkbaits and other types of surface baits.
Before you head out on the lake to hunt for muskie, make sure you know all the regulations for the lake you plan to fish including size restrictions and trolling regulations. Pay attention to lake specific rules and regulations and keep in mind the legal season for muskie and other types of game fish varies considerably from state to state.
The decision about keeping a legal-size muskellunge is up to the individual angler, but keep in mind that musky fishing has become a sport where success is not a matter of how many muskie you catch or kill. Voluntary catch-photograph-release (CPR) along with higher size limits has made muskie fishing amazing. But there is still a lot of room for improvement and how much better it will get depends to a large extent on how good muskies survive after being released. Experience has shown that they do survive well if they are handled carefully. Anyone who releases a musky should give top priority to the fish’s well-being. Keep in mind a replica of any fish you catch can be made from photographs along with the length and girth measurements you make after you catch it.