Tag Archives: Techniques

Late Spring Muskie Fishing

CDTNB201The late spring time frame can vary, depending on the latitude of the fishery in question, but to get a little more specific, we’re talking about the post-spawn period (about a month) and generally surface temperature ranges in the 60’s to low 70’s. It’s a great time of year (other than the bugs) for catching *Esox”.

Muskie location is pretty predictable at this time. A good basic plan to follow is simply to fish the weeds. Any waters that offer good vegetation should have some well-developed weeds and edges by this time. If that is the case, concentrate on them, always checking edges as being a high-probability contact-zone and a good place to concentrate on for boat position. Check the flats too though, and inside edges where available, for a pattern.

Early Season Musky – It’s really tough to beat smaller, twitched cranks like the 6-inch Jake lure during this period. Erratic action with minnow baits would be the number one choice to produce, with smaller in-line spinners coming in second. Choose these spinners and cranks to run at the level of the top of the weeds, occasionally making contact. Diving cranks should be tried on the deeper edges, fished in parallel fashion and at angles in and out.

In a very basic sense, this is all that needs to be done to be relatively successful during this period. Keep doing it, and it will work. Shallow to midrange wood and rocks are great places to target also. On the other end of the spectrum, though, there are several tools (lures) and patterns (locations) that are just about never tried during this period that can be absolutely deadly.

This is a wonderful time of year to cast for suspended fish. Simply put, the world is high during this period. For those that don’t understand Maina-eze, this simply means that most fish enjoy the warmer temperature ranges – which are now in the upper level of the water column. Minnows can often be seen swimming around in schools – just under the surface. Considering how the food-chain-thing works … guess where the top of the chain will be when in the mood to dine.

It’s a fun, different way to fish – that can be hard on many folks who are used to “visual” fishing (structure they can see), but because of the tendencies for high suspension, fish are fairly concentrated at this time. On smaller waters, a simple plan of “fishing it all” can be taken with the open water in the system. However, since casting doesn’t allow the water coverage trolling does, narrowing things down to “confined” open water really increases your odds at this time.

CDTNB229Most fish will be quite scattered from the spawning period by now and be moved in to, or getting close to summer locations. However, simply concentrating on the deep water adjacent to spawning bays is the best plan. If the area features a feeder creek near by – so much the better. Also (and this should help explain “confined”), deeper zones between a couple of shallower food shelves tend to have higher concentrations of fish. The more shallow food stations available in the areas, the higher the concentrations of suspended fish there will be. Complex structure is a good thing.

Let’s say we have a weedy bay with fairly sharp-breaking shorelines on either side, with rock and wood. Out in front and to the sides, other individual shallow flats exist. The deep water between these elements is the area to concentrate. In bigger systems, this is generally much higher percentage deep water than just heading for “anywhere.” The thing is though, even with a bunch of good shallow structure around, at this time, there may actually be a higher percentage of fish suspended over deep water than there is in the shallow zones. And, because these fish see fewer lures, they are often far more triggerable.

It is possible, of course to check this pattern while working sharp breakline areas too. Just cast both ways; cover the shallow zone and the deep water nearby. Deep diving lures can work quite well, and do, but the funny thing I found out doing this, is that often it is more effective to run shallower presentations. The same stuff you would use over the weeds. The only difference is, often bigger is better out over the deep stuff.

One of my most effective lures for this is a weighted Burt jerkbait. It only runs about 5 to 6 feet on the average, but is a big, wounded-looking target that hangs on the pause. That’s a great general range to concentrate on. Spinners work quite well too, at times, as well as the cranks. Possibly the biggest sleepers though, are top waters and spoons. Both work well in open water. Erratic styles work best though, so try a glider topwater like the Doc. Believe it or not, it’s really tough to beat a big Daredevil spoon too … but it’s got to be twitched on the retrieve.

Cold Water Muskies

ACF873Muskies are truly different critters as fish go. No doubt about it! Those of us who fish for them are different critters as well; willing to put forth seemingly endless expenditure on tools of the trade, and endless hours in anguished expectancy of the next strike… and yet, we continue. Those long in the chase of these fish know: just when you think you’ve got the system to “consistency” figured out, these miserable fish will throw you a curve. They seem to disappear, shattering your ego and keeping you up at night, pondering their disappearance.

