As I write every year at this time, the best part of the muskie-fishing season is fast approaching. Late September, October, and November – post turnover, with water temperatures between 55 degrees F and freezing – typically produces over 1/2 my annual catch and over 3/4 of my fish over 48 inches.
You may associate me with Canadian muskie fishing, but the best November I ever enjoyed was on a Twin Cities metro-area lake: averaging six fish per outing, with nearly a 44-inch average. Fall muskie fishing is great everywhere.
As the editor of The Next Bite/Esox Angler magazine, I get first shot at articles by muskie legends like Doug Johnson, Tony Rizzo, Dick Pearson, Bruce Shumway, and Pete Maina. I also get to look at articles by young up-and-comers, like Rob Kimm, Dan Klis, and Rob Manthei. This gives me a look at strategies and techniques that are proven to be effective, but for some reason have eluded me. This fall, I will be taking some things I’ve learned from our writers out onto the lakes I fish.
To give you a taste of what our magazine is about, let’s look at a "top ten" list of highly effective fall tactics. Some are things that I have done for years, some are things I have learned from others in recent years, and some are things I will be tryingfor the first time this fall.
Some of these ideas apply to small weedy basin-type lakes, some apply to dark, stained Canadian Shield lakes, and some apply to deep, clear, lake trout lakes. And of course, some are universal.
1. Trolling 8-inch Believers, 10-inch Jakes, and jerkbaits (Bobbies, Suicks, and Stidham Sensors) along shallow (8-12 feet) rocky shorelines. This is a full contact sport, because you are constantly hammering your baits (but hopefully not your lower unit) into boulders. This method is a favorite on Lake of the Woods.
2. Trolling deeper-running crankbaits, like Depth Raiders, Cisco Kids, 10-inch Believers, and 8-inch Ernies, along deep weedlines and walls. This works everywhere. It is an effective tactic in Ontario, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.
3. Trolling those same deep-running crankbaits over much deeper water to pick off muskies suspended near schools of pre-spawn ciscoes. If you have doubts about going after suspended fish, I can tell you that my main fall partner and I have boated a few 40-pound November muskies trolling 20 feet down over 60-foot depths and 30 feet down over 100-foot depths.
4. Slow-rolling spinnerbaits (Rad Dogs, Marv’s Viper Single Spin) – down shoreline edges, weedlines, and along the sides of saddles, points, and humps.
5. Casting crankbaits (Depth Raiders, Cisco Kids, and 8-inch Ernies), parallel to deep weed edges, reefs, and walls.
6. Working Sensors, Suicks, Reef Hawgs, Burts, and 10-inch Believers (on the shallow connection) over weedy bays and flats on warm afternoons.
7. Working large-bladed and double-bladed bucktails (Eagle Tail, Shumway’s Flasher) and tandem spinnerbaits (Rad Dogs, Marv’s Viper Tandem, Shumway’s Funky Chicken spinnerbait) over weedy bays and flats on warm afternoons. Use large, high-lift blades to allow you to work them slowly.
8. Working swimming head jigs and plastics (lizards, Mogambo grubs, Kalin grubs, shad bodies, Slug-Gos, and creatures) horizontally for shallow, but cold, sluggish fish.
9. Working a Sonar-like muskie bait, called the "Fuzzy Duzzit," vertically for very deep, cold, sluggish muskies. For me, this is an end-of the-season tactic. Plastics on heavy jigheads, and even spoons can also be vertically jigged, but they don’t give you the vibrating "feel" and strike-triggering attraction that the Fuzzy Duzzit gives.
10. Floating or free-lining a large sucker on a quick-strike rig. Quick-strike rigs, used properly, allow you to hook your soon-to-be-released muskie in the mouth. Never use single hook "wait-swallow-set" rigs. These are muskie killers. Literally. Where two lines per angler are allowed (Wisconsin), it is standard (and effective) practice to drag a sucker while casting or jigging.
Consider this a checklist. If you want more, check out www.thenextbite.tv or visit us at www.esoxangler.com.
Catch a nice one and let it go. Let them ALL go.