It is hard enough to try and keep up with a fish with such a peculiar personality, and one that is present in low densities… and then add seasonal change. But these seasonal changes are a fact of life that are another twist to fish location. Cold weather muskies are especially fickle. Let’s take a look at what those of us afflicted enough to endure the chilling weather of the late fall for chances at a trophy muskie are dealt. What are some of the key points to fishing during the period between turnover and hard water?


A few weeks after the fall turnover process mixes the different layers of water that stratified over the course of the summer months, the fish community starts to settle down into more predictable patterns again. The period during the turnover is a time of confusion and a lot of movement. It takes some time, but signs of the true start of the late fall period include forage fish “bunching-up.” Groups of baitfish, packed tightly together can be noted on electronics, where a few weeks earlier fish were scattered.

The real keys to success in the late fall include location and location. The location of your boat over prime areas with feeding muskie present-is very important. Locating your presentation in muskies’ faces is even more important. This may seem a little too basic; however, these two very basic considerations should constantly be considered during the cold weather period; they should be the basis behind every move made and every chosen presentation.

While theories of rampant feeding by muskie preparing for a long, cold winter are common, the truth is, as the water cools it makes for less overall activity and shorter feeding windows. While female fish must fatten-up a bit for winter to support their burden of eggs, the cooler water slows metabolisms, and these fish generally aren’t as willing to “chase.” It is very important to get that offering close.

Thinking “deeper” is a good general rule in fall location. Try to break a lake, river or reservoir down into prime sections by simply looking for the deepest water and main basins. Deep is, of course, relative to the body of water, but start by looking at the deeper zones and the surrounding area. Generally, unless long stretches of warmth or unique forage movements occur, large areas of shallow water can be written off as low percentage, however areas directly adjacent to basin are a different story. As usual, structure can be key; be it deeper wood, weeds or rock. Sharp breaklines to deep water are always a prime consideration; deeper secondary breaklines, where present, can be a major factor in fish location.

The deepest hard-bottomed areas are a key item to look for and to concentrate on. The edge between hard and soft bottom is often a magnet. All of these structural elements mentioned often attract the ultimate “structure”-the most important factor in muskie location: forage. Remember that the muskie you want to find is a “feeding” muskie. That fish isn’t going to be where there is no food. And remember that these fish really only have one job in life: eat. Nature dictates that they be as efficient as possible in going about their chores. They’re no different than your ol’ pal Rover; he may wander around for a while when he’s not hungry, but he’ll always be back to the location of the food dish he knows is always full.

What prime structures in deep water offer is a likely place to find the concentrations of forage-which will eventually attract the hungry predator you seek. Get in tune with the structures present in the body of water you will be fishing, and with the different forage types. Learn what species are most prevalent and what their locational habits are. Don’t forget some of the not-so-commonly-mentioned items such as crawfish and bullhead; if they are present, they can be a big factor.

cdtnb0376webBecause slower-moving, precise presentations are often necessary to trigger fish, it doesn’t pay to just start fishing until you know you are working an area with quantities of forage. Generally, you will be much better off to take the time out from actually fishing, to check for food sources with your electronics before starting in; try to pinpoint a few prime areas that look good.

In a lake with very little structure, or “bowl-shaped” waters, shoreline-related breaks may be the only game in town. Deep shorelines may have fallen trees, and in a situation such as this, they are a major structural element. It stands to reason that many of the fish are relating to nothing other than open water, since that is all that is available. Check open water areas to see if there is a pattern to the level of the majority of the baitfish… wind can be a major factor on such lakes; several days (it takes time) of wind from one direction may stack baitfish on the windward side.

Some very overlooked structural elements that can be a big factor late in the season include: long, inside turns (or troughs) of deeper water. These are often magnets for forage in the fall. Distinct, deep holes can also be dynamite, especially if prime shallower feeding shelves are adjacent. Neck-down areas with deep water on both sides will always have great potential. Probably the most overlooked is the long stretch of “steep” shoreline, most of which have nothing that really stands out to the naked eye (no points or turns). Sharp-breaking shorelines are natural “underwater highways” for fish. Even if nothing stands out they are worth checking; in many cases there are slight points and turns where the break starts to level out to the deep basin. Usually this can only be noted by checking via electronics; there may also be a brushpile or an extension of hard bottom out to deeper water in a certain section. Little changes like these on a steep shoreline often “stop” forage and predator fish in their travels. Nothing like finding a hot spot on a visually ugly stretch of shore.

Final Tips

Muskie are a temperamental lot. You must have the confidence to locate contact areas (forage for certain and usually structure too) and fish them hard. Don’t give up on them if the one pass produces nothing; if an area is really stacked with forage give it another run later. Prime areas may be used by many feeding muskie; often several at the same time during a prime feeding window. If a spot scores once for you, it will score again.

Also consider changing your lure-type “fairly” often to check out the effectiveness of a different lure action (but changing too often wastes time). Preferences in lure speed and action are common; one day a tight-wobble crankbait is hot, and the next they may want a wide, lazy wobble. Because you are working these areas fairly slowly, there is time to show them a variety of lures. The good news is if you find something that is working, usually that will be a pattern; similar presentations will probably be effective the rest of the day and possibly several days if weather remains consistent.

Presentation Tactics

Once a prime area is located with a good forage base present, it’s time to comb it. Work it over good. If quantities of food are present, chances are very good that muskie will be feeding there; at least at some point during the day. The key is in covering all levels, concentrating in and around the majority of the forage. One of the best ways to accomplish this is through a combination of boat control, vertical presentations and casting presentations. Remembering the second “location-factor” of getting close to that fish. Simply figure out a way to cover all levels as you work your way through. Where legal, using multiple lines with a combination of live and artificial bait is very effective.

Live bait run on quick-strike rigs can be used as a prime vertical presentation. As is for all predator fish, live bait is very effective on muskie, especially in cooler water. Using whatever weighting system you find necessary for the depth you will be fishing, try to work a bait near the bottom and a bait suspended. To add a jigging action to baits, move in bursts, allowing baits to settle in a vertical position before moving again. This is generally much more effective than steady movement which results in steady depth and a very relaxed bait. You want your live bait to be visible-and struggling-fighting the ups and downs. If the bottom is relatively clean, don’t be afraid to run the live baits into the bottom or breaklines; contact will arouse baits and any hungry muskies.

CDTNB133webIn addition to, or instead of live baits, a variety of artificials can be effective. Consider the depth you want to target as the main determining factor in lure choice for casting. Baits such as jerks and cranks can be very effective in the late season, but generally have their limits on effective running depth. Know these limits and fit the lure to target depth. Jigs or sinking lures are effective and can be worked very slow; they are perfect for “following” the break when working sharp edges.

A prime edge with forage should be worked parallel to the edge as well as perpendicular. Work the shallow and deep side. Consider that predators are most likely located on the edge of the forage bulk. (If they were right in the middle and actively feeding … the “bulk” wouldn’t be there.) Generally jerks and cranks are much more effective for casting out into open water than jigs. They simply cover water faster; the idea here is to search for fish suspended nearby; precise lure control is not as big a factor. Whatever the lure type, contacting bottom on edges and tops of bars can be a great trigger on neutral fish; many a muskie has been taken on crankbaits “ground” across rocks; choose a diving crank with a quality, rounded, plastic lip that will handle these collisions. The Ernie and Believer are classic examples. The great thing about all of these presentations when being used in addition to live bait is that even if a muskie is not intrigued enough to strike… they have that notorious propensity to follow. Often fish that are lead to the boat via “artificial” are unable to resist the “real thing” thing when they are brought right to it.

The other prime addition for ultimate deep-water control in artificials is vertical jigs and spoons. The ultimate lure control is vertical; you know where your presentation is at all times. Large sonar lures, weighted spoons and jig/live bait or jig/rubber combos work well. I am a great believer in those flashy lures like spoons and big blade baits like the Fuzzy Duzzit and Zip lure. I’ve plucked them from many a muskie’s face. Work these lures over the side of the boat, covering different depth ranges with lure and with the boat, remembering to maintain occasional bottom contact.

Pete’s Gear: Fish Finding & Trolling

Muskies can hide pretty well for their size, so finding them can be tough! Once you find them, you also have to stealthily move around to get into the perfect casting position. Let’s see how Pete conquers both of these problems:

Lowrance HDS-10 Gen2 Fishfinder/ChartplotterLowrance HDS-10 Gen2 Fishfinder/Chartplotter

The HDS-10 Gen2 has intuitively simple operation through the combination of an easy-to-understand menu system, plus programmable soft keys for instant display of favorite page views.

Available in a variety of transducer-pack options:

  • 83/200 kHz for inland/freshwater uses.
  • 50/200 kHz for deeper Great Lakes/coastal saltwater uses
  • Also compatible with Airmar® in-hull or thru-hull transducers for up to 1 kW operation – for deeper, saltwater applications

Two waterproof SD card slots to load high-detail charting options. Users can also and save sonar and navigational data, and upload future HDS software feature updates.

MotorGuide Wireless Freshwater Trolling MotorMotorGuide Wireless Freshwater Trolling Motor

MotorGuide now gives you precise wireless control with complete freedom of movement. Freshwater Wireless comes standard with a Wireless Foot Pedal, the industry’s smoothest stow and deploy, four remote inputs, built-in removable mount, rough-water lower-unit cradle, and an integrated battery indicator.

 The 200-kHz sonar transducer crystal is forged at 20-degrees to provide incredible detail and is epoxy-potted in the nose cone for maximum protection. Combined with a build-in temperature sensor, your motor is compatible with most Lowrance units.

 Looking for strength? MotorGuide’s Wireless Edition composite shaft is beefed up with a larger diameter and is 33% stronger than competitor’s composite shafts. Bring on the open water.

How to Get Out of Your Summer Muskie Drought

Muskies are never easy. We hear all kinds of things about what makes them tough to catch – and one of them is warm water, dog day summer conditions. But actually, in many ways, summer is my favorite time of year for muskies. It’s often feast or famine; there are so many things to try; it can be very high speed; it’s always challenging and fun. And if they’re not bitin’ you can always go swimmin’. Allow me to offer a quick 6-pack of solutions that often work for myself and others. To get to six, we’ll look at presentations that just might be something new to muskies’ eyes.

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Catch and Release Muskies After Dark

Night fishing is in many ways – exactly the same as fishing during the day, when it comes to structures, lures, tactics and such. Yet, it does pose some unique issues for handling the landing and release of hooked fish. As with the fishing itself, every step of the process is made a little more difficult by the cover of darkness, and, even more potentially dangerous. When dealing with big, strong fish and heavy hooks, there is potential for serious injury to both fish and angler.

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Jigging on Cold Fronts

Cold fronts generally aren’t the greatest news for any fishing, other than the fact that pre-frontal conditions usually bring a feeding spree as barometric pressure drops. Following this though, when cold air, high, clear skies persist, muskie and pike are usually laying pretty low, just trying to stay comfortable, digest, likely pass a little gas… generally not too fired up.

A tremendous standby for cold front conditions, or any low activity period – are jigs. They work for all species, and certainly those big toothy esocids included.
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This is a tremendous little tip for use with any type of spinner lure, whether it’s an in-line or overhead spinner style. It’s exactly what I love in life: something very simple, comparatively easy-and I really believe increases interest and reactive strikes. Simply put, most folks just reel their spinners straight in… and often that works quite well with the combination of flash, vibration and a body to target.
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Learn to Use those LURES

A BIG secret – that doesn’t involve a “secret” lure; rather, increasing significantly, the capability of your favorite lures – to become secret weapons – as compared to other folks’ lures of the exact same kind. And actually, it’s a great off-season project for folks who chase muskie and pike where the water stays hard and/or have a closed season to fish for the species. What’s the big secret? Simply use all your favorite lures in a clear water situation, lots … without any concern for trying to catch a fish – try everything possible until you learn everything that can be learned about what looks best – and the limits of the lure (i.e. depth, speed, ect.).
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Finding Pike Through The Ice

To me, when it comes to the hard water season, northern pike are my favorite target for a lot of reasons. First, they are bigger fish that have teeth. And they pull hard and move fast. And another real neat thing to me, is that they are generally pretty easy to target on waters with a decent population. Good action can usually be found, and the best part of all-for someone who’s never been too keen on rising early, is that midday hours are generally best. You normally don’t need to start early or stay late into the dark.

If you really want to be most effective in targeting pike (or realistically any species for that matter), the first move is to make some phone calls and line up friends to go along. And that’s the neat thing about ice. A boat limits those who can all go along. It’s pretty much unlimited on the ice. Round up some folks, because the more holes or sets you are allowed to use, the quicker you should be able to pattern pike.

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Lure Colors and Muskies

You’ve all seen the smiley tackle manufacturer or rep at the sports show, graciously offering info on their line of product; also counsel on the myriad of colors available. I’ve been there myself many times; on both sides of the fence. Once an angler is convinced they can’t possibly live without a particular lure type, the inevitable question is what color. It’s a tough one really. My standard reply as a manufacturer, of course, is-one of each.

I know, there’s plenty of moms, wives and non-fishers related or other-wise attached to esox nuts out there who can’t seem to understand why multiple overstuffed tackle boxes are a absolute necessity to pursue these fish; and considering monetary outlays, it’s a legit concern. We can get a little carried away with the “just-gotta-haves.” But in defense of lure junkies everywhere, I will unequivocally state that there is “some” validity in all of this. Colors do make a difference; sometimes it’s huge!

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Fishing with Live Bait

Many anglers have never even tried live bait for any species. Where I come from in northwestern Wisconsin, live bait use for musky is a tradition as old as the sport itself. Generally, live bait use is common in the spring, and almost standard procedure for most muskie seekers in the fall. There are those that are either disinterested in live bait use, or simply prefer other tactics. There are also those within the muskie community that are “dead-set” against live bait use.

These folks won’t use it and, they don’t feel anyone else should be using live bait either. I’ve been in the presence of, and once in a while involved in, boisterous discussions on the “do’s, don’ts and whys” on the use of live bait. While I certainly don’t agree that live bait should never be used under any circumstances, or that the use of live bait is, “unfair, unsporting and only for ‘lazy’ people”, one of the concerns anti-live-baiters will offer is legit. That the use of live bait kills musky. Unfortunately, I can’t argue that point. They’re dead right!

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Live Bait Basics

As many of you may already know, live baits can work great for muskie and pike. In Wisconsin, the use of live bait (usually in addition to artificial presentations) is very popular, especially in the fall, for muskies. It can work well in the spring too. In a nutshell, it works best and is most efficient in cool water ranges. Many nice fish are taken; big pike are often a surprise bonus at times too.

To cover a good general time frame for effectiveness, I’d recommend bait use from the start of the season (where there is no closed season it should work all winter) to the upper-sixty degree range of surface temperatures. However, I may cheat, occasionally, after I’ve officially given up hope of success on artificials when a nasty cold front comes in. But, once temperatures are in the 70’s for good, I’m done. I bring it back into play around turnover time, usually about the 60-degree mark for surface temperatures. There will be on and off periods, but once past turnover, bait will be effective to ice up.

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Those “Blooming” Muskies

Late summer/early fall fishing means a lot of things for a lot of people. For everyone, it’s the end of summer. For fishermen and women, no matter what their target species, it means changing patterns in their fishing if they wish to remain effective… leading the way to a period of consistent transition into the winter months. For many it also means “soup”. Not Chicken Noodle or Extra Chunky Beef either. No, this is the Pea Soup variety. The kind that allows you to draw in the water with your rod tip, and that will give away the exact path of retrieves, and that will crawl up fishing lines to revolving spools, leaving “green racing stripes” on white fishing shirts.

It’s called algae bloom. Algae are essentially aquatic organisms, growing in all of our natural bodies of water from the smallest to the largest. Collectively known as phytoplankton, they are photosynthetic plants that live and die. While living, they produce oxygen and when they die the bacterial process robs oxygen from the water. Algae are present in all waters, but certainly in varying degrees. While in many waters algae are barely noticeable, heavy algae blooms are impossible to ignore on others. Pollution makes for more algae as well.

